Thursday, June 23, 2005

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Does China contradict the liberal paradigm?

The constant in U.S. policy towards a rising China for the past three administrations is encapsulated in the current National Security Strategy:

China has begun to take the road to political openness, permitting many personal freedoms and conducting village-level elections, yet remains strongly committed to national one-party rule by the Communist Party. To make that nation truly accountable to its citizen’s needs and aspirations, however, much work remains to be done. Only by allowing the Chinese people to think, assemble, and worship freely can China reach its full potential....

The power of market principles and the WTO’s requirements for transparency and accountability will advance openness and the rule of law in China to help establish basic protections for commerce and for citizens. (emphasis added)

In other words, by trading with China, and by encouraging them to embrace the information revolution, the Chinese will inevitably morph into an ever-more-open society that will therefore become more benign in world politics.

There are valid reasons to doubt the second part of that logic, but I'm more concerned about the first part for now: is U.S. trade with China making the country more free?

I ask because of this Philip P. Pan front-pager in the Washington Post from last week on how Chinese President Hu Jintao is consolidating his power:

More than two years after taking office amid uncertainty about his political views, Chinese President Hu Jintao is emerging as an unyielding leader determined to preserve the Communist Party's monopoly on power and willing to impose new limits on speech and other civil liberties to do it, according to party officials, journalists and analysts.

Some say Hu has cast himself as a hard-liner to consolidate his position after a delicate leadership transition and could still lead the party in a more open direction. There is a growing consensus inside and outside the government, however, that the 62-year-old former engineer believes the party should strengthen its rule by improving its traditional mechanisms of governance, not by introducing democratic reforms.

Hu has placed particular emphasis on tightening the party's control over public opinion, presiding over a crackdown to restore discipline to state media and intimidate dissident intellectuals. He has also gone further than his predecessor, Jiang Zemin, by adopting new measures to regulate discussions on university Internet sites and the activities of nongovernmental organizations.

Meanwhile, Paul Mooney reports similar information about the Chinese academy in the Chronicle of Higher Education (sorry, subscription only):

Shortly before a new, younger generation of Chinese leaders took office in 2002, intellectuals in Beijing were hoping that Hu Jintao, who is now the country's president, would be a force for reform.

Since taking the reins of power, however, the new regime has launched a bitter attack on freedom of expression. Newspapers have been shut down, books banned, journalists and dissidents imprisoned, and scholars brought under increased pressure to toe the official line. The political situation is the worst it has been in years, many scholars say.

"I'm very pessimistic," says Xu Youyu, a researcher at the Institute of Philosophy at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. "I'm sure that these harsh policies are not just for a short time."

As for the power of the Internet to make China more free, Rebecca MacKinnon has tirelessly covered the Chinese government's recent efforts to expand its monitoring and filtering capacities -- click here for one example.

This would all seem to suggest that our open trade policy with China ain't generating a lot of political openness on their side. By the Freedom House measures, China has been rated as "not free" for the entire history of our expanded trade relationship with them. Within that category there are some subtler trends -- in the eighties both the poliitical rights and civil liberties measures improved slightly. Both went back down after Tiannamen, and then since 1998 the civil liberties score has improved marginally.

So does China vitiate the underlying premise that an open economic relationship leads to political openness?

Well consider that even the Freedom House data and the Chronicle story suggests that economic openness can have an effect on civil liberties -- it's just that the effect is very small and trumped by Hu Jintao. See this section of the Chronicle story:

Free speech was given a big boost in China in recent years by the commercialization of the news media and the advent of the Internet, two channels that gave scholars unprecedented ways to disseminate their opinions. Newspapers and magazines once controlled by the government are now scrambling to attract readers. The Beijing News, which has won a large readership with its bold reporting, devotes an entire page each day to articles written by prominent intellectuals.

However, nothing has been as important as the Internet. "It's almost revolutionary," says Jiang Wenran, associate professor of political science at the University of Alberta, in Canada, and a native of China. "Without the Internet, how could they speak out?"

Anything important that has been written can be found online, and that, says Mr. Jiang, "gives intellectuals confidence that they have a voice and can use it to express their opinions."

