The Asian Century 10.

            “China is the most significant international threat that America—and the global West generally—now faces.  And that will be true for the rest of the Century.”[1]  Certainly that seems to be the intention of Xi Jinping.  He has been deploying China’s enormous economic power to claim the leading role in Asia for China.  First in his sights is Hong Kong, regardless of the terms of the “hand-over agreement” with “Little England.”  Next is Taiwan, itself an economic powerhouse.  Xi’s Belt and Road initiative is also shouldering China into a role in many other corners of the globe. 

            For its part, what John Bolton calls “the global West” seems to be knocked back on its heels.  The phrase “crisis of democracy” is frequently used.[2]  The financial crisis and the drawn-out “Great Recession,” “globalization,” and mass immigration (much of it unregulated and unwelcome) all cast into doubt the effectiveness of the democratic state as a model for progress.   The same forces intensified nationalist forces, which sometimes take an authoritarian form.  Both Brexit and Donald Trump’s version of “America First” show how far beyond the fringe this mood has spread.  All these developments may have sharpened China’s appetite. 

            Much remains unknown.  Is the “global West” really suffering a crisis of democracy?  Or is it just having a fit of the sulks after victory in the long struggle with aggressive tyrannies? 

            How strong is China really?  Deng Xiaoping had set the country on the capitalist road with sweeping political and economic reforms intended to create a market economy.  Chinese industriousness and thrift would do the rest.  By and large, this vision has come true.  Undoubtedly, Japan and the United States provided a lot of help through investments and voluntary transfer of intellectual property, but China’s own efforts explain the lion’s share of its success.  Now China has the second largest economy in the world. 

Now some observers see strains on the foundations of China’s power.  Xi Jinping has reversed course on many reforms.  He is moving the Party and the State more and more tightly under his control.  He is moving China’s economy back toward Party and State control.  If a market economy and global integration raised China up, then the new course might lay it low. 

            In times of crisis, China does things that reveal the true nature of its government: brutal and secretive.  The suppression of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations in 1989, the repression of what Americans call “diversity” (Tibet, Uighurs), and its hiding of the truth about Covid-19 in 2019-2020 provide examples of a robust dictatorship responding to its own fears.  Is China’s foreign policy another example of a state acting from fear, rather than from strength?  Taiwan’s rival model of economic organization effects can’t be ignored by people on the mainland.  One might see the fixation on Taiwan as driven by concern for present problems as much as by historical memory of the Qing dynasty. 

            There are real dangers here.  Both Lenin and Hitler refused to wait on History.  They tried to hurry it forward to the destination they had appointed for it. 

[1] John Bolton (Yes, that John Bolton), “Beijing Never Got the Memo,” WSJ, 16 November 2020, review of Dan Blumenthal, The China Nightmare: The Grand Ambitions of a Decaying State (2020). 

[2] Not without reason.  See:  

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