The Chinese Communist Party’s forthcoming 18th Party Congress offers an opportunity to reassess China, to see whether top leaders Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang are interested in pursuing reform or will hew to the course of their predecessors, according to Dean Cheng and Derek M. Scissors.
Myth #4 is that China will inevitably engage in political reform, they write for The National Interest:
Reality: Not only is the link between economic and political reform weak, but the CCP has little interest in political reform.
It has long been an article of faith that economic growth would inevitably lead to greater political liberty. The assumption was that, as a society became richer, there would be created a middle class that would eventually demand greater ability to chart its own political future, rather than defer authority to an autocratic government. Given China’s massive economic development since the rise of Deng Xiaoping in 1978, there has been the assumption that the natural next step would be a transition, however, halting, towards political liberalization, to complement it.
What is clear, however, is that neither political nor economic reform is easily effected. There are inevitable winners and losers in any reform attempt; as important, reform is as likely to create the conditions for instability, as lines of authority are blurred and additional costs are imposed. In the case of the PRC, political reform is even more dangerous, because it would also raise questions about the ability of the CCP to retain power.
Worse, the various economic relationships which link the senior Party leaders and their families serve as an additional disincentive to both economic and political reform. Reform in either sphere could jeopardize delicate political relationships, not to mention lucrative linkages between families. Consequently, if economic reform, which generates tangible benefits for both the nation and the top leadership, is now moribund, political reform is even less likely, given the associated risks of domestic upheaval.