Academic journal article International Journal of China Studies

Taiwan and Mainland China: Impacts of Economic Progress and International Environment on Political Trajectory in Comparative Perspective

Academic journal article International Journal of China Studies

Taiwan and Mainland China: Impacts of Economic Progress and International Environment on Political Trajectory in Comparative Perspective

Article excerpt

Abstract

While Taiwan's democratization and China's continuing authoritarianism have often been attributed to the decisions of their leaders, might there, instead, be external factors which have ensured that these two polities would have walked along more or less the same route that they have so far, regardless of who their rulers are? Questions as such make for a good basis of comparison between the two states and may offer a deeper insight into the facets of democracy and authoritarianism. Without contesting the relevance of other factors in influencing these two states' political trajectories, this paper explores and evaluates the two most popular sets of factors - economic factors related to the modernization theory and those from the international environment including impacts from abroad on regime security and on domestic dissident movements - which have been put forward to explain Taiwan's democratization versus China's continuing authoritarianism.

Keywords: democratization, democracy, authoritarianism, Kuomintang, Chinese Communist Party, dissidents, modernization theory, international environment, Taiwan, Mainland China

JEL classification: H11, H12, Z18, Z19

(ProQuest: ... denotes non-US-ASCII text omitted.)

1. Introduction

On September 1, 1996, an article titled "The Short March: China's Road to Democracy" was published in the The National Interest journal. The article starts off with the intriguing lines, "When will China become a democracy? The answer is around the year 2015. Some might think such a prediction foolhardy but it is based on developments on several fronts, ones inadequately reported in the American media." Five years later, Henry Rowen, author of the aforementioned article, revised the deadline for China's crossing the democracy threshold to 2020. Two years after that, he revised it further to predict that China1 would join the ranks of "free" countries by 2025.

For many, these predictions may appear truly "foolhardy". Note, however, that Rowen is not the only one making such prognostications; the downfall of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)2 has been repeatedly prophesied by various academics over the past decades. Other recent prophecies include Shaohua Hu's Explaining Chinese Democratization (2000), which foretold that China's transition to democracy would transpire by 2011, a target which has clearly not been achieved. Like Rowen, Bruce Gilley's China's Democratic Future (2004) argued that the possibilities of China democratizing before 2020 were high; similarly, Yu Liu's and Dingding Chen's "Why China Will Democratize" (2012) predicted that China would "embark upon democratization around 2020". Ronald Inglehart and Christian Welzel's Modernization, Cultural Change and Democracy (2005) projected China's democratic breakthrough to occur within the encouraging time period of the next two decades, while Will Hutton's 2012 article in The Observer postulated that "A Chinese spring is now very likely sometime in the next 10 years".

Reading these claims, one might be led to assume that China is teetering on the brink of revolution. Thus far, however, China has seemingly resisted the waves of democratization which have swept through the globe. The question that must be asked, hence, is: how? What factors have sustained China's authoritarianism until today, in spite of the various factors which the aforementioned authors had identified in their works which render democratization a distinct possibility? It is with this question in mind that one might turn to a particular island off the southeastern coast of China for answers. Democratic Taiwan ..., officially the Republic of China (ROC, ...), stands in intriguing, defiant contrast to China as the road not taken. Her ruling regime, the Kuomintang ... (KMT)3, shared much of the same history and culture with the CCP, in that both parties were birthed from the same turbulent, revolutionary political conditions which had swept through early-twentieth-century China (Diamond, 2008). …

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