Political Liberalization and China

Sam Roggeveen of The Interpreter has a thought-provoking post about whether China represents a special case in the normally direct relationship between economic prosperity and politicial liberalization. This strikes me as spot on:

[Chinese leaders] seem to have struck just the opposite bargain with their people: if you accept perpetual rule by us, we will make you rich. That bargain is now the path to continued legitimacy for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), rather than any promise of political liberalisation.

It’s impossible to separate China’s prosperity from the globalized market. But the reality is that the West probably has an exagerrated view of both the market’s and its own influence over China. Former French FM Hubert Védrine is fond of saying that those who condemn the West’s willingness to (for all intents and purposes) look past human rights abuses in pursuit of commercial ties with China are suffering from the delusion that we can somehow transform it into an enormous Denmark by our refusal to engage with it. As the case of Sudan shows, the world is full of worse regimes than Peking, only too willing to develop close economic ties.

Still, the Olympic torch fiasco is an illustration of how a repressive domestic climate combined with a brittle diplomatic posture requires enormous resource investments (para-military operation in Tibet + need for resulting media/diplomatic initiatives abroad = costly response to political grievances) with very little payoff. In a globalized economy, that willeventually effect the bottom line. When you consider how absurd keeping a torch lit as a foreign policy goal really is, it’s hard not to assume that as China becomes increasingly engaged beyond its borders (ie. beyond its ability to repress political opposition), the more likely it will be to take these calculations into consideration in its domestic policies.

Update: Just after posting this, I came across this Thomas Barnett article, Ten Reasons Why china Matters to You. I haven’t had a chance to read through it yet, but the subject headings look pretty juicy.

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