China's Stubborn Anti-Democracy

For more than a decade, successive U.S. presidents have declared that political liberalization leading ultimately to democratization in China would be desirable and decidedly in America’s--and the world’s--interests. The Clinton administration, after some initial tortuous twists and turns, fashioned a policy of “constructive engagement” with the Chinese government that called for close bilateral economic and political cooperation along with U.S. advocacy for democracy, open markets and human rights in China. The George W. Bush administration, though openly suspicious of China’s opaque military buildup and strategic intentions, has exhorted China to become a “responsible stakeholder” of the international community while urging it to embrace democracy. To Washington, a China that is headed down a democratic path--even as it amasses military, political, and economic might--would offer the best assurance for peace, prosperity and cooperation with the United States and the world.

China, however, appears immune to and unmoved by U.S. wishes. American democracy promotion--ranging from economic engagement to democracy programs to lofty rhetoric--has not halted the speed at which the Chinese authoritarian behemoth presses on with grave human rights abuses. For now, U.S. hopes remain just hopes.

The reasons for democracy’s slow boat to China are complicated: They range from American delusions to Chinese authoritarian resilience to Chinese nationalism. Far less complicated is the reality that as the United States trumpets democracy worldwide as a strategic objective and a sign of human progress, China is unabashedly providing a counter-example. Successful democratization in China, therefore, will not only usher in freedom for 1.3 billion Chinese citizens, but also strike a blow against the stubbornness of authoritarianism worldwide. It is therefore vital for U.S. policymakers to examine China’s success in resisting democratization, reassess the tools and assumptions of current democracy promotion efforts, and think of new ways to remove the roadblocks to freedom.

The “Inevitability” of Change

Many China observers have long been predicting that China’s encounter with market forces or liberal institutions and instruments from the West would spur inevitable democratic change. These observers have been right that China would become more pluralistic and multifaceted. But they have been delusional in thinking that Chinese leaders would simply roll over and relinquish power when presented with new challenges to their rule. On everything ranging from trade to the Internet, from village elections to the rule of law, Chinese rulers have consistently proven China optimists wrong.

Economic engagement. The fundamental underpinning of American policy toward China today--and U.S. democracy promotion in China--is economic engagement. Since the U.S. Congress granted permanent normal trading relations (PNTR) to China in 2000, an underlying assumption of economic engagement with China is that the market forces unleashed by international trade and investment will necessarily spur economic and political change in Chinese society. Washington’s assumption is spurred in no small part by the successful democratic transitions undertaken by other authoritarian regimes--such as those in Taiwan, South Korea, and Chile in the 1980s--after they had embarked on economic liberalization. Indeed, two decades-plus of U.S.-China trade have drastically altered the face of Chinese society, resulting in an unprecedented expansion of economic, social, and personal freedoms for ordinary Chinese citizens.

The links between economic liberalization and political reform, however, have turned out to be much more complicated and tenuous in the China case. More than six years after PNTR, drastic improvements in Chinese society have not been translated into political liberalization. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) shows no interest in meaningful political reforms and has continued to rely on repression and brutality to maintain its rule. Since 2000, the U.S. Department of State’s Annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices have continued to declare the Chinese government’s human rights record to be “poor” or “in deterioration.” Similarly, Freedom House, a nonprofit, nonpartisan human rights organization, has repeatedly rated China “unfree” in its Annual Survey of Political Rights and Civil Liberties.

Certainly, the lack of political progress was not what successive Republican and Democratic administrations promised. In lobbying for continued trade with China, President Bill Clinton predicted in 2000, “We will be unleashing forces no totalitarian operation rooted in last century’s industrial society can control.” President George W. Bush reiterated Clinton’s prediction in 2005: “I believe a whiff of freedom in the marketplace will cause there to be more demand for democracy.” Just how China is to proceed from “a whiff of freedom” to democracy no one knows. Meanwhile, the CCP is determined to show otherwise: It continues to gobble up Western technology, know-how, and capital without relinquishing its monopoly on power.

Institutions and instruments for change. Unfortunately, Washington has met the resilience of Chinese authoritarianism with grand delusions. Just as successive presidential administrations have subscribed to the overarching principle that economic engagement would lead inevitably to democratization in China, numerous policymakers, scholars, and pundits have touted various instruments and institutions as inevitable agents of democratic change. Such institutions and instruments, often evoking different elements of democratic society, range from village elections to rule-of-law collaboration to the Internet. In some ways, these instruments and institutions act as spokes of the wheel of economic engagement. But just as Chinese rulers have managed to compartmentalize economic modernization from political liberalization, they have also been determined to neutralize the democratizing powers of liberal institutions and instruments.

