August 28, 2008
By Thaddeus McCotter and John J. Tkacik, Jr.
On Thursday, August 7, President George W. Bush spoke in
Bangkok, Thailand about his vision for China's future. "Change in
China will arrive on its own terms and in keeping with its own
history and its own traditions," the president predicted. He
pronounced, "Yet change will arrive."
That is certainly true . . . change always comes. But the
president sees China's change thus: "Young people who grow up with
the freedom to trade goods will ultimately demand the freedom to
trade ideas, especially on an unrestricted Internet." And he sees
that "those who aspire to speak their conscience and worship their
God are no threat to the future of China. They're the people who
will make China a great nation in the 21st century." And in this,
he is certainly wrong.
By every objective standard, China's freedoms of expression,
press, assembly, religion, labor organization, were greater in
April 1989 and have declined precipitously since. This is confirmed
by the U.S. Department of State's annual reports on human rights
practices -- in no year since 1989 has the State Department noted
any improvement in China's human rights, and in several years it
has documented serious declines. The few current liberalizations
that Chinese enjoy -- new job mobility, burgeoning cultural
expression, relaxed residence permits -- would have taken root
without the catalyst of the April/May 1989 burst of freedom.
It would be dishonest to deny the great changes from Mao Zedong's
days. But change, in fact, stalled in 1989. That first decade of
Deng Xiaoping's post-Mao reforms persuaded many of us that China
would liberalize steadily, economically, socially, intellectually
and, of course, politically. Those liberalizations were, we
imagined, all interwoven. Some of us once saw the June 4, 1989,
Tiananmen Massacre and the crushed democracy movement as hiccups in
a process of inexorable progress, and we persuaded ourselves that
so long as the United States encouraged economic and trade
liberalization, the rest would be pulled along perforce.
Twenty years later, alas, authoritarianism is much more deeply and
insidiously entrenched in Chinese society than on the eve of
Tiananmen. More alarming, the scope of Chinese Communist Party
control over the media, religion, the judiciary and public dissent
has broadened markedly since Hu Jintao took over as China's supreme
leader in September 2004.
The Party's authority over all aspects of human behavior is
greater now than in 1989. And because Deng Xiaoping's "liberation
of productive forces" as the "core of Socialism with Chinese
Characteristics" has impelled the abandonment of central planning
and employment of the competitive dynamic of market forces, there
has indeed been prosperity and creativity -- of an Orwellian
Orwell's 1984 totalitarianism was a social environment within
which your survival in comfort depended upon your submission. And
your advancement depended on the degree to which you enforced "Big
Germany in the 1930s and well into the 1940s is an instructive
example of totalitarianism co-opting its population with economic
prosperity and international power. Those two factors persuaded 5
percent of the population to rationalize themselves into "True
Believer" status; and 94 percent rationalized their acquiescence.
Those that resisted, one percent, were shot, not counting the
ethnic minorities and Jews who simply disappeared -- the 94 percent
either not caring or not daring to care what happened to
Sadly, Chinese who endured the Great Proletarian Cultural
Revolution (1966-1976) and the Tiananmen Massacre (1989) understand
that opposing the State is bad for one's health and career
prospects. Still, some try and are jailed, detained, harassed,
their phones tapped, their internet chats monitored. As President
Bush visited a state-controlled church on Sunday, August 10, a
fellow worshiper was arrested on his way to the same church,
presumably because the police feared they would try to approach the
American leader. Who else gets arrested by the Chinese state?
Religious believers who oppose state-controlled worship, AIDS
activists, lawyers representing displaced farmers, advocates
against forced abortions, labor organizers, protesters against
pollution, ethnic minorities and grieving families outraged by
corrupt Communist Party officials who cut safety corners when
building schools that collapsed in the Sichuan earthquake.
The vast majority of Chinese citizens understandably try to stay
out of trouble. Like Germans or Japanese in the 1930s, they have
relatively comfortable lives. But surely, one cannot mistake this
China is not just a major economic power. It is something more
challenging: it is an emerging superpower where ultimate authority
over economic decisions rests with the leadership of the Chinese
Communist Party (CCP).
Since the early 1980s, China has evolved from a command economy to
a mixed economy with increasing use of the market. But the state
presence remains very ample in many different sectors. So, while
the last three decades of unprecedented prosperity and economic
growth rest largely on what Deng Xiaoping called the "socialist
market economy", China emphatically is not a market economy. And --
quite the opposite of the world's true market economies -- China 's
full economic power can be marshaled and directed at the will of
Over the past decade, China's economic and military strength has
expanded with startling rapidity and presents a profound and
unsettling change in the balance of global power and influence.
Yet, despite China's signal disinterest in human rights (either for
its own people or anywhere else), its equanimity toward nuclear
proliferation, its insouciance with environmental degradation, and
its border harassment of neighbors from Japan to India, from the
South China Sea to Bhutan, and (of course) Taiwan, our leaders
appear more comfortable facilitating its leadership than
challenging it. Perhaps, they calculate that China has simply
become too big to do otherwise. That calculation is not worthy of
our ideals and represents an error of epochal proportions.
Thaddeus McCotter is a Michigan member of the U.S. House of
Representatives and Chairman of the House Republican Policy
Committee.John J. Tkacik,
a retired foreign service officer, is Senior Research Fellow in
Asian Studies at The Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in Human Events
On Thursday, August 7, President George W. Bush spoke in Bangkok, Thailand about his vision for China’s future. "Change in China will arrive on its own terms and in keeping with its own history and its own traditions," the president predicted. He pronounced, "Yet change will arrive."
American Leadership Initiative of the Leadership for America Campaign
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John J. Tkacik, Jr.
Senior Research Fellow
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