Academics have also set up numerous Web sites, though they have had to exercise caution. Some sites voluntarily shut down every year before the anniversary of the May 4th Movement, marking the 1919 student demonstrations on that day in Beijing against the Treaty of Versailles, and the 1989 crackdown that grew out of the student protests in Tiananmen Square. If they did not take that self-imposed break, China's vigilant Internet police -- said to number in the tens of thousands -- might take more drastic action, forcing them to shut down permanently.

Second, remember that China is a special case because of its market size. China can get Microsoft to do what it wants, but smaller countries cannot.

Third, when questioning the utility of a certain policy, one always needs to compre it to the alternative set of options. There is no other option that would cause China to democratize any faster that a policy of openness.

Fourth, as I argued earlier this year, the effect of the information revolution on authoritarian states is not a continuous one. It is possible that repressive regimes can succeed in maintaining control for long periods of time -- but then crumble quickly. One reason for Hu's recent decision to crack down is his acute recognition of this fact.

So maybe current U.S. policy will work in the long run. The thing is, none of those points makes me feel any more sanguine about current U.S. policy in the short run.

UPDATE: David Shambaugh has an interesting piece in The Washington Quarterly on the complex triangle between the U.S., China, and Europe.

posted by Dan on 06.23.05 at 06:11 PM


The problem with views of China is that they see history through western eyes and therefore fail to ask the central question: to the Chinese, as a people, a culture, a civilzation, what does power mean and where does it optimally reside? Thinking open markets et al or going to dynamically evolve through Chinese culture and effect benefical change is naive - although not necessarily wrong.

posted by: Saintsimon on 06.23.05 at 06:11 PM [permalink]

So does China vitiate the underlying premise that an open economic relationship leads to political openness?

I don't know.

The basis for the underlying premise seems to be what has happened in places like Taiwan, South Korea, Spain, etc... rather nasty authoritarian governments gradually evolving or giving way to fairly democratic governments, with occasional oppression, revolt or assassination along the way.

Perhaps considering what led to change in those other countries would give us insight into what may happen in China.

posted by: rosignol on 06.23.05 at 06:11 PM [permalink]

1)In a June 17 article down below, Daniel Drezner
continued his globalization advocacy by discussing "How Whirlpool Does Globalization"

2) Well, here's how China does globalization:

a)China's Haier Group Bids US$1.3 BLN For Maytag

"BEIJING, June 22 Asia Pulse - China's leading home appliance maker Haier Group has made a bid to buy Maytag, the third-largest appliance maker in the United States, for US$1.28 billion."

b) "China Oil Company Bids $18.5B for Unocal "

"BEIJING - China's third-largest oil producer made a hostile $18.5 billion bid Thursday for U.S. oil company Unocal Corp., marking the communist nation's most ambitious attempt yet to acquire a Western corporation and setting up a possible showdown with American politicians over national security issues. "


posted by: Don the Greater on 06.23.05 at 06:11 PM [permalink]

For those who don't recognize the significance of China's bid for Unocal, a few facts:

a) The Caspian Sea region north of Afghanistan is estimated to have the world's second largest reserves of oil after Saudi Arabia

b) Since at least the early 1990s, the US government has been moving to taking that oil away from its major owners --Russia, Iran -- via working with the oil dictators in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. (Dick Cheney spent much of his time here in the 1990s )

c) One problem was laying pipelines out of the area. The Russians had one going through Chechnya but someone encouraged the natives to get restless. hee hee

d) Unocal was looking at a pipeline through Afghanistan but the Taliban regime seemed like untrustworthy business partners.

Plus, the US oil companies were hesitant to risk $Billions drilling for oil and natural gas in the Caspian Sea region unless they could be sure the US Marines were there to protect their investment.

Regrettable, because the potential profits are huge. Really, really huge.

Not selling to US consumers,of course -- but to China. Can you imagine the hardon an oil executive gets when he thinks about selling gas to a billion Chinese with

But the US public would oppose having their sons sent into harm's way in some dangerous backwater with no connection to the defense of the US.

But then --ta da! -- Sept 11 happened.

