Can China Succeed in Creating Authoritarian Modernity?

In Prospect magazine, Will Hutton and Meghnad Desai debate whether the future belongs to China. Will Hutton:

It is a commonplace to observe that the rise of China is transforming the world. Extrapolate from current growth rates and China will be the world’s largest economy by the middle of this century, if not before. If it remains communist, the impact on the world system will be enormous and very damaging. Britain and the US are, for all their faults, democracies that accept the rule of law. This is not true of China. If an unreformed China takes its place at the top table, the global order will be kinder to despotism; the fragile emergence of an international system of governance based on the rule of law will be set back and the relations between states will depend even more nakedly on their relative power.

All that, however, is predicated on two very big “ifs”—if the current Chinese growth rate continues, and if the country remains communist. I think there are substantial doubts about each proposition. What is certain is that both cannot hold. China is reaching the limits of the sustainability of its current model, and to extrapolate from the past into the future as if nothing needs to change is a first-order mistake.

Our concern in the west should be to help China face its enormous challenges without damaging us in the process. If Chinese communism can transform itself, then China could, like Japan before it, smoothly integrate into the world power system. If not, severe convulsions lie ahead.