The question on everyone’s mind is whether the Communist Party can sustain its grip on the country in the face of such rapid social upheaval. If the economy were to falter, the consequences among so many dislocated and still impoverished people could be dire. The consensus in the west is that a dynamic economy can only develop through the free exchange of ideas and with the independent public institutions to mould them into practice. China’s state capitalism, on this basis, is doomed to fail without commitments to human rights and civil society. Yet large efforts are being made by intellectuals friendly to the current regime to find a middle path, for instance the idea of deliberative dictatorship, where the government finds ways of involving the public in the Communist Party’s decision-making.
China’s burgeoning influence is being felt in foreign policy too. The co-existence of authoritarianism and economic growth is proving attractive to developing countries where governments prefer to hold on to power without meaningful democracy. China has huge currency reserves and its foreign aid comes without the kinds of strings that western governments insist on over human rights, political elections and financial auditing. This accounts for China’s remarkable new influence in Africa. The more nations can be made in the image of authoritarian China, the safer China will feel in the international arena.
State-approved churches account for 35 million Christians in China, but the underground churches may number up to 100 million members. This is a lot more than the Communist Party’s 70 million registered members, most of which are anyway assumed to be lapsed in their adherence to this secular creed. The restrictions on personal freedom and the abuse of human rights which China has cynically specialised in should matter to us. God has given us freedom of conscience and our welfare is paramount because he has made us in his image and loves us with an everlasting love.
There is another reason we should be praying for the freedom of Chinese people to express their consciences publicly. The spectacular growth of the Chinese Church has led some to claim that Christianity will this century become a Sino-centric religion. If Chinese Christians were given the opportunity to express their faith publicly, to build colleges and mission societies, to link formally with the churches of other countries and to travel freely in pursuit of missionary goals, the scope for the blessing of the global Church could be on a par with the impact China has made economically.
The advance of these kinds of freedoms in China is surely one of the most strategic intercessions of the new century.