Now, that problem seems solved. A former Unocal consultant is now head of Afghanistan's government. However, mopping up operations seem to be taking longer than planned.

e) Meanwhile, several US military bases are being deployed in the Caspian Sea region under the guise of the "war on terror". Those units seem unable to find Bin Ladin but are doing an excellent job guarding Chevron and Unocal's billion dollar oil drilling investments. Plus, President Bush announced last year that we would be bringing troops home from Germany but that they would be redeployed to --you guessed it -- Central Asia.

f) Of course, our corrupt mainstream media seems to have totally forgotten all knowledge of Big Business's interests in Central Asia. But if you look at this transcript of a 1998 Congressional hearing, you can find out a lot about the new
"Great Game". See

g) Here's a short excerpt from the testimony of JOHN J. MARESCA, VICE PRESIDENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, Unocal CORPORATION:

"Mr. Chairman, the Caspian region contains tremendous untapped hydrocarbon reserves. Just to give an idea of the scale, proven natural gas reserves equal more than 236 trillion cubic feet. The region's total oil reserves may well reach more than 60 billion barrels of oil. Some estimates are as high as 200 billion barrels. In 1995, the region was producing only 870,000 barrels per day. By 2010, western companies could increase production to about 4.5 million barrels a day, an increase of more than 500 percent in only 15 years. If this occurs, the region would represent about 5 percent of the world's total oil production.
One major problem has yet to be resolved: how to get the region's vast energy resources to the markets where they are needed. Central Asia is isolated. Their natural resources are landlocked, both geographically and politically...
...At Unocal, we believe that the central factor in planning these pipelines should be the location of the future energy markets that are most likely to need these new supplies. Western Europe, Central and Eastern Europe, and the Newly Independent States of the former Soviet Union are all slow growth markets where demand will grow at only a half a percent to perhaps 1.2 percent per year during the period 1995 to 2010.
Asia is a different story all together. It will have a rapidly increasing energy consumption need. Prior to the recent turbulence in the Asian Pacific economies, we at Unocal anticipated that this region's demand for oil would almost double by 2010. Although the short-term increase in demand will probably not meet these expectations, we stand behind our long-term estimates.
I should note that it is in everyone's interest that there be adequate supplies for Asia's increasing energy requirements. If Asia's energy needs are not satisfied, they will simply put pressure on all world markets, driving prices upwards everywhere.
The key question then is how the energy resources of Central Asia can be made available to nearby Asian markets. There are two possible solutions, with several variations. One option is to go east across China, but this would mean constructing a pipeline of more than 3,000 kilometers just to reach Central China. In addition, there would have to be a 2,000-kilometer connection to reach the main population centers along the coast....
...The second option is to build a pipeline south from Central Asia to the Indian Ocean. One obvious route south would cross Iran, but this is foreclosed for American companies because of U.S. sanctions legislation. The only other possible route is across Afghanistan, which has of course its own unique challenges. The country has been involved in bitter warfare for almost two decades, and is still divided by civil war. From the outset, we have made it clear that construction of the pipeline we have proposed across Afghanistan could not begin until a recognized government is in place that has the confidence of governments, lenders, and our company."

posted by: Don the Greater on 06.23.05 at 06:11 PM [permalink]

The Financial Times gives the bottom line that globalization advocates don't seem to recognize:

"As the world’s biggest debtor, the US is ill placed to reject private sector investments by one of its largest creditors, particularly when its own companies have poured money into China. To do so while relying heavily on Chinese loans to finance its budget including national defence would be absurd."

posted by: Don the Greater on 06.23.05 at 06:11 PM [permalink]

Whatever it's shortcomings, CHina's government does have a few positive aspects.

China does not go on the other side of the world and break the most fundamental rule of international law (UN Article 51) by invading a country which poses no threat to it --killing untold tens of thousands of civilians in the process. China's leaders may be many things but they are not war criminals.

Nor does China come into Florida and bribe Floridian politicians to declare independence from the United States -- all as a precursor to a trade treaty with Florida which lets China suck out the Gulf of Mexico oil deposits in exchange for kickbacks to Florida's
political leadership.

