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Without Democracy, China Will Rise No Farther

Beijing Can’t Compete With Washington Until It Reckons With Its People

A Hong Kong protester steps on images of Xi Jinping, October 2019 Reuters / Athit Perawongmetha

China has been busy rising, and an alarmed United States has been busy repositioning itself. Neither shows much interest in what is arguably the most important test now confronting China’s leadership, which is whether and how it will respond to internal pressures to democratize. Perhaps that is because neither realizes that how far China rises and what happens to U.S.-Chinese relations both depend more on the country’s democratization than on just about anything else.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is apparently so confident in its ability to deliver economic growth and the nation’s “great rejuvenation” that it has dispensed with the search for democratic legitimacy. The United States, having observed recent political developments in China, seems happy enough to follow the CCP in writing off the country’s democratic prospects. On this shared understanding, the supposed rivalry between China and the United States has taken

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