Is China proving that developing countries are better off under an authoritarian regime that focuses on developing the economy, rather than under a democratic regime that gives emphasis to political participation? It’s the question posed by Randall Peerenboom from UCLA in his new book China Modernizes: Threat to the West or Model for the Rest?becquelin

He tries to answer the question by exploring China’s economy, its political and legal system, and its record on civil, political and personal rights. Peerenboom’s answer is “yes”. At the forum of the Far Eastern Economic Review, Nicholas Bequelin has a review on the book. Bequelin is researcher at the Asian division of Human Rights Watch, so it’s no surprise that he disagrees with Peerenboom.

I haven’t read the book yet, and neither am I an expert on China. For me the question often pops up in my comparisons between Indonesia and Malaysia. Where some say that Indonesia might be ‘too democratic’, others might say Malaysia is too paternalistic and authoritarian. It seems that strict government control has helped countries like Malaysia and Singapore in creating a higher level of development than for instance the rather chaotic countries of Indonesia and the Philippines. So….is Peerenboom right? I think in the short term he might be. But for the long term, I sympathise with Bequelin’s critique. But let’s read the book first…

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