WHich may be why a recent overseas poll show that
China is viewed far more favorably than the USA:

posted by: Don the Greater on 06.23.05 at 06:11 PM [permalink]

Don, the policies of China's past leaders have killed tens of millions of Chinese citizens. Does a domestic massacre break international law? If not, is it somehow morally superior to kill your own citizens than to kill foreigners on the other side of the world? I have no interest in defending US foreign policy, which I think is often misguided, but holding it up as contrast makes for an extraordinarily poor defense of Chinese policy.

posted by: Mutantfrog on 06.23.05 at 06:11 PM [permalink]

It's the economy, stupid. As long as China's economy grows by leaps and bounds, giving significant economic benefits to a significant segment of the population, there's little incentive for the people to demand other freedoms from their government, and little incentive for the government to grant them. (See, e.g., Singapore.)

posted by: David Weigel on 06.23.05 at 06:11 PM [permalink]

China may also be succeeding in gaining a better public image among liberal democratic societies, without actually having to go through the trouble of becoming a more liberal democratic society. The recent survey found that China had a higher favorability rating among Europeans than the United States is shocking.

China is not a liberal or democratic country. It is currently imprisoning a lot more people indefinitely in its laogai camps than the U.S. could hope to squeeze into Guantanamo. It has missiles pointed at Taiwan and continues to maintain a quasi-military occupation of Tibet. Oh yeah, they have the death penalty and the use it even more frequently and unfairly than Texas. So why do the European publics have such a favorable view of China?

Answer: Because Europeans do not really care all that much about U.S. human rights abuses, etc. What they really resent is American power and dominance and they would prefer anyone, even China, as a counterweight in order to teach those Americans a lesson. This is understandable. But careful what you wish for. Pax Americana may not be much fun, but I'm fairly confident a Pax Sinica would be far worse.

(For the whole post, please see,

posted by: Julian Ku on 06.23.05 at 06:11 PM [permalink]

I certainly do not approve of the leaders of China. But I also think that the people of CHina are in a far better position to choose their government and rulers than I. Especially since the Bush Administration seems to advocate "Democracy" only when it is convenient.

Pigs will fly before you will see Dick Cheney preaching the joys of democracy in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, or the oil dictatorships of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.

Plus,strictly speaking, the US is not a democracy but more of a corrupt oligarchy. Possibly headed toward a facist dictatorship in about 20 years if we continue following the pattern of ancient Rome and let our elites lead us to "empire".

posted by: Don the Greater on 06.23.05 at 06:11 PM [permalink]

Re Weigel's comment "It's the economy, stupid"

It's more than that. China's high population density makes her very vulnerable to famine -- in her past, civil strife resulted in a high death rate from starvation.

That has led the Chinese people to value harmony and order --possibly at the expense of freedom.

But before we Americans preen at our independence, we should note how the Bill of Rights has been tossed aside like a piece of used toilet paper under such minor stress as Sept 11 -- a pinprick in a nation of 290 million people.
Our Founders would view the US citizens of today with contempt.

posted by: Don the Greater on 06.23.05 at 06:11 PM [permalink]

Through what mechanism could the Chinese choose their leaders? The truth, unpleasant as it may be, is that the reason that you, Don, are unable to choose the leaders you would like, is that the majority of Americans do not share your views, not some sort of conspiracy led by Dick Cheney. And the more you and others like you speak from the left in such hysterical and hyperbolic terms, the less the left will seem like a credible alternative. Yes, money buys access to politicians and to advertising to influence voting, but a corrupt oligarchy headed to facism?

China is an interesting case. Could such a massive country and economy be competently managed by an authoritarian regime as in the city-state of Singapore? I doubt it. As the class of business owners grows, they are certain to demand a greater say in the way the country is governed? In the longer term, democracy may be a more likely outcome in China than in Russia, where a rapid transition from a command economy to a democratic, market economy became associated with corruption, inept rule, and kleptocracy.

posted by: Ken on 06.23.05 at 06:11 PM [permalink]

A clarification to my above comment. When I said
"But I also think that the people of CHina are in a far better position to choose their government and rulers than I" what I meant was that I -- unlike our aggressive neocons -- would not presume to tell people on the other side of the world who they should choose as leaders or what form their government should take.