To Washington, all good things go together. If China encountered some element of what exists in a democratic society, many have argued, it would be unable to stop that element’s accompanying democratic attributes from seeping into society as a whole. When the Chinese government institutionalized nationwide rural village elections in 1998, numerous observers believed they would inevitably pave the way for broader democratization throughout the country. When the Chinese government agreed to conduct rule-of-law cooperation with the United States on legal training, education, and administrative and commercial law in 1997 and 1998, government and academic experts predicted that any progress made in the less politically sensitive legal areas would inevitably lead to liberalization in the political rule of law. When the Internet revolution arrived in China in the late 1990s, Americans were sure that the Chinese government would quickly succumb to the democratizing powers of the free flow of information.

Each time, however, China showed that it was determined to extract the economic or governing benefits of liberalizing forces and instruments while stifling their political powers. Though millions of villagers throughout China have now experienced elections firsthand, such elections are deeply flawed. Many are uncompetitive; many others provide little or no choice over the slate of candidates; fraud is rampant; and those elected, fairly or not, often wield little decision-making power. Furthermore, the government shows little interest in expanding the elections to the national level. On the rule of law, though China now eagerly participates in rule-of-law exchanges with the United States, it has permitted legal reforms for the purpose of facilitating economic development and making its governance more efficacious, not more democratic. As such, Beijing has limited legal reform only to politically safe areas, such as commercial and administrative law, and has barred legal reform from politically sensitive areas such as political dissent, labor unrest, and religious freedom.[1] As for the Internet, though China eagerly embraced it as a vehicle for economic modernization and technological advancement, it has aggressively neutralized the medium’s democratizing effects. Though the Chinese online population exploded from a paltry 620,000 in October 1997 to about 123 million in July 2006, the Chinese government uses sophisticated technology and some 50,000 Internet police to censor Internet content; it regularly makes high-profile arrests of cyber-dissidents and has intimidated both Western and domestic companies to engage in self-censorship.

Through it all, Beijing has pressed on, doing what Washington believed was impossible: compartmentalizing economic gain from political challenges. This does not mean that the market forces and various liberal instruments trumpeted by the United States should be dismissed or abandoned, but it does mean that as Beijing strengthens the resilience of its authoritarianism, Washington should cease basking in its delusions for inevitable democratic change.

Authoritarian Resilience

To promote democratization in China effectively, the United States must better understand the reasons for authoritarianism’s resilience. Various factors contribute to such resilience, including spectacular economic growth, regime institutionalization, suppression and cooptation of the political opposition, and stringent restriction of what democracy theorists called "coordination goods."

First and foremost, the Chinese regime’s ability to deliver continued economic growth has prolonged its ability to govern. Between 1978 and 2005, the World Bank reports, China’s GDP growth averaged 9.4 percent annually. For the past four successive years, China’s eonomy has grown approximately 10 percent each year.[2] This growth has created jobs, raised living standards, delivered modernization and boosted national pride. According to the United Nations Development Program, 250 million Chinese citizens were lifted out of poverty between 1980 and 2005. Though some critics, notably Gordon Chang, have predicted that China’s economy will collapse before the end of this decade,[3] economists such as Thomas Rawski and Barry Naughton and institutions such as the imf argue that China’s prospects for continued economic development appear bright.[4]

Ironically, impressive economic growth has bolstered the government’s legitimacy and reduced pressures for it to liberalize politically. As Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and George W. Downs argue, economic growth, at least in the short term, stabilizes and legitimizes authoritarian regimes more than it undermines them.[5] For this reason, Chinese President Hu Jintao expects--and fervently hopes--that China’s GDP in 2020 will quadruple that in 2000.[6]

