Sep 13, 2022 in Political

Democratization of China

China has experienced rapid economic growth that has resulted into the perception that it will lead to prospects of democratization. There are many academics viewing the pace of political reforms as a way forward to democratization of the country. However, China has continued its authoritarian regime despite the economic and political changes experienced from the time of its ‘opening up’ to the world in 1978 (Khoo). The liberalization of politics has not resulted in democratization, but instead the country has managed to undergo rapid economic growth. Although China has embraced the idea of democracy, its interpretation of the concept varies from that of the west (Thomas). Therefore, when examining the prospect of its democratization, it is important to assess the gap that exists between the current situation and becoming a democratic state. The paper examines China’s democratization process that will take into account the trends and changes transpired socially and economically through the analysis of factors that may promote it or impede.

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The perception of the level of democracy in China is under two perspectives. One point of view demonstrates that it is on the path to democratization, while the opposing one is determined to present the reason why the country has not yet become a democracy. This is because China contends a condition that enhances expansion of civil and political rights, required by a democratic state to grant individual rights (Khoo). In addition, the country has loosened its political and civil control allowing the people to enjoy more freedom, increased political participation, and formal channels of redress (Khoo). The pointer to the direction of transition is liberalization, a precursor of democratization, though it does not always act this way if it is not the primary motive. In order for democratization to take a center stage, various aspects must come into play.

The theory of modernization postulates that economic development is the main factor that will lead to democratization of China. This is because it has enhanced the economic development through reforms improving the wellbeing of the population. Moreover, it has been found that many countries experienced this to realize democratization. Besides, positive economy results to increased middle class population, which is well educated and affluent and may seek a system that is more participative. The government’s proportionate income distribution among the people is common and may be potential in assisting the current regime to continue ruling.

The theory of transition is centered on sociocultural aspect, which is perceived as the one that may lead to democratization in China. This is because of a steadily increasing middle class, which is able to recognize human rights such as political participation, freedom and equality (Schmitter). Although this part of the population is small, with time it will be a force for change, even taking into account its unwilling participation in politics. Further, a current rate of liberalization to democracy instituted due to the political reforms and the rectification of government issues such as wastage. The political leaders have intensified this phase of decision making because the democratic transition calls for top politicians to devise policies that shift power toward attaining a democracy that only occurs by choice.

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The last phase toward democratization is described by the structural theory, which brings forth democrats who believe in democracy. This theory portrays those who do not maintain this phenomenon as the ones who lose power, and either give up on politics or adapt to democracy. Additionally, by becoming a democracy, China would be able to prevent human rights abuses as well as shape its international relations (Khoo). The consolidation of democracy encourages the population to become accustomed to the novel principles that complement the transition. Consequently, the development of a democracy is a struggle that presupposes checking arbitrary rulers and replacing them with the fair and rational ones, thereby involving the population in creating laws that society builds upon.

The authoritarian resilience theory explains why the Chinese ruling party has continued maintaining its authoritarian rule, which has constantly overwhelmed the country with slowed economic growth and social inequality (Thomas). The country has taken a number of forms to maintain its status quo of communism. This theory creates no space for political opposition as well as civil society that is outside the control of state power (Diamond). Besides, there is increasing victimization and harassment of civil societies in China, where they have to follow the guidelines provided and a slight deviation from them results in deregistration. Moreover, the country has acted aggressively in dealing with the question of the territory (Diamond). This is a clear demonstration that China is against the democracy as understood in the west as it is utilizing its mechanisms of soft power to discredit the western democracy. By doing so, the country demonstrates that it is against democracy in general and it is constructing its own model and norms, which are a trend in a renewed authoritarianism. Finally, the rapid economic development performed by the state lacks democratic methods and proper governance and thus, it is justifying the persistence of authoritarianism.

The reforms in the political arena are lagging behind economic growth because the ruling party is determined to consolidate power and maintain the authoritarian rule. This is demonstrated by the human rights update in China, highlighting the advancement of democracy and rule of law. It indicates that democracy cannot extend to the central level and has to continue outside the realm of the citizens’ influence (Yu). Furthermore, the state maneuvers civil liberties, which are a measure of democracy, identifies the citizens’ rights in the way it considers practical. Therefore, China is practicing a form of democracy that varies in terms of civil and political liberties in that power is concentrated on the state and not its citizens.

Having considered these factors, I feel pessimistic about China’s being on a path to democratization in the near feature. This is because the country has enhanced the changes in the economic sphere while it is lagging behind in implementing political reforms. Furthermore, the political reforms are a modification of a progressively defunct Maoist ideology to an all-inclusive one (Thomas). The relevance of the ruling party historically was to deliver economic growth and satisfaction of the citizens’ material needs, to ensure that China maintains its sustainable legitimacy (Yu). Additionally, the changing social demographics has made the party apply strategized ways that will transform it into all-inclusive through changing its ideology from proletarian performance based to people centric. However, the utilization of this tool is to relieve pressure for political debates even though the real power lies within the ruling party.

To conclude, in real democracies, political and social freedoms are evident, since citizens are able to express them through elections in addition to citizens’ inclusivity. In contrast, in China, elections are conducted in rural settings where there is no impact with respect to decision making at the top level. Furthermore, population fears that democratization will alter the political realm and destabilize the government. The prospect to democratization in China is two-sided. The country has enhanced rapid economic and sociocultural development, while it still blocks the political reforms to allow the ruling elites to consolidate power and continue with the authoritarian government. Finally, China has reformed its governance in a manner that portrays it as a democracy, while in reality it has created a government that consolidates authoritarianism.

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