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Is China’s Transition Trapped and What Should the West do about it?

Minxin Pei
Publication date: 
Fri, 16 Nov 2007

This policy brief attempts to challenge three popular views on China.

Firstly, it contends that it is the political calculation of the ruling elites, rather than the process of modernization, that determines the pace of political liberalization. By examining how Chinese ruling elites view political reform and adapt to socio-economic change, it argues that economic growth can retard political liberalization in the short term.
Secondly, the brief argues that the imperative  to preserve the political monopoly of a one-party system overrides the desire for a fully marketized economy; and determines the strategy of economic reform. This perspective provides an understanding as to why the Chinese government has opted for gradualism in reform, and why such a process has enabled the ruling elites to protect the most critical economic sectors from market competition. 
Thirdly, instead of fostering a developmental state, the combination of one-party rule and semi-finished economic reform creates fertile conditions for local ruling elites to engage in decentralized predation, undermining governance and creating systemic risks.