Aside from achieving spectacular gdp growth, the regime has also increasingly institutionalized its bureaucracy. Instead of weakening, floundering or over-centralizing, observes Andrew Nathan, the CCP has smoothed out succession politics, promoted meritocracy over factionalism for the advancement of political elites, modernized a disparate and large bureaucracy, and established the means of political participation at the local and work-unit levels to strengthen legitimacy.[7] According to Nathan, this means that leadership successions, such as the recent ones in 2002 and 2003, now occur in an orderly fashion and are no longer characterized by the violent factional struggles of the Maoist era. Senior government leaders arrive at top posts increasingly because of their educational background and technocratic competence rather than pure loyalty to specific CCP leaders. The party has decreased its interference in the work of government organs and bureaucracies, allowing them more leeway to oversee their functional responsibilities. All the while, the central government has also instituted mechanisms for--or created the appearances of--being receptive to citizen opinions at the very micro levels of society. The regime, in contrast to previous eras, has shown little internal disagreement over its overarching approach to governance. Institutionalized and unified, the regime is determined to tackle China’s major economic and social challenges, suppress any viable political opposition, and stay in power.

Of course, regime institutionalization alone cannot quell political discontent, dissent, or opposition, but this is where the effective suppression and cooptation of rival political groups come in. Beijing has brutally suppressed the spiritual group Falun Gong, a Buddhist sect that surprised and alarmed the regime by massing outside of its walled leadership compound in Beijing in a 10,000-strong silent protest on April 25, 1999. Similarly, the CCP has effectively cracked down on the China Democracy Party, which democracy activists in 1998 attempted to organize as the first national opposition party under communist rule.

Simultaneously, the ccp has keenly and successfully co-opted potential political competitors. According to Minxin Pei, the party has built coalitions with 1) intellectuals, who were at the forefront of criticizing the regime in the 1980s and in leading the Tiananmen Democracy Movement of 1989; 2) private entrepreneurs, who comprise the emerging middle class that many believed would demand more rights as they acquired fuller stomachs; and 3) technocratic reformers, who focus on the changes necessary to institutionalize and modernize China’s governance.[8] By doling out everything from party membership to senior government positions to financial perks, the party has rendered moot the political threat from these three potent and potential opposition groups.[9]

The CCP’s suppression strategy is capped off with the restriction of what democracy scholars refer to as “coordination goods.” These goods include political rights, such as free speech and the right to organize and protest; general human rights, such as freedom from arbitrary arrest; and press freedom. Bueno de Mesquita and Downs contend that the availability of coordination goods affects democratization because they drastically influence the ability of political opponents to coordinate and mobilize but have little impact on the continued economic growth that is crucial for sustaining an authoritarian regime’s legitimacy.[10] The Chinese government suppresses these goods by censoring the press and the Internet, cracking down on coalition-building and organization among dissident groups, diffusing and discouraging protests through a combination of cash payoffs and outright intimidation, and trampling on the human rights of its citizens. By suppressing these coordination goods, Beijing has in effect elevated and prolonged its survival prospects.

In short, the Chinese regime has not sat haplessly by when confronted with challenges to its rule but has instead aggressively fought to maintain power. Its tactics may have differed with each political challenge, but the result--continuation of CCP rule--has remained the same.

The Chinese People Respond

Fortunately, american delusions and Chinese authoritarianism have not stopped the Chinese people from fighting against government repression and injustice. Economic modernization may not have led to political liberalization, but it has led to a much more pluralistic society, offering many more opportunities and outlets for dissent. Unfortunately, just as Beijing has neutralized the democratizing powers of market forces or liberal instruments and institutions, it has also aggressively stifled the democratizing effect of increased social pluralism.

Today, massive unemployment and unrest plague Chinese society. Two and a half decades of economic liberalization have resulted in the state’s withdrawal from the economy and social welfare network. As a result, the official registered unemployment rate in urban areas hovers at 4.2 percent. In rural areas, the unemployment rate could be as high as 20 percent. At any given moment, there are over 120 million rural migrant workers roaming the streets of Chinese cities looking for jobs. Riots take place in China every day. The Ministry of Public Security reported 10,000 protests throughout the country in 1994; 58,000 protests in 2003; 74,000 in 2004; and 87,000 in 2005. Against the backdrop of unrest and unemployment, ordinary citizens--in particular peasants--are clamoring for the central government to address their grievances on the local level on everything from corruption to poor health care. In 2004, they filed 10 million petitions for intervention from Beijing; in 2005, they filed 30 million.