I say that not as a "leftist" but as a Pat Buchanan conservative who thinks that if we let people on the other side of the world enjoy their land in peace, then they are more likely to let us do the same.

Re Ken's comment "The truth, unpleasant as it may be, is that the reason that you, Don, are unable to choose the leaders you would like, is that the majority of Americans do not share your views, not some sort of conspiracy led by Dick Cheney"

I would note that the reason I and many others could not choose our leader is that billionaire S Daniel Abraham -- a longtime advocate for Israel -- spent $200,000 attacking Howard Dean in the Iowa primary.

The attacks on Dean for being soft on terrorism -- a pack of lies in my opinion -- occurred after Dean said the US should be more evenhanded in the Israel-Palestine dispute.

Abraham launched this attack anonymously under an Orwellian cover called Americans for Jobs. The funding behind Americans for Jobs was not reported to the FEC until after several primaries were over.

Another reason I and others had a limited choice in the last election is that senior Democratic leaders like John Kerry could not point out that Bush was damaging US national security by whoring for Israel because ,after all, Kerry and senior Democrats have been whores for Israel for years.

Their biggest contributor in 2000-2002 was an Israeli billionaire named Haim Saban. That is why
Kerry could only make strangled gagging sounds whenever he tried to criticize Bush on IRaq. To court major Democratic donors, Bush attacked Iraq because --while Hussein was not a threat to the US,he was seen as a threat by Sharon and the Likud. Both the Democrats and the Republicans conspired to not reveal that to the voters.

A final reason I and others could not select our leaders is that Presidental debates are a carefully orchestrated Kubuki dance shaped by major contributors. What is banned from discussion is often more important than the few minor items that get batted around.

posted by: Don the Greater on 06.23.05 at 06:11 PM [permalink]

I live over here in the middle kingdom right now and have been here for about 4 years. When I first got here I would get into discussions with Chinese people about their government and how oppressive it was. Primarily my points were met with bewilderment.

The average city person here has the same relationship with the government the people in the states have with the DMV- It's a hassle, but it leaves you alone and there're a lot of other things to worry about, like buying a car and a house.

It's not that they don't care or know about many of their government's failings, but it just doesn't play that large a role in the lives of the middle class. They see life as generaly getting better which is not exactly a recepie for change.

posted by: Karl on 06.23.05 at 06:11 PM [permalink]

" I also think that the people of China are in a far better position to choose their government and rulers than I." Don, you are completely off your nut.
The people of China aren't even in a position to buy an uncensored Chinese-language newspaper.
And do you think its possible reason that Howard Dean didn't win because the 'Deaniacs,' - with their ludicrous talk of the US being "a corrupt oligarchy' and 'facist dictatorship,' - left people thinking that Dean was also a paranoid moonbat?

posted by: myrick - in Shanghai on 06.23.05 at 06:11 PM [permalink]

Drezner, half-way through the post you slipped and started calling Hu Jintao "Wu Jintao"; this would be akin to an estimable Chinese professor discussing the policies of President "Bosh" etc....

posted by: liu bang on 06.23.05 at 06:11 PM [permalink]

This is the big challenge to the US and Europe in the 21st century. How far should we go in accommodating an unfree society like China? I share your doubts about the link between free trade and democracy in China. The "elections" in Iran show a classic example of the way unfree societies deal with pressure to reform: they try to prevent it. It is not always possible for a society to free itself from dictators. The police state works, to a certain extent.

Would it not be fair to demand some sort of premium from unfree societies that want to trade with us, whose labor markets are also unfree, to offset the deterioration in our own domestic labor markets?

Shouldn't we do everything to encourage fair working conditions in these countries?

If there is a choice between spending money in China and spending it in a more democratic place such as India, doesn't it make more sense to spend it in India to encourage the competition of systems and make it more likely that democracy will prevail?

