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« Time's Battleland: Drones + biometrics: Weapons that conquer globalization's frontiers | Main | Time's Battleland: As China rises militarily, eventually the golden rule should be applied »
12:17AM

What is eternal and ephemeral about China - and this modern world system we call globalization

Fabulous op-ed in WSJ on 6 July by Liu Junning, an "independent scholar in Beijing."

You should read it all.  Here are my favorite bits:

First, Liu speaks to the infatuation in the West for the alleged "Beijing consensus":

This view fundamentally misunderstands the country's growth progress. China has indeed made great strides since 1978's "Reform and Opening" in alleviating poverty, opening up to the world, and making slow steps down the road of legal reform. Yet on closer inspection, the most significant transformations from the perspective of boosting prosperity have involved loosening of control over the people, not some alchemy of power and Marxism.

This becomes clear in comparing China's economic performance during periods when Beijing has been more closely versus less closely following the Beijing Model. According to MIT economist Yasheng Huang, "[W]hen measured by factors that directly track the living standards of the average Chinese person, China has performed the best when it pursued liberalizing, market-oriented economic reforms, as well as conducted modest political reform, and moved away from statist policies."

I have read such analyses too many times to count, and yet it still amazes me how many don't get it: China does best when it moves in the direction of the allegedly discredited Washington consensus and does significantly less well when it goes more statist.  But the mythology (like Reagan "reducing the size of government") lives on.

Liu also dismisses the notion that defenders of Chinese authoritarianism make: that the Chinese naturally abhor Western-style rights:

This too is at odds with current experience. Simply talk to those peasants who have had their land arbitrarily taken, and we see that property rights are implicitly cherished by all, regardless of race or ethnicity. Despite Beijing's crackdown, lawyers and activists continue to press for Western-style rights.

The rest of the piece is a tour of Chinese history that shows that the ideas and practices of liberalism have flowered throughout. Again, Mao gets credit for reunification but also for perverting the system profoundly. China has always been far more capitalistic than realized. It was Mao's 30-year rule that was the historical aberration, as was his erratic authoritarianism.

Then the solid finish:

To say that the narrative of liberty vs. power is uniquely "Western" is to turn a blind eye to the struggles of those who have gone before us. Individual rights are not a Western development any more than paper and gunpowder are inventions that are uniquely Chinese. Is Marxism "German"? Is Buddhism "Indian"? Of course not. When ideas are born, they take flight into the world to be used, improved or discarded by all of humanity. Constraints on political power and the protection of individual rights belong to all.

The tragedy is that we Chinese don't have full access to these protections. That increasingly will hold us back instead of propelling us forward as proponents of a Beijing consensus believe. Real success for China in the 21st century will depend not on the Communist Party itself, but on the establishment of the rule of law, limited government, and further economic liberalization that opens China's market to the world.

Fundamental to this is the right to speak freely. China will truly prosper only when individuals such as Liu Xiaobo, Ai Weiwei and the many other Chinese patriots who speak for reform are safe in the knowledge that they can do so without a late-night knock on the door from the government.

I continue to believe that the Chinese need a certain historical distance from the Cultural Revolution, plus time to get used to their new-found wealth/development before democracy arises naturally from within - meaning the popular push gets so strong that the Communist Party is forced to birth two or more successor parties in order for the system to survive.

I will readily admit that, until that tumultuous process unfolds, there will be plenty in the West who buy into the Beijing-sold notion that somehow the Chinese are "unique" in their history and developmental trajectory. I personally think that's nonsense.

I also think that the real genius of the American System projected onto a global stage these past seven decades as an international liberal trade order-cum-the West-cum-globalization is that it enables countries like China to start the developmental jump and continue it with enough force - via a package that remains far closer to the Washington consensus than any other I've seen - to trigger the pluralization process that best fits the society in question (aka, what we call "democracy" but really mean as a republic or a government based on law). The timing is variable but inevitable if economic success is had (show me the large rich country that is both politically mature and not a democracy).  Yes, in the era following the Cold War's end, we must suffer waiting out a host of countries and their evolutions, but as the Arab Spring shows, the people themselves will keep on trying - no matter the costs and frustrations.

To imagine democracy is on the wane in this era is, in my opinion, simply wrong-headed and stubbornly so. Ditto for free markets, understanding that we don't live in a world of pure or absolute anything and that these things ebb and wane with events.  