The disgruntled are aided by support networks spawned by two decades-plus of increasing social pluralism. Protestors and activists now rely on booming information resources, such as the Internet and mobile phones. Petitioners and disgruntled citizens are aided by a new thriving civil society, which once did not exist. Whereas in 1988 there were only 4,500 registered ngos in China, there were 288,936 registered in 2004 and 317,000 in 2006.[11] Some estimate that there could be as many as 3 million unregistered ngos in China today.[12] Meanwhile, Jennifer Chou of Radio Free Asia reports that China’s “vanguard” is finally coming to the aid of its “proletariat.”[13] Intellectuals, lawyers, and activists from the big cities have begun to help peasants challenge rigged village elections and uncompensated land confiscation. They have also begun to assist factory workers seeking health care and pensions, as well as religious believers fighting against persecution. Journalists, members of China’s fourth estate, are increasingly pushing against the party line by reporting the pain, agony, and heroics of dissenting citizens, activists, and intellectuals alike.

Top-down control. In many ways, bottom-up pressures for change in China are intense, spontaneous, and multifaceted. Every day, Chinese leaders worry about the challenge to regime stability, but they have responded by continuing to exert brutal and sophisticated top-down control. Their strategy? To allow diversification of activism and expression while suppressing organization, mobilization, and coordination among citizens.

In almost every sector prone to increased pluralism and dissent, Beijing has refused to tolerate any viable political challenge to its rule. It has allowed the vibrant ngo sector to take on social work that the government cannot tackle by itself, permitting them to operate in politically safe areas such as environmental protection, health education (HIV/AIDS), and services for the disabled, while barring them from sensitive subjects such as human rights, labor, and religious freedom. The Chinese leadership sees rural and worker protests as serious problems, but as they tend to be spontaneous, leaderless, and unorganized, Beijing defuses them with a combination of intimidation and cash payoffs. Where the uprisings are organized and aided by outside activists or urban intellectuals, the ccp cracks down on them severely before they spread. The vanguard that dares to fight for the proletariat is often severely punished through methods that range from beatings by hired thugs to house arrests to job loss.

In addition, Beijing has become increasingly leery of the ngo community, believing that the recent “color revolutions” in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan were fomented by ngos under Western tutelage. In response, Beijing delayed passage of a new law that would liberalize some of the restraints on Chinese ngos, cracked down on local human rights groups supported by U.S. funding, suspended plans to permit foreign newspapers to print in China, outlined a “counterrevolution” against democracy that calls for further restrictions on the Internet and the media, and began closer monitoring of the activities of ngos with foreign ties. From one area to another, Beijing is deliberately choking the crucial catalysts for democratic change.

To the Chinese leadership, economic development continues to be the first and foremost priority. To alleviate the political and social challenges from economic liberalization, Chinese President Hu Jintao has exhorted his cadres to build a “harmonious society,” one which would alleviate regional economic disparities, combat corruption, placate protestors, and resist free elections. The government might be willing to tolerate incremental reforms and an increasingly pluralistic society, but such tolerance will be complemented by iron-fisted control of mobilization, organization, and coordination among disparate discontented societal segments. The increasing pluralism that appears as hopeful signs for political liberalization might ironically--and at least in the short term--relieve pressures for democratic change.[14]

Anti-Americanism and Nationalism

Though the chinese people may be pressing for their rights and better lives in their own ways, they have simultaneously exhibited unmistakable signs of anti-Americanism and nationalism that make them less receptive to the virtues of democratization.

In an era when the Chinese communist ideology has become defunct through the pursuit of market capitalism, China has aggressively maligned Western-style democracy as chaos-inducing and unsuitable for the country’s current economic conditions. Chinese citizens, argues Beijing, have the duty to pursue Chinese greatness that would result in a strong China, a powerful China, deserving of influence and glory. Economic modernization is key, with social stability as a mandatory accessory. Through its media, textbooks, and propaganda machinery, Beijing emphasizes that democratization, political liberalization, a free press, and anti-government protests will only bring about the collapse of the current regime and hence are dangerous and destabilizing for Chinese society. When the United States criticizes China’s human rights abuses or advocates democratization, it is therefore acting as an overbearing and domineering hegemon and is only seeking to undermine China’s rise.

