For the Far Eastern Economic Review, Nicholas Bequelin, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, reviews China Modernizes: Threat to the West or Model for the Rest? by Randall Peerenboom:
Is China proving that developing countries are better off under an authoritarian regime that focuses on developing the economy, rather than under a democratic regime that gives emphasis to political participation? And if the enjoyment of human rights improves with economic prosperity, isn't it wiser to restrict them in the short term and allow them only once income levels take off?
According to Randall Peerenboom, a law professor at University of California, Los Angeles and the director of China programs for the Oxford Foundation of Law, Justice and Society, the answer is a resounding "yes" on both counts. World Bank and United Nations Development Program data, he says, show that China is doing better on health, education, women's rights, and law and order compared to most countries at comparable income level, and in particular compared to countries that have democratized at a lower level of wealth, such as India, Indonesia or the Philippines. Economic disparities may have shot up, but this is normal and they will eventually come down (although this might take "several generations").
Civil and political rights might be curtailed, but this actually helps economic development and in any case these rights would not "magically solve" China's developmental and human-rights problems. [Full text]