It bet that China would head towards democracy and the market economy. The gamble has failed
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the West welcomed the next big communist country into the global economic order. Western leaders believed that giving China a stake in institutions such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO) would bind it into the rules-based system set up after the second world war (see Briefing). They hoped that economic integration would encourage China to evolve into a market economy and that, as they grew wealthier, its people would come to yearn for democratic freedoms, rights and the rule of law.
It was a worthy vision, which this newspaper shared, and better than shutting China out. China has grown rich beyond anybody’s imagining. Under the leadership of Hu Jintao, you could still picture the bet paying off. When Mr Xi took power five years ago China was rife with speculation that he would move towards constitutional rule. Today the illusion has been shattered. In reality, Mr Xi has steered politics and economics towards repression, state control and confrontation.