Putting democracy in China on hold - The Centre for Independent Studies
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Putting democracy in China on hold


Since the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest, China has moved closer to a market economy, but further away from a democratic state. The impetus for democracy has been lost over the past two decades.

Dr John Lee’s report Putting democracy in China on hold, released by the Centre for Independent Studies today, explains why China’s former pro-democracy elites have changed their minds.

‘Optimists believe democratisation in China is imminent but this confidence is premature’, says Dr Lee. ‘The argument that the transformative effects of the market have been unleashed, and democratisation will inevitably result misunderstands the structure of the Chinese economy, which is a state-dominated system rather than a free-market one.’ says Dr Lee

Economic reform and rising wealth have enhanced the capacity of the regime to remain in power.

‘The impetus for democracy in modern times has come from the economically and socially mobile middle classes, and China’s well educated middle class is now between 5% and 10% of the population. But this growing group are more interested in social status and Western consumer goods than political reform.

China’s middle classes currently prefer economic development to democracy.

Economic growth and free markets have given the Chinese Communist Party new tools to buy off political elites—academics, students, entrepreneurs, public servants and journalists. The CCP has gone out of its way to co-opt the educated and the influential. Threat of a loss of privilege and career advancement keeps these potentially democratising forces toeing the one-party line.

The Chinese middle class have little appetite for democratic reform. They’ve much to gain from the current political status quo and potentially much to lose should it change.

Talk of an independent business class ignores the reality that in China, without the support of party leaders, many businesses cannot survive. Local party officials determine who gets access to resources, land, and markets.

With a tenfold increase in Party membership among university students since 2001, students are now much more committed to the political status quo.

China’s authoritarian leaders have ensured that the middle classes’ future is tied to the Party’s.

Copies of the report are available online at: www.cis.org.au

 Dr John Lee is a Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies and author of Will China Fail? The limits and contradictions of market socialism.
He is available for comment.

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