The core issue of our time is the relationship between commerce and democracy.
Let me answer that question by creating five categories of nations:
1. Driving forces in commerce: U.S., Israel and Japan
2. Actively supporting forces in commerce: Holland, Germany, Sweden, Finland, England, Scotland, Italy, Denmark, Switzerland, the rest of Europe, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Korea.
3. Riding along on the wagon of commerce: all other countries that are not completely closed tyrannies listed in 4) and 5) below.
4. Cabooses, being pulled along by the power of commerce: Russia, Vietnam, Arab oil countries, most of the trash-can-i-stans and China.
5. Hopeless economic losers:North Korea, Burma, Cuba and Venezuela.
I will briefly go over the categories, but the answer to the question of how long a country can thrive on commerce without democracy is answered by these categories: indefinitely. Russia and China are carried along as a caboose on a train by the economic engines of categories 1) and 2). They can never be engines or supporting forces in commerce, without democracy but they can be cabooses indefinitely.
The reason is best understood by observing the USSR over its seventy year history. The USSR had no internal commercial market to set price and carry out productive work. Communism is a meaningless economic system unless it is functioning inside a larger commercial system that sets prices by supply and demand and harnesses human genius in productive innovation.
So the USSR used international prices for all its internal products, bought factories and transplanted them to Russia and used espionage to get all of Russia's technology including methods for making ice cream.
To put it another way: communist systems survived only by copying and using models found in the open commercial world.
What makes the engines of commerce?
Three elements put a country in category 1.) Meritocracy, diversity and openness. Japan is a little weak on diversity but it is so far ahead of every other country on the other two elements that it is a driving force in commerce, constantly innovating and contributing new industries, new technology and new markets.
Those same elements put a country in category 2.) but to a lesser degree. Most European countries and former members of the United Kingdom have surviving class structures that significantly suppress merit and openness.
Democracy is necessary to be in category 1) and 2). Democracy stimulates meritocracy, diversity and openness though it can not guarantee it in the forms that it thrives in the U.S. and Israel.
Does that answer the initial question? Yes.
When a tyrannical form of government opens itself to the world of commerce, as China and Russia have, they ride the positive tides of commerce and raise their national income. Russia and China can survive as tyrannies much as a cork floating can survive on the surface almost indefinitely.
For a country to become a driving or supporting force in the expansion of commerce it must have meritocracy, diversity and openness, all of which occur only in a functioning democracy.