China’s Future Will Reflect Russia’s
China learned from Russia’s post-1991 experience and pursued its economic liberalization with more care. But it ultimately could not avoid the political implications of pro-market policies and is now following Russia down the road to autocracy – continuing a century-long pattern of mirroring its neighbor’s historical trajectory.
CHICAGO – As China prepares for its 20th National Congress in October, when President Xi Jinping is expected to accept an unprecedented third term, many observers worry about uncertain days ahead, especially regarding Taiwan. But one doesn’t need a crystal ball to glimpse its future. China’s leaders, for their part, are looking at Russia.
China has mirrored Russia’s historical trajectory for most of the past 100 years. At the beginning of the twentieth century, both were large empires with outdated institutions that could not protect their people from foreign wars, corruption, inequality, and poverty. While Russia’s per capita income in 1900 was around one-third that of the United States, Chinese incomes were half those of Russia.
In 1949, the new People’s Republic was modeled, politically and economically, on the Soviet system. In both China and the Soviet Union, a command economy replaced markets, and the central government influenced every aspect of people’s lives – what they produced and ate, where they worked and lived, and what they could say, read, and write.