Ideological indoctrination has its consequences. Numerous Chinese citizens, particularly those in the emerging middle class, agree with their government that China is not ready for democratization. They see post-Soviet Russia’s social instability, weakened economic growth, declining national power and overall chaos as most unappealing for China. In addition, they are deeply skeptical of U.S. motives. According to an opinion poll conducted by the Chinese newspaper Global Times (Huan Qiu Shi Bao) in 2006, some 59 percent of the Chinese people who live in urban metropolises believe that the United States is seeking to contain China, with 56.3 percent seeing the United States as China’s competitor.[15] In addition, Chinese citizens recoil at U.S. criticisms of their government’s human rights abuses. A similar Global Times survey in 2005 reports that almost 79 percent of the respondents have negative views toward U.S. criticism of China’s human rights abuses: 49.3 percent believe that the United States is attempting to destroy stability in China; 10.4 percent believe that the United States is trying to make China look bad, and 19.1 percent believe that America simply does not understand China’s internal situation.[16]

In response to the Chinese government distortions, the United States has done little to understand or assuage Chinese citizens’ concerns. Most American leaders merely ignore Chinese concerns about U.S. intentions or about democratization’s side effects, opting instead to reiterate the virtues of democracy in abstract terms. As President Bush emphasizes that “every human heart desires to be free,” many Chinese citizens, sadly, seem to answer, “Don’t be so sure.”

What Next?

Despite the wishes of the United States or the efforts of Chinese citizens, the Chinese government has so far quashed and neutralized pressure for fundamental political change. Beijing controls and stunts precisely those instruments that contribute to the success of a broad-based domestic opposition: It cracks down on political opponents, co-opts potential ones, and indoctrinates the masses. It is eagerly attempting to maximize economic modernization while minimizing its liberalizing effects. As the West awaits the next set of pressures or instruments that might force Beijing to reform internally or relinquish its authoritarian rule, the Chinese regime stands determined to remain in power.

The resilience of Chinese authoritarianism does not eliminate all possibility that U.S. economic engagement could lead to Chinese political liberalization and democratization in the long run. Resilience, however, makes that outcome much less certain or straightforward and renders America’s disposition to simply wait for democracy to emerge in China increasingly unwise and untenable. The United States must do more to spur democratization in China.

At the moment, the U.S. government broadly promotes democracy in China by supporting democratic voices and institutions from within while criticizing and shaming the Chinese regime from the outside. On the former, the U.S. government provides support for a host of activities and projects that include funding for rule-of-law collaboration and village elections, direct financial aid for civil society organizations and Chinese political dissidents, broadcasting of Voice of America and Radio Free Asia Chinese-language programs, and cultural and educational exchanges. To pressure the Chinese government from the outside, the U.S. government frequently criticizes China’s human rights record, presses for the release of political and religious dissidents, and publicly and privately calls for the Chinese government to undertake fundamental political reforms.

While current U.S. efforts to promote democracy in China are necessary and important, they do not always counter the sources of Chinese authoritarian resilience discussed here. Certainly, American actions will not and cannot eliminate all of these sources. For instance, the United States should not wade into the quandary of slowing Chinese economic growth and cannot stop the Chinese government from institutionalizing itself or co-opting its rival political groups. Nevertheless, Washington should and can do more to combat other sources of authoritarian resilience by strengthening China’s political opposition and countering the regime’s restriction of coordination goods that range from press freedoms to the ability to organize. In addition, the United States should begin a serious effort to confront the Chinese government’s aggressive ideological indoctrination of its citizens against democratization.

A number of concrete steps might help American democracy promotion in China. First, the United States should boost funding and support for the free flow of information through the Chinese Internet. Already, the Voice of America and Radio Free Asia have committed a total of $3 million for technology to counter Internet jamming of their websites by the Chinese government. Yet more can be done. Each year since 2002, either one or both houses of Congress have sponsored a resolution titled the “Global Internet Freedom Act,” the latest version of which calls for a budget of $50 million a year to combat Internet jamming by repressive governments. Examples of anti-jamming technologies would range from those that allow Chinese Internet users to access blocked political websites through proxy servers to those that help mask the identity of Chinese users against the government’s online surveillance. As the resolution suggests, the U.S. government should increase funding to develop and deploy these technologies to counter China’s Internet censorship, surveillance, and jamming.

Second, the United States should more aggressively support another coordination good in China: the political right to organize. After all, technology and information alone cannot deliver democracy and liberalization; the Chinese people must demand them. Currently, their demands are dispersed and scattered by the government’s targeted efforts to prevent organization and mobilization. In response, the U.S. should strive to support and link together Chinese groups and individuals, from those who fight for the ideals of democracy to those who fight against specific injustices.

