China in the Year 2020: Three Political Scenarios

Progressing toward the year 2020, China’s political structure is unlikely to develop along a direct, linear trajectory. Just as China’s rapid economic development and global integration shocked the world over the past two decades, so too might the country’s future political course defy projected expectations. Three possible scenarios for 2020 are presented in this essay.

Which road China ultimately takes will depend on the interplay of current political trends, key players in decisionmaking roles, and demographic factors that will be important in the future.

Possible Scenarios

  • The emergence of a democratic China — A wealthier and better-educated middle class, a stronger currency, and a more robust civil society, among other phenomena, lead to greater cultural and political pluralism.
  • Prolonged chaos — Economic disparities among urban and rural populations, rampant corruption among the elite, health crises, and environmental degradation trigger intense socio-political and economic crises that undermine the stability of the Communist regime.
  • A resilient, authoritarian China — Problems among the world’s democratic countries make democracy less appealing to the Chinese people, while stable development strategies by the party-state are necessary for growth and economic stability, further entrenching the ruling power of the CCP.