But the march of history is beyond clear, as is America's supremely positive impact on it these past seven decades.  Most of everything we consider to be good in this world has come about in the last seven or so decades.  Go back before them - before America's ascension to global power - and you find everything much worse and on the path of self-immolation. Instead, we now have unprecedented peace, wealth, development and freedom - especially for women. These are not accidental events; the timing is incontrovertibly linked to America's role.

Which is why maintaining that role in a sustainable fashion is so crucial. "Post-American" is a self-defeating lie - a cancer within our ability to think in grand strategic terms. There is most definitely a "pre-American" world. There will never be a "post-American" one - nor should there be in a world that will be ruled by the middle - again, thanks to the system we created, nurtured and defended all these years.

References (1)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.

Reader Comments (2)

That the US hegemony caused a booming economy after the Second World war and a relative safe global world is right.But that´s only the half story. I think it was the Washington consensus, especially the deregulation of the financial markets which lead to the financial crisis we are facing at the moment. All regulations of the financial market Roosevelt implemented as a lesson of history after the Black Friday 1929 were abondend.Therefore we are confronted with a new global economic and financial crisis. At the beginning of globalization the financial crisis were happening mostly at the periphery. But with the Asian crisis Japan as the first industrialized country got involved and now also the USA and Europa. The epicenter has shifted from the periphery to the center of global capitalism. China did well when it didn´t pay attention to the IWF and the Washington consensus after the Asian crisis.However, China at the moment faces increasing inflation and a severe debt crisis. Moody´s is already thinking about changing China´s rating.If this is the beginning of an post-American age is questionable. However; the admionistration of Bush jr. did its best to bring the USA into a situation thatseems to many people as the beginning of an post-American era.Even if the USA become bancrupt, it still could exist as a evangelical, North Korean-style leviathan bullying the rest of the world with its nuvlear arsenals for a "peace dividend". I don´t hope that the Pre- American age will look like that.

July 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRalf Ostner

The second point of Thomas Barnett´s historical missionary article is that globalization will automatically bring democracy (in China or whereever). I think that in the long term this will be a possibilty. BUT:I think liberalism hasn´t got deep roots or a long tradition in China. I already discussed this issue with Hu Ping, chief editor of the Beijing Spring, but for me his arguments were not convincing as isn´t the article in the Wall Street Journal about Chinese liberalism.Liberalsim is connected with the rise of a new bourgeosie. The rise of the new bourgeosie is connected with the spread of capitalism.Capialism in China really started with Deng´s reforms (before under the KMT only Shanghai, the industrial Northeast of China and Canton were capitalist enclaves in a predominantly rural, agrarian, semi-feudalist society). TheChinese bourgeosie--as in Russia was pretty weak and therefore liberalism--that´s the reason why Sun Yatsen´s Republic faced an early death, China´s first experience with the Republic and the democracy< was a desaster and in Russia the Bolsheviks seized power for the same reasons.Therefore liberalism in China and Russia haven´t got deep roots or a long tradition.Even Sun Yatsen wasn´t a liberal in a Western sense as he prefered a three-phase model to democracy with a development dictatorship between the first and the third phase. You don´t have to make this false argument,because it´s not a necessity and because the main point is that globalization can leapfrog that development as it is very rapidly creating a new middle class and new bourgeosie--but that´s a pretty young bourgeosie, unexperienced and unorganized with no real tradition, while the CPChina has a longer experience how to deal with this developments.China and Russia were in the sense "unique" as they both tried the communist industrilization programme, while the rest of the world didn´t.They both were centers of world communism and in that sense "unique". China was also in the sense "unique" as it bloodily suppressed the first democratic movement in 1989 while the rest of the Eastern dictatorial bloc decided to turn the power over to the democrats. I don´t know what will be next time in China. We don´t know if the CPChina will split or go the Chinese/Lybian/Syrian way or again become a autocratically sytem like Putin in Russia.Let´s see--but don´t to make alleged long traditions of liberalism in China which don´t exist as a precondition or an argument for a democratization of China.Last point: We don´t know what will happen, if the Falungong became a political mass party--this could bring a new authotarian, neototalitarian system like the evangelicals in the USA--if Pat Robertson became president of the USA.And don´t forget the German lesson: Even a new bourgeosie can be even more imperialistic, nationalistic or even fascist as the experience of Nazi fascism showed which had a lot of support of the new bourgeosie.

July 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRalf Ostner

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