This bit by Anne Applebaum in Slate caught my eye a little while ago:
I would say that in the closing days of the 2000s, the future does not look good for all authoritarian regimes. However, the signs are very positive for one particular authoritarian regime: China. Partly this is because the Chinese, unlike the Iranians and the Russians, continue to deliver prosperity, and in the current era it is prosperity, not ideology, that keeps authoritarian regimes in power.
Perhaps, then, we are embarking not upon a new twilight of liberalism but, rather, on an era in which prosperity, in the form of infrastructure as well as consumption, becomes the focus of international competition and U.S. foreign policy. We are already heading that way: The Copenhagen climate summit failed, after all, because the United States and China could not agree on a matter that affected their prospects for growth. Meanwhile, Islamic fundamentalist terrorism, the focus of U.S. foreign policy for the past decade, is dwindling to the status of major nuisance.
Some time ago I wrote about Buckminster Fuller and the geodesic dome, and its curious cultural trajectory– its use by Cold Warriors in international exhibitions in the 1950s, then by commune-builders in the 1960s and early 1970s. American exhibits at trade fairs were designed to show people in non-aligned countries what was best about the United States, and why the model of liberal, democratic capitalism was superior to the Soviet model; but organizers argued about just what was "best." Exhibits tended to emphasize economic growth and prosperity, rather than personal liberty, the belief that government belonged to the people, or the power of workers to organize and assert their rights: the message tended to boil down to, "Americans are free… to buy houses, freezers, and cars."
Some of these were trade fairs, which were pretty tightly focused on promoting trade and industry. But the equation of freedom with prosperity was pretty clear and consistent, and according to contemporary accounts (in the American press, anyway) it was pretty successful. So if the Chinese are able to make a convincing argument that their system delivers prosperity and growth, I wouldn't dismiss the attractiveness of that claim.