The Chinese leaders are betting that their system will outlast our western democratic model. I think they are wrong, but I have no illusions about just how fragile democracy can become in any given society in times of crisis. "Das Volk" is not always right, and sometimes they are willing to hand over their freedoms to leaders in exchange for the fulillment of some deep emotional need. This is simply to say that a Western victory is not guaranteed.

Without engaging in jingoism, we need to get away from the fawning admiration for China so prevalent in many western countries (esp. Europe) and keep a sharp, vocal focus on China's failings. Sometimes we need to say "no" and raise our voices in protest. We have to avoid allowing China to divide and separate the West on fundamental issues.

We are paying a huge price in social upheaval in the West to allow China a chance to move onto the world stage in a peaceful manner that increases prosperity for all. It is only fair that we demand something from China in return. ... while we still can.

posted by: Karl B. on 06.23.05 at 06:11 PM [permalink]

Another thought; China won't reform democratically until people are disatisfied enough with the government to demand change. That isn't yet happening in urban coastal center. People accept dictatorship when growth is strong. When the bubble bursts, people will start to be more demanding of their leaders. I believe this may happen much sooner than many are expecting.

posted by: myrick - in Shanghai on 06.23.05 at 06:11 PM [permalink]

The Chinese Communists saw what happened to Gorbachov and they do not want to imitate him. (A bit ironic, since their strong economy makes Gorby-style reforms seem more likely to succeed).

OTOH, they are forced to accomodate economic changes in order to avoid landing in exactly the same position Gorby was in. So the economic changes are here to stay, meaning that Communism is now an empty label.

Whether the contradiction between their economic system and their political system is sustainable, I don't know. Spain after Franco in slow motion?

posted by: Dave on 06.23.05 at 06:11 PM [permalink]

The idea that the Chinese have more power to choose thier leaders is ludicrous. 800 million people in China live our thier lives at a level you would not let your dog.

Bubble america also contains liberals as well as conservatives. Both sides see the world as a reflection of themselves. Democracy is not the new Manifest Destiny of all mankind. Democracy is a highly formalized governmental system that has to be carefully developed. There is no reason to think China will go this way. But in Bubble America the finest minds start with that as thier thesis and then make the facts fit. Its dumb and we will pay for it.

posted by: exclab on 06.23.05 at 06:11 PM [permalink]

re: chinese US debt purchases

warren buffet said as much last thursday on street signs, with ron insana...

Having China bid for U.S. companies such as Unocal "is an inevitable consequence of what we are doing in trade," billionaire investor Warren Buffett said in an interview on CNBC. American purchases of Chinese shoes, furniture and textiles, give the Chinese dollars that they can spend, he said.
"Sometimes, they buy our government bonds, as their central bank has done, but other times they are going to buy our assets. If we are going to consume more than we produce, we have to expect to give away a little bit of the country," Buffett said.
the US should be careful what it wishes for. if congress blocks CNOOC's bid, the marginal propensity for china to continue accumulating US debt will decline. ceteris paribus, the dollar would weaken and interest rates rise, undermining one pillar of the US housing market and, in turn, the economy. if congress is so concerned about china acquiring oil assets from american companies, they should also be prepared for less foreign demand for US treasuries and agencies as well as more expensive imports; as so often occurs in trade, there are trade offs...

posted by: al on 06.23.05 at 06:11 PM [permalink]

Lets embarras ourselves by actually going over the putative scenario. We start a little in the past. China is an appalling dictatorship. The party decides that communism - or what ever it was they thought they were doing - would bankrupt the party so they adopt capitalism. Thus they retain power. Now we are to the present. The western program for China goes something like this. Capitalism is an amoral beast but we, in the west, have decided it is not and naturally leads people to democracy. Over the next say twenty years or so, say 300 million people will increase thier living standard from a dollar a day to maybe $50, in China. This will be a faster move up the income scale of more people than ever before. These people, reeling from this leap, will suddenly be educated enough to demand a wide range of rights they have never ever enjoyed and do not understand. They will decide to kick out the government that controls thier media and has told them that thier good life is all because of the communist party. They will instantly see through this lie and take thier country to democracy. The other 500 million people living in China who are still in poverty will some how go along with this. The enviroment of a world already taxed from raising 700 million people to a state of extraordinary affluence over 200 years, will have no problem sustaining a larger gain in less than twenty years. All this because capitalism has an intrinsically moral aspect that respects human life and global resource and democracy.