Some democracy promotion programs funded by the American government already provide Chinese activists and civil society organizations with valuable cross-sectional linkage and support. For instance, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which funds a wide range of democracy promotion efforts, currently supports programs that bring together lawyers, advocates, and scholars to strategize about protecting religious freedom according to China’s existing legal framework. Similarly, the Solidarity Center funds programs that train grassroots labor rights organizations to conduct advocacy outreach to the local media and with migrant workers. Intensifying U.S. support for such programs that strengthen grassroots agents and alliances will help counter the Chinese government’s chokepoints on democratization. As a recent 67-country study by Freedom House demonstrates, peaceful, broad-based civic coalitions are a key instrument for forcing through decisive and enduring political change in authoritarian regimes.[17]

Third, the United States should continue to stand with Chinese freedom fighters who risk their lives and livelihoods for their country and democratic ideals. Such support is most effective when it emanates directly and clearly from the executive branch--from the president down to consular officers. The U.S. government should continue to meet with political dissidents, press for the release of those detained, and express solidarity with their goals but should do so more publicly and persistently. As three Chinese Christian intellectuals who met with President Bush on May 11, 2006 suggested, the American embassy in China could meet more frequently and openly with Christians, opposition writers, human rights lawyers, and reporters to demonstrate U.S. support for their causes.[18]

Similarly, the administration could do more to stand with Chinese dissidents who are exiled here in the United States. Since the Tiananmen Massacre of 1989, China has denied and distorted the truth surrounding the tragedy, brainwashing the younger Chinese generation while coercing others against speaking history’s truths. Rather than ignoring the annual commemoration of the Tiananmen massacre, as it does now, the Bush administration and its successors should send official representatives to candlelight vigils organized by Tiananmen-era activists and more loudly remind the Chinese government that 17 years of sizzling economic growth since the massacre do not erase the horror on which such growth rests.

Fourth, the United States should engage in much more proactive public diplomacy efforts to promote the virtues of democracy. American political leaders often act as if developments within China should be all about democracy all the time. The U.S. has made little effort to convince the Chinese people that freedom and prosperity are not mutually exclusive. Unfortunately, the democratic experience has not always provided the necessary reassurance. According to recent analysis by Kevin A. Hassett of the American Enterprise Institute, from 1991 to 2005, average GDP growth in countries that are economically free but politically repressed has outpaced growth in countries that are both economically and politically free by more than 3.6 percent.

As if responding to democracy’s unpleasant realities, Chinese citizens harbor serious doubts regarding the compatibility of economic freedom and electoral democracy. The United States, however, appears uninterested in addressing their concerns. American policy reports and pronouncements tend to focus on China’s grave human rights abuses, whereas educational materials focus on the nature and structure of U.S. democracy. For example, of the numerous pronouncements and public diplomacy documents that have emerged from the office of Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes, none has defended democracy’s virtues in complementing and sustaining economic growth. Most of these documents have instead emphasized the compatibility of combating terrorism and bolstering human rights. Never mind that convincing economically destitute Muslims of Middle Eastern countries to embrace democracy over terrorism is a fundamentally different task from that of convincing a comfortable, confident, emerging Chinese middle class that embracing political freedom does not mean sacrificing economic gains or opportunities.

It is insufficient to utter the word “democracy” endlessly without acknowledging valid reasons for skepticism. The American government should issue fact sheets, brochures, and public statements about the freedoms that democratic countries enjoy and why the risks involved in transitions from authoritarianism to democracy are worth taking. It should meet head on, rather than ignore or dismiss, a central debate in the war of ideas against authoritarianism.

Finally, Washington must be realistic about the limitations of its own influence. The United States--and other democratic countries--can and should do more to facilitate and support Chinese citizens’ efforts to fight for freedom. Americans should also recognize economic progress in China and its compartmentalization from political liberalization without our previous grand delusions. We should continue to criticize the Chinese regime’s crackdowns on political dissidents, activists and nongovernmental groups. We should press on for a China that is not just rich and strong, but also free and democratic. But we must expect the ccp to push back aggressively in every area that the U.S. and Chinese activists tackle. At times China will crack down even more harshly on its citizens because the United States has urged them to fight for freedom. Ultimately, Americans must recognize that democracy in China will not emerge simply because we advocate or support it, but because Chinese citizens are courageous enough to fight for it.

