2010 January 18 Monday
Which Way China?

Have American politicians and pundits deluded themselves about China's eventual embrace of democracy and a free press? We've certainly plenty of other recent delusions of our elites (democratization's chance in the Middle East, Iraq's supposed WMD program, the foundations of the latest financial bubble to burst) to point to as demonstrations of elite foolishness.

Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush firmly believed that free trade and, in particular, the information age would make political change in China irresistible. On a visit to China in 1998, Mr Clinton proclaimed: “In this global information age, when economic success is built on ideas, personal freedom is essential to the greatness of any nation.” A year later, Mr Bush made a similar point: “Economic freedom creates habits of liberty. And habits of liberty create expectations of democracy ... Trade freely with the Chinese and time is on our side.”

The two presidents were reflecting the conventional wisdom among America’s most influential pundits. Tom Friedman, New York Times columnist and author of best-selling books on globalisation, once proclaimed bluntly: “China’s going to have a free press. Globalisation will drive it.” Robert Wright, one of Mr Clinton’s favourite thinkers, argued that if China chose to block free access to the internet, “the price would be dismal economic failure”.

So far, the facts are refusing to conform to the theory. China has continued to censor new and old media, but this has hardly condemned it to “dismal economic failure”. On the contrary, China is now the world’s second largest economy and its largest exporter, with foreign reserves above $2,000bn.

Will China have freedom of the press 30 years from now? Want to make a prediction on this? I'm thinking NO myself. Of course, China could get a democracy and as a result become more nationalistic and pushy on the world stage. Obviously democracy hasn't kept the US from engaging in foolhardy foreign adventures. Also, industrialization didn't prevent Japan from trying to build an empire (or the US for that matter).

China's already acting uppity in ways not expected until 2025. Some think it is because the Chinese see us as in decline.

Beijing's virtual snub of talks in New York on Saturday on Iran's nuclear program was just the latest example of what many China watchers see as a growing assertion of its self-interest.

One Western political leader, according to an associate, said after Beijing took the lead in blocking a deal at last month's Copenhagen climate talks, he had not expected China to be throwing its weight around in such a way for another 10 to 15 years.

China's government is going to do whatever it thinks will keep its economy growing. That means saying no emissions restraints aimed at global warming, no to pleas to import more goods to balance trade, and otherwise no to anything that the Chinese ruling elite sees as holding the potential to slow economic growth. If the Chinese economy slows it'll be because an inevitable bursting bubble due to overexpansion of credit by government. All developing countries go thru bubble bursts. Just read the book I linked to for the details (I'm still reading it myself).

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2010 January 18 11:40 PM  China

Joe said at January 19, 2010 1:52 AM:

Thirty years from now? hell yeah. When I want to know, more or less, what broad changes will happen to China, I look at Japan and the four Asian dragons. Taiwan especially. These countries had a hell of a lot in common with china, culturally, economically, historically, genetically. Back when they were growing, and even until recently, they were brutal dictatorships that had no problems repressing their own citizens and even committing massacres against them when they tried to rise up (gwangju, jeju, kaohsiung, and 227 massacres). But eventually, they all fell into line and became free and democratic. The combination of urbanization, growing wealth and education, and getting fed up with a bad system had an inevitable result. So I think there's a very good chance china will go democratic, I just hope they're wise enough to do it before another massacre happens.

A.Prole said at January 19, 2010 2:15 AM:

Of course, the two great trends of the early 21st century (China's rise to greatness and America's descent to a non-White majority Hell) are coincident.
Of the two trends the dire fate facing the USA is the worse.Therefore all the hot-air wasted on whether China will be democratic or not is really irrelevant.

Matt@occidentalism.org said at January 19, 2010 3:08 AM:

I think a valid question is whether the US will have a free press in 30 years.

not anon or anonymous said at January 19, 2010 4:46 AM:

Joe, China is not homogenous like those other countries, despite Han settlement projects. And, beyond sheer size, did they go through anything comparable to the "social revolution"?

Joe said at January 19, 2010 7:00 AM:

Singapore is less homogeneous than china, by far. Taiwan has some diversity, there's aboriginal taiwanese and the han chinese are divided between fujianese, hakkas, and the recent influx of mainlanders. China's still 90% han chinese and even more in the cities. There's no real conflict between different dialect groups of han. I don't see how this could be an issue.

