It is possible that China will begin its democratisation in as little as 4 years. The majority of people dismiss the possibility of a Chinese democracy as unrealistic, and academics are predominantly pessimistic about the idea. However, through the study of global mega-trends, it seems likely that China will in fact be forced into awarding its citizens their political freedom.
The democratisation of China would have profound positive effects, sparking a wave of democratisation that will sweep across the rest of the world.
Classical modernization theory goes some way to allow a prediction of Chinese democratisation. A trend which contributes to this theory is that of democratisation being triggered as a state passes the threshold of US $15,000 per capita purchasing power parity (PPP). China is set to pass this threshold in the next 3-5 years.
Further pressure will be added to a propensity towards Chinese democratisation with trends of cultural change, an increasing governance gap, demographic change, and further economic change. All of these trends alone would not warrant the democratisation prediction, the trends though are interlinked and so act in combination in their effects.
A cultural change that is observable in China is in part caused by the fading memory of the living conditions experienced during the Cultural Revolution. A youth is rising in China and they expect much higher standards than that of what the older generations had grown accustomed to. Thanks to advances is global communications, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the Chinese national government, (the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)) to conceal from its people that it is realistic to expect better living conditions and freedoms.
The general population, mainly in urban areas, are currently enjoying economic growth, however, if predictions are correct, Chinese economic growth will begin to slow in around 5 years due to its ageing population. As seen in Poland and Indonesia, economic slow down has led to civil unrest. This unrest in China could spark further challenges being made towards the CCP due to other tensions which would contribute to calls for democracy.
China has been identified as being one of the worst countries in the world, in terms of its inequality ratings. Traditionally for China this has not caused much political trouble. This is due to the inequality occurring mainly between urban and rural areas, with little integration occurring and few communication networks established, the success in urban areas has traditionally not been particularly visible in rural areas, and the rural areas have been content in their cultures.
Trends are now becoming apparent however which are raising the visibility of this inequality; more and more rural people are moving to cities, which is creating an ‘urban poor’ (new middle class) from where jealousy of the ‘urban rich’ (upper/political class) is being generated. This new middle class attend university but are then unable to find jobs in their rural homes, but unable to afford housing for jobs in urban areas or face discrimination, creating an educated and disillusioned middle class looking for answers to their strife. It has been noted that the blame for the income gap is being placed on the CCP and corruption.
Quiet grudges are also being generated towards the CCP due to its preference for dealing with and aiding large state-owned enterprises rather than private businesses.
What is rather unique in China though is a culture of which apparently breads civil trust for the CCP; a survey found in 2001 that 92 percent of Chinese trust the CCP. They see the CCP as their protectors. It is not surprising that they have this view though when you consider the propaganda that supports this culture of trust. It is believed by the Chinese that liberty equates to instability, and that ‘democracy’ is a western idea that is being forced upon the world for western gain. Democracy itself is actually thought of differently by the Chinese population; 62% of people in China think that they already live in a democracy.
This culture thankfully is not static; the number of non-governmental organizations rose from 6,000 in the early 1980s to 360,000 in 2006, and there is now thought to be as many as three million; the number of civil actions which occurred in 2006 was recorded at 80,000, in 2010 160,000 were recorded. The culture is shifting, and as already identified, trust is progressively waning for the CCP. Thoughts about democracy are also changing in China; it has been found that young people are more likely to own an understanding of democracy following the liberal democracy tradition, rather then the one propagated by the CCP.
Through the progression of the mega-trends identified above, in approximately 5 years it is likely that a tipping point will be reached in China; the idea of a liberal democracy will overcome the power of the CCP’s anti-democratic propaganda. At this point the CCP will rapidly experience immense pressure to reform or face mass civil unrest.
What is also worth considering are the advances in technology and weaponry that will have occurred by the 2020s. These advances will be held by those private businesses who hold silent grudges, and could pose an immense threat to the CCP. Perhaps we could also see a rise of anti-CCP terrorism in China should the CCP ignore the protests of its people.
A clear choice could well be presented to the CCP in the 2020s – democratise and cooperate with the rest of the word, or crackdown on uprisings with necessary massacres and face possible Western intervention.
What do you think?
Is the democratisation of China likely to begin within 5 years?