Minxin Pei, Pritzker '72 Professor of Government, George R. Roberts Fellow and Director of the Keck Center for International and Strategic Studies, has been awarded a $100,000 MacArthur Foundation Grant for his project entitled: The Geopolitical and Humanitarian Consequences of a Regime Transition in China in 2020-2030.
The particular problem addressed in Pei’s research concerns what could happen in China during the potentially chaotic transition period from one-party rule to some form of democracy in the years 2020-2030.
“That transition will constitute a revolutionary event with profound geopolitical implications for the international community,” Pei wrote in the grant proposal to the Foundation. “Such a change, should it come, will fundamentally alter the Chinese political and economic systems. To the outside world, this transition will pose significant short-term risks as well as create long-term opportunities.
The transition process could be orderly or chaotic,” he continued. “Should it be the latter, ethnic conflict, political violence, and economic disruptions will result in humanitarian catastrophes and massive loss of property. Such chaos could even spill into outbreaks of bloody ethnic conflict or regional wars.”
According to Pei, “Financial support aside, The MacArthur Foundation grant is an important endorsement of the intellectual and policy significance of the project.”
As stated in the proposal, the project has four principal goals:
(1) It aims to provoke a serious and forward-looking debate on China’s possible future trajectories. While it does not claim to predict a certain outcome, the project encourages the policy, business, and academic communities to think about possible futures. To this end, the project provides an analytical framework grounded in mainstream social science theories, comparative history and empirical evidence.
(2) The project also implicitly advocates a strategy of proactive political reforms in China because, based on preliminary findings about regime transitions since the early 1970s, such reforms, when taken before the mobilization of opposition forces and complete loss of political legitimacy of the old regime, will substantially increase the likelihood of a more benign outcome/scenario.
(3) The project attempts to influence the thinking of the U.S. government and its allies about China’s future. A systematic, empirically grounded and theoretically informed analysis of current trends and possible future outcomes will provide valuable intellectual guidance to the making of the China policy in the coming decade.
(4) The project will facilitate contingency planning. By identifying the most critical geopolitical and humanitarian consequences that may result from China’s transition from one-party rule to some form of democracy, the project will help the U.S. and its allies in undertaking contingency planning. Another likely target of this project is the transitional regime in China. It could benefit from the project’s findings on how transitional regimes in the last four decades have dealt with the most complex and difficult transitional issues (such as constitutional-making, control of the military, economic stabilization, human rights abuses under the old regime, and ethnic secessionism).
After work is completed on his study, Pei plans to begin another project which will examine whether China has self-correcting mechanisms for adjusting its foreign policy.
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation – one of the nation’s largest independent foundations – supports creative people and effective institutions committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. In addition to selecting the MacArthur Fellows, the Foundation works to defend human rights, advance global conservation and security, make cities better places and understand how technology is affecting children and society.
Through the support it provides, the Foundation fosters the development of knowledge, nurtures individual creativity, strengthens institutions, helps improve public policy, and provides information to the public, primarily through support for public interest media.