China is caught in a set of interlocking problems, notes STRATFOR analyst George Friedman:
Its economic miracle has matured into more normal growth rates. It has a vast population that lacks the ability to consume all that it produces. It has to contend with global stagnation and competition from other producers – and competing with high-tech producers is no small task. It is therefore afraid of internal instability and has imposed a dictatorship designed to maintain a vibrant economy without social costs. To do that, it must increase exports and control access to China’s economy, a move designed to alienate a large and dangerous power, the United States. But it can’t afford to confront the U.S., whose navy it can’t defeat.
“This is a strategy that emerges not from a position of strength but from one of fundamental weakness,” he writes for Geopolitical Futures. “China’s internal contradiction is that prosperity creates instability, and stability is incompatible with prosperity. There are complexities and nuances of course, but this is the root of China’s problem. China is therefore trying to maintain what prosperity it can without destabilizing the system.”
China’s efