If you had a second party alternative in China now, I think it would be an anti-foreign party. What else could you see as a platform to challenge the Communist Party, but to oppose the foreigners who are “buying up Chinese resources”?… There has to be a period of generally unfolding democracy. Not bang, all at once. And I think that will happen. I think it’s happening much too slowly.
I think it’s hard to know how exactly to evaluate that claim without specifying the counterfactual in more detail. What I do think is true is that people are sorely mistaken if they think a more democratic China would also be a China that’s less inclined to challenge US hegemony. The present Chinese leadership is almost entirely focused on economic growth and full employment as a way to stay in office. Some alternative version of Chinese politics would have more time for other projects.
Mansfield & Snyder argue persuasively in Electing to Fight: Why Emerging Democracies Go to War that countries experiencing a transition to democracy are unusually likely to start wars. Basically it’s a good way for leaders in emerging democracies to corral public support.