There are three key arguments against democratisation in China
- The Chinese middle class is too small and will unlikely grow. Democratisation happens when a middle class grows large enough to demand political reform this has been the case for other democratic regions in the country like Japan. But Japan is small in comparison to china and was able to build up in percentage terms a larger middle class than can a very large and populous country.
- China has never been a democracy. Many Chinese people and political commentators have argued that democracy is fundamentally opposed to Chinese culture
- China is unequal and countries with high inequality are less likely to democratise.
The fact that China has thousands never been democratic is completely irreverent. All countries had thousands of years of non-democratic political systems before becoming democratic. If we look at the Inglehart values map you can see the 4 nearest countries to China (South Korea, Lithuania, Estonia and Taiwan) are all democracies.
And whist it’s true that the middle class are still a minority in China, it is not true that things will stay that way for a very long time. China will be mostly middle class by 2050. A big issue in China today is the fact that blue collar wages are rising faster than white collar wages. University graduates often complain that factory and construction workers earn more than they do.
East Asian countries are increasingly democratic which points strongly towards democratic china. Those East Asian democracies also had thousands of years of non-democracy before first becoming democratic and are culturally similar to China. Countries tend to democratise when they pass 15k USD in Purchasing Power Parity but East Asian countries Taiwan and Japan democratised at 12k and 14k respectively. China currently has a Purchasing power parity of 7.5k but is expected to reach 15k USD in 3-5 years indicating that China could democratise as soon as 2022.
But it might not be inequality that is preventing China from democratising as China has less inequality (in terms of Gini Coefficient) than South Africa but South Africa is much more democratic than China (According to the Democracy index) so this indicates that China is equal enough already to democratise. Some argue that China’s large rural population is preventing economic development and therefore democratisation.
The wealth divide is very pronounced along rural urban lines, with Chinese urban dwellers earning significantly more and Chinese people who live in rural areas. In general affluent Chinese trust the Communist Chinese Party (CCP) more than they trust democracy because they fear that democracy will empower the rural working classes at their expense. However china is beginning to urbanise and as it does its population will become increasing educated and middle class which is a key driver of democratisation.
The Chinese government predicts the urbanisation rate to increase another 10% by 2020 and in 2014 the state implemented the National New-type Urbanization Plan (2014-2020) in March to tackle various problems derived from China’s fast urbanisation. Previous to this urbanisation had been stunted by the the Hukou system that prevented rural residents gaining access to urban facilities. The Hukou system is being reformed and China has acknolwged that urbanisation is inevitable. It’s likely that now urbanisation is in the process when urbanisation rate reaches a similar level to that of Taiwan or Korea and other countries it is similar to it will democratise.
China has an urban population of 59% compared to Taiwan’s 78%, South Korea’s 81% and Japan’s 91% which gives credit to the argument that urbanisation will lead to democratisation. Perhaps its not suprising that North Korea’s urbanisation rate is much lower than it’s southern counterpart at 61%.
In summary it’s likely China will begin its process towards democratisation as it begins to urbanise.