Why China’s Riches Won’t Bring It Freedom

At Bloomberg View, Pankaj Mishra examines China’s challenge to the advance of liberal democracy and its relationship with economic growth.

“Development is the only hard truth,” Deng claimed. “If we do not develop, then we will be bullied.” Speaking of the “China Dream,” the new Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, upholds the same imperatives of national unity, strength and pride against the need for broad democratic reforms.

And he may be right to think he has a receptive audience. Soothsayers have been predicting the collapse of the Chinese regime for decades. In recent years, they have transferred their hopes onto the main beneficiaries of China’s economic growth: the middle classes. Last year’s leadership transition generated much wild talk about imminent revolution.

But China’s middle classes seem too fragmented to mount an effective political movement, let alone spark a revolution. And to many Chinese left behind by economic growth, the remote apparatchiks in Beijing may appear more committed to their welfare than an affluent minority devoted to further self-enrichment. [Source]

While Mishra addresses the link between economic growth and political liberalization, Martin King Whyte recently questioned the relationship between economic equality and political stability, arguing that the uneven distribution of power, not wealth, is the most likely source of unrest in China.