Do you mean cultural revolution? That didn't happen during china's capitalist/mercantile rise, but before it.

Black Death said at January 19, 2010 7:49 AM:

Wither China? Who can say? I think the Bush-Clinton neoconish belief that free trade and globalization will inevitably lead to democracy and freedom is naive - but who really knows? I don't worry much about China. I've been there a couple of times, and they have enormous problems. How they deal with them is none of our business. What really worries the Chinese ruling elite is that the country might dissolve into civil war and be consumed by squabbling warlord factions. There's a lot more precedence for that in Chinese history than there is for democratic trends and freedom.

And I don't worry about Chinese military activities. Look at a map - China is surrounded by enemies. China has fought wars with or invaded most of her neighbors - Korea, Japan, Viet Nam, India, the Muslim central Asian countries and Russia. They all hate and fear China. So we don't need to worry about China's building a massive army and navy and sailing across the Pacific to occupy California (although I'd give it to them if they really wanted it). China's neighbors will respond quickly to any military threats from the PRC. Anyway, China lacks the resources (especially oil) for a prolonged military campaign. A couple of US (or even Indian or Japanese) carrier battle groups astride the oil tanker routes in the Indian Ocean would have the Chinese back to driving their rickshas in short order.

We shouldn't about things over which we have no control, such as what's going on in China. The accelerating decline of the Western Democracies is a much more pressing problem, and one that, at least in theory, we can do something about.

miles said at January 19, 2010 9:23 AM:

I think this is quite telling, http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/e9306da0-0461-11df-8603-00144feabdc0.html

We (Clinton and Bush) thought that China couldn't resist freedom of the press (which would allow our media companies access to Chinese minds so they could be hooked with sex, and then brainwashed with PC#. The Chinese were smarter than this, and still dont have a free press, and thus are playing to win for themselves. That article exposes #from the Financial Times, which makes it funnier) just how wrong our leaders were.

Mthson said at January 19, 2010 11:00 AM:

Isn't the cause of "human rights" in China just an attempt to turn China into a limp-wristed Liberal culture like the West?

These are the "human rights" causes, according to Wiki's summary: "Controversial human rights issues in China include policies such as capital punishment, the one-child policy, the policy of Han Chinese cultural integration towards Tibet, and lack of protections regarding freedom of press and religion."

My take:
1. China has a much more rational policy on capital punishment, executing even corrupt businessmen and government officials.
2. It's rational to control the fertility of the mouth-breathing masses.
3. Tibet deserves to be colonized.
4. Freedom of the press would let liberals destroy China's future like they did to the West.
5. China has a naturally intelligent and cooperative population, so religion seems like an unnecessary complication.

Nobody said at January 19, 2010 8:49 PM:

--Anyway, China lacks the resources (especially oil) for a prolonged military campaign. A couple of US (or even Indian or Japanese) carrier battle groups astride the oil tanker routes in the Indian Ocean would have the Chinese back to driving their rickshas in short order.--

They've got the oil in Xinjiang. And they've got access to oil in the ME. And the military campaign won't be long. The last time the Indians traded shots with the PRC? Not good for India. The Indian Navy is going to get hit and sunk, assuming they show up. The USN won't. Japan is a ?. This country is going to do lots of talking about how horrible the PRC is and so on, but nothing, nothing military-wise is gonna go down with the PRC. They own our debt. And Beijing is fine not getting the money back. They'll take favors just fine. Taiwan? It'll be part of the PRC again. The Chinese are not afraid to fight America. And no way will we even get close to the stuff that went on in Korea. Just my humble opinion.

Trent Telenko said at January 23, 2010 10:35 AM:

The thing to watch for with China is lots of nuclear power for base load power, lots of north-south railways for the interior and coal gasification plants for liquid POL.

The combination together spells military expansionism.

Trent Telenko said at January 27, 2010 8:02 AM:

>>--Anyway, China lacks the resources (especially oil) for a prolonged military campaign.

The same was said of Imperial Japan in 1941.

Military planners and politicians saying that in both the Western and Japan were correct, for all the good it did in convincing the ruling IJA clique not to start a war.

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