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May 24, 2007

How Do We Talk About China Policy?
Posted by Michael Fuchs

Debates over U.S. policy towards China can get heated. Mere words like "human rights", "democracy", "trade", "investment" and "stability" provoke endless conversations about China's present, its future, and what the U.S. should - or can - do to help shape that future. A recent exchange between David Lampton and James Mann on Foreign Policy's website exhibits the intensity of these debates. It also highlights some of the most fundamental questions swirling around U.S. policy considerations. Here's a taste.


It's Mann who is being naive. The truth is, U.S. policy toward the People's Republic of China has never been predicated on a false belief that China would move toward democracy soon, if at all. Seven consecutive U.S. presidents, backed by Congress and the American public, have weighed their options and decided that security and economic considerations rank above promoting Chinese democracy in the priority list. Mann wants to upend the ranking. Democratization promotes those other valid objectives, he believes. But that argument has not won the policy day thus far.


I don't believe that's true. The first four presidents won congressional and public backing because the United States wanted China's cooperation against the Soviet Union. That indeed amounted to downplaying Chinese repression beneath the other interests of national security and combating Soviet repression. But after the Tiananmen Square massacre and the end of the Cold war, the dynamics changed. Since then, U.S. leaders have obtained congressional and public support by making the claim that their policies, especially on trade and investment, would help bring political change to China. Contrary to Lampton's assertion, there never has been a congressional vote (or election) in which Congress or the American public said it wanted to de-emphasize political repression in China.

My principal argument has been that political change in China is not inevitable - and that in fact China's one-party state is likely to persist for a long time. The claim that trade leads to political change was a rationalization used to line up support for U.S. economic policies that have proved beneficial, above all, to U.S. and multinational corporations. Now, Lampton is telling us to stop looking for far-reaching change, and to expect only more human governance from a one-party state that permits no organized opposition. That is truly sad.

The entire exchange is worth reading.


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The exchange between Mann and Lampton may be worth reading, but the one I want to see is an exchange between Michael Fuchs on one side and Shadi Hamid and David Schanzer on the other.

I'd like to see Fuchs defend himself from the charge that he foolishly thinks 1.3 billion Chinese and the world's third-largest economy are more important to us and to humanity's future than 300 million Arabs with a combined GDP about equal to what Shanghai produces by itself.

The Chinese people are, on the whole, immensely freer and richer than their predecessors of just a few decades ago, who lived in a destitute, isolated and fanatical Maoist prison-state. That change, which has occurred in a relatively short period of historical time, is so obvious and profound that no sensible person could deny it. The best Mann can do is point out that the immense improvements have been somewhat unequally distributed, and despair over the fact that other kinds of imaginable improvements that Mann would like to see have not yet occurred.

The manifest progress in China has been encouraged by policies of recognition, engagement, cultural and economic exchange, and openness between China and the rest of the world. That also seems incontestable. One gathers Mann disapproves of these policies in some way. But as Lampton points out, Mann offers no alternatives.

China has had about 3000 years of quite centralized rule, featuring incredibly resilient dynasties puctuated with relatively brief periods of disintegration and decentralization. A number of periods in Chinese history have been quite glorious and civilized - yet none has been democratic. China is probably always going to be more centralized and hierarchical than the US. Perhaps Mann should just get over this fact, and accept the reality that there are other successful cultures in the world, with alternative patterns and habits of thought, moral expectations, social order and governance.

China has shown itself to be is a marvelously durable society, with a continous culture spanning millenia. Apparently the Chinese have not been thoroughly miserable throughout that history, given that they have found the time to engage in energetic and inspiring building and planning; produced beautiful poetry, painting, music and literature; made a number of significant contributions to science and engineering; seen several flowerings of religions, moral philosophies and spiritual movements which have had a substantial impact beyond China's borders; developed agriculture to the point of being able to feed hundreds of millions, and now more than a billion people; played interesting games and sports; and developed martial and spiritual arts that have captivated the world. Yet for puritanical democracy prigs like Mann, none of this matters much. Unless China discovers the glories of two-party representative democracy, it has failed.

One legacy of decades of upheaval and revolution culminating in Maoist totalitarianism is some oppressive and corrupt legal and governing institutions. These institutions also seem to have improved dramatically since Mao, and we can all hope that China continues a move toward institutions that provide a less harsh, and more gentle and enjoyable life for its people. Mann seems to detect something awful in Lampton's suggestion that some kinds of continuing progress in China may come in the form of a regime that is simply more humane, while still retaining its centralized, one-party character. There is surely something fanatical in Mann's all-or-nothing reaction to that notion.

That a police state is not inherently repressive is false. Certainly the average Chinese is better off today than the recent past but to condemn China to decades more repression with the multicultural feel good "...that there are other successful cultures in the world, with alternative patterns and habits of thought, moral expectations, social order and governance." is obscene.

Most people laughed at the Great Firewall of China saying with the internet that the truth could not be kept out. Sadly it's not only turned out to be wrong but the technology and software are not being exported by China to other repressive regimes.

Now personally I don't think there is very much we can do to promote democracy in China and furthermore it's always going to be 99% up to the Chinese. This does not mean promoting democracy and basic human rights should not be on our agenda.

The pro democracy demonstrations of 15 or so years ago were in part inspired by the US democracy, hence all the US symbols seen at that time, before they were brutally put down by killing thousands in public on tv. This is not a progressive regime. It seeks to remain in power and will jail and kill anyone who threatens the regime.

If all we can do is inspire freedom and democracy for those who seek it could we at least please remain a good example? Moreover, could we please respect ourselves enough to become comfortable with moral imperative that freedom is a universal good and lack of freedom equates to slavery and is thus bad. It's easier to form coherent policy when you at least know the basic things you believe. Slavery is bad when it's a woman being stoned to death for the crime of being raped as well as a Chinese being jailed for practicing a religious belief or simply having once lived in what used to be called the nation of Tibet.

How many other parts of the world does China get to enslave over the next decades? It's the stated goal of the PRC to enslave the people of Taiwan. Is democracy worth defending there or does the west offer Taiwan up to placate China and then what do they get next? Can we please not stop talking publicly about China having very serious repressive policies and that we do not now nor will we ever accept that any nation can keep basic humans freedoms from it's citizens and be considered a legitimate regime. Not for nothing but this basic idea is a treaty obligation of the United States under little things like the United Nations Charter.

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That a police state is not inherently repressive is false. Most people laughed at the Great Firewall of China saying with the internet that the truth could not be kept out.

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This is a police state not an actual repressive wrong. Most people laughed the Great Firewall of China said to the Internet, that truth can not be out.
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