Author Topic: China may be Getting Richer, but that's Not Making it Freer  (Read 1096 times)

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China may be Getting Richer, but that's Not Making it Freer
« on: August 05, 2019, 09:34:54 AM »
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Prepare for a More Authoritarian China | The National Interest - August 3, 2019

With the onset of China’s economic reforms in the late 1970s, a widespread belief took hold in the United States and throughout the Western world that establishing robust economic relations with the “new China” would lead to gradual political liberalization. That belief persisted even after the communist government’s June 1989 bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square. Most proponents of increased diplomatic, political, and economic engagement with Beijing (including this author) concluded that the massacre, however tragic, was merely a regrettable interruption in the long-term liberalization process. Robert B. Zoellick, Deputy Secretary of State under President George W. Bush, memorably expressed the prevailing expectation that a more open China would become a “responsible stakeholder” in the international system.

Developments in recent years should create doubts about that assumption. Under President Xi Jinping, China has become noticeably more authoritarian, not less, at home. His presidency has been characterized by an insistence that all individuals in positions of responsibility devote more serious study of and adherence to Marxist-Leninist doctrine. He has conducted a systematic purge of the Party’s ranks in the name of combating corruption. Although that appeared to be a reasonable justification in some cases, given the level of corruption that had developed along with China’s meteoric economic growth, in other cases Xi seemingly used it as a pretext to get rid of personal and ideological rivals.

There was no question that he was determined to enhance and perpetuate his dominant role. Although China remained a one-party state even after the demise of Mao Zedong’s totalitarian rule, implicit political reforms became an impediment to rule by a single individual. An especially crucial measure was the establishment of term limits on the powerful post of president. Xi and his followers eliminated that restriction in 2018, enabling him to hold the office indefinitely.

An array of autocratic policies has accompanied the growth and perpetuation of Xi’s personal authority. The government’s Orwellian “social-credit” system is used to restrict the travel and other rights of actual or potential critics. Prominent liberal economists, who once enjoyed Beijing’s favor or at least toleration, are now targets of growing campaigns of harassment. Only incurable optimists or the willfully blind would argue that today’s China is more tolerant and open than it was a decade ago. The trend is toward greater repression and regimentation, not greater liberalization.

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In addition to its own accelerated military activities in the Taiwan Strait, China is reacting with intense hostility to the transit of naval vessels from any other country. Most of Beijing’s angry protests have been directed at the United States for sending warships through the Strait, but Chinese officials display similar intolerance toward other powers. When a French naval vessel sailed through the Strait. Beijing responded with a vitriolic protest. It is evident that Chinese leaders not only regard Taiwan as part of China, but also consider the entire Strait to be Chinese territorial waters.

There also are multiple signs of a more assertive, uncompromising Chinese policy in the South China Sea. China’s protests about U.S. “freedom of navigation” patrols have become increasingly shrill, and China’s warships are now shadowing and harassing the American vessels. There are worrisome threats from the Chinese military hierarchy to escalate the confrontational policy.

Beijing’s autocratic domestic and international tendencies blend together in the government’s policy toward Hong Kong. When the PRC regained sovereignty over Hong Kong from Britain in 1997, Chinese officials assured residents that they would enjoy extensive self-rule. Hong Kong was legally designated as a “Special Administrative Region” to emphasize its unique autonomy. Beijing would make decisions pertaining to foreign policy and national security, but on most other matters, the people of Hong Kong would run their own affairs.

https://nationalinterest.org/feature/prepare-more-authoritarian-china-70861