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Hong Kong Reminds Us of China’s Fragility



Photo of a protestor waving a black version of the Hong Kong flag
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Last Sunday, according to organizers, about 2 million people marched in a Chinese city to protest an extradition bill that they labeled Chinese “tyranny.” If accurate, it would m ean that 1 in 4 Hong Kongers was out in the streets fighting Chinese encroachment. While it is difficult to predict what path this story will take, it highlights something we tend to forget: the fragility of the Chinese political system.
China’s rise has been something of a miracle. It is, quite simply, the most successful case of economic development in human history. The country’s gross domestic product has grown about 10 percent a year for 40 years, moving more than 850 million people out of poverty. This accounts for the vast majority of poverty reduction on the planet. In doing so, China has also proved to be the greatest exception to a near-iron law of politics.
Decades of political-science research have shown that there is a fairly strong connection between economic growth and democracy. As countries modernize their economies, typically they are forced to also change their societies and, eventually, their political systems to make them more open, accountable and democratic. There are outliers, such as oil-rich countries, which gain their wealth without any need to modernize. And yet, more recent scholarship has affirmed the basic link: As you get rich, the chances of becoming more democratic increase.

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