Published online: 19 April 2017
Journal of Chinese Political Science/Association of Chinese Political Studies 2017
Abstract China’s future is one of the most important variables in international affairs.
While the world has witnessed the extraordinary socio-economic growth and develop-
ment of China over the past four decades, the country is now at a series of junctures and
faces unprecedentedly complex challenges. It has achieved Bmiddle income^ status, but
in order to navigate through the Bmiddle income trap^ and become a fully developed
and modern economy will require not only multiple structural adjustments in the
economic structure, but also a significant liberalization of the political system. This
article explores four alternative pathways that China might follow in the coming years,
and it posits potential consequences of each path.
China has reached a series of key turning points on its developmental path and dramatic
national transformation. After more than three decades of successful reforms the nation
has reached critical junctures in its economic, social, political, environmental, techno-
logical, intellectual, national security, foreign policy, and other areas of development.
Diminishing economic returns have set in and it has become plainly evident that the
main elements of the broad reform program first launched by Deng Xiaoping in 1978
are no longer applicable for spurring China’s continued modernization and evolution to
become a fully developed economy over the coming decades. Change is required.
Indeed, even China’s leaders evince the view that the nation faces severe challenges, is
at a series of turning points, and new directions in comprehensive reform are required.
J OF CHIN POLIT SCI (2018) 23:1–7
This article is based on, but an expanded discussion from, the author’sbookChina’sFuture
(Cambridge: Polity Press, 2016).
* David Shambaugh
Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University, 1957 E St., NW,
Washington, DC 20052, USA