Slogging Toward Freedom

International peace and security in the twenty-first century will depend in no small part on the future of China and its relations with the world. Peaceful democratization in China will not serve as a guarantee for peace, but it will offer much, much better prospects. Given the tremendous stakes involved, the United States should reconsider the many misplaced assumptions underpinning its China policy. It should recognize the tenacity and resilience of Chinese authoritarianism and relinquish the hope that such authoritarianism will simply and inevitably wilt in the face of U.S. wishes. It should better understand how such authoritarianism adapts to, co-opts, and compartmentalizes market forces and their various accompanying liberal attributes and find better solutions for countering it.

Perhaps one day, freedom for 1.3 billion Chinese citizens will arrive, but until then promoting liberation from the chains of Chinese communist authoritarianism will remain a slog. The United States should start slogging much more seriously today.

Ying Ma wrote this article as an NRI Fellow at AEI.

Notes

1. Matthew Stephenson, “A Trojan Horse in China?” in Thomas Carothers, ed., Promoting the Rule of Law Abroad: In Search of Knowledge (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2006), 203.

2. “China’s Economy on Fire,” Marketplace (November 1, 2006).

3. Gordon Chang, The Coming Collapse of China (Random House, 2001).

4. “China’s Economy on Fire,” Marketplace, November 1, 2006; Loren Brandt, Thomas G. Rawski, and Gang Lin, eds., “China’s Economy: Retrospect and Prospect,” Asia Program Special Report 129 (July 2005); Xu Dashan, “China’s Economy to Grow 8% Annually from 2006 to 2010,” China Daily (March 21, 2005).

5. Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and George W. Downs, “Development and Democracy,” Foreign Affairs 84:5 (September/October 2005).

6. President Hu Jintao, Address at the Fortune Global Forum (May 16, 2005).

7. Andrew J. Nathan, “Authoritarian Resilience,” Journal of Democracy 14:1 (January 2003).

8. Minxin Pei, Remarks at Panel Discussion on “Economic Development Without Political Liberalization,” American Enterprise Institute (December 14, 2005).

9. Pei, Remarks.

10. Bueno de Mesquita and Downs, “Development and Democracy.”

11. Congressional-Executive Commission on China, Annual Report 2006 (U.S. Government Printing Office, 2006), 120

12. “NGOs to Gain Greater Influence,” Xinhua News Agency (March 10, 2005).

13. Jennifer Chou, Remarks at Panel Discussion on “Looking for the Next Tiananmen Generation,” American Enterprise Institute (March 24, 2006).

14 See, e.g., Joseph Fewsmith, "Feedback Without Pushback? Innovations in Local Governance", Statement to Congressional-Executive Commission on China Roundtable on "Political Change in China? Public Participation and Local Governance Reforms" (Washington, May 15, 2006).

15. Cheng Gang, “Majority of Chinese Optimistic About Sino-American Relations,” Global Times (March 17, 2006). The study surveyed Chinese citizens in the cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Wuhan, and Chongqing.

16. “Exclusive Survey: How Chinese View Sino-American Relations,” Global Times (March 2, 2005).

17. Adrian Karatnycky and Peter Ackerman, How Freedom Is Won: From Civic Resistance to Durable Democracy (Freedom House, 2005), 6-9.

18. Jim Hoagland, “A Chinese Dissident’s Faith,” Washington Post (May 28, 2006).

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine

What's new on AEI

Making Ryan's tax plan smarter
image The teacher evaluation confronts the future
image How to reform the US immigration system
image Inversion hysteria
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 01
    MON
  • 02
    TUE
  • 03
    WED
  • 04
    THU
  • 05
    FRI
Wednesday, September 03, 2014 | 9:00 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.
From anarchy to Augustus: Lessons on dealing with disorder, from Rome’s first emperor

We invite you to join us for two panel discussions on how Augustus created order from chaos 2,000 years ago, and what makes for durable domestic and international political systems in the 21st century.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Multiple choice: Expanding opportunity through innovation in K–12 education

Please join us for a book launch event and panel discussion about how a marketplace of education options can help today's students succeed in tomorrow's economy. Attendees will receive a complimentary copy of the featured book.

Thursday, September 04, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
How conservatives can save the safety net

Please join us for a luncheon event in which our panel will discuss what conservatives can learn from how liberals talk and think about the safety net and where free-market economics, federalism, and social responsibility intersect to lift people out of poverty.

No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled today.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.