Here's a better scenario: To maintain its power the communist party commits itself to raising 500 million people out of poverty in China in 20 years. THe demand on global infrastructure is absolutely cataclismic. The demand for resources soars and a strong central goverment with strong ties to interlocking system of Chinese coorporations is much better at getting those resources than the open market western style capitalism. Coorporate and Governmental interests in China see a clear interest in crushing descent and they do. The Chinese government no longer owns capital but its interests are that of capital.

Sound familiar? It's a standard theme, in variation, in Chinese history. What are they going to go with - our way or thier way?

posted by: exclab on 06.23.05 at 06:11 PM [permalink]

[I]s U.S. trade with China making the country more free?

You could ask the reverse of that question as well.

posted by: Simstim on 06.23.05 at 06:11 PM [permalink]

Robert Kagan recently wrote a column entitled "The Illusion of 'Managing' China" in the Washington Post. His argument is that it is soothing to think that we can "manage" the rise of China and the terms on which it integrates into the world political and economic system with our arsenal of carrots and sticks, but that in fact, there is every reason to think that China will want to re-negociate the terms of that system once it gains more clout within it, and that we really have less leverage over China than we might think. I found it convincing. There is bound to be friction, and, as somebody above argued, it is folly to think that Democracy will be the inevitable outcome of economic progress in China, much as it was folly for Marxists to think that communism was the scientifically proven destiny of all of mankind.

That being said, I still have confidence in the creative destruction of the market and the adaptability of democracies, and think that China will eventually have to adapt to compete. We have our concerns about China's capacity for jingoism and militarism, and fears about the trade imbalance and the influence that China's holding so many American treasury bonds may give it, and more recently fears about China buying American companies. But China has its own concerns. It has to keep expanding its economy at a break-neck pace to absorb young workers and rural-urban migration. If the current Chinese regime fails to hold up its end of the current political bargain--political stability and rising prosperity in exchange for a blank check to rule as they see fit--there could be a backlash against the government and chaos, as another reader above pointed out. To keep up their end of the bargain, they need foreign consumption of their output. They need us as much as we need them. At some point, if there were to be a recession in the states, say, or if the dollar plummets, the Chinese government may find itself unable to provide the growth that makes their authoritarianism palatable, and then we will see how exceptional China is.

posted by: ken on 06.23.05 at 06:11 PM [permalink]

China's population is greater than that of South America, and it has been barely a quarter-century since Deng Xiao-peng began moving the Chinese Communist Party away from Maoist ideology. These two facts mean that it is way too early to know what the answer to Dan's question will be.

This bothers me less than it probably does other people. Democracy is a highly demanding form of government, requiring not only leaders and officials but also citizens. Some cultures are able to sustain it, some are not, and still others may be, given enough time and the right circumstances.

Certain aspects of the Chinese political tradition -- deeply ingrained deference to authority, for example, and a preference for centralizing state power -- could be grounds for pessimism about Chinese democracy. The unprecedented dissemination of knowledge, even of literacy could be a sign pointing in the opposite direction. While there are things the United States can do to encourage the growth of freedom in China, this will be a process that happens, or doesn't, for reasons largely beyond our control. The most important thing for us from a policy standpoint is to maintain a realistic view of what is actually happening in China and avoid coloring it with what we would like to see there.

posted by: Zathras on 06.23.05 at 06:11 PM [permalink]

The power of market principles and the WTO’s requirements for transparency and accountability will advance openness and the rule of law in China to help establish basic protections for commerce and for citizens. (emphasis added)
Or, alternatively China will request/demand concessions, waivers, and indefinite postponements and get them. IIRC under the agreement by which it joined the WTO China must substantially open up its banking industry to foreign involvement and ownership no later than 2006. We'll see. We won't have long to wait.
posted by: Dave Schuler on 06.23.05 at 06:11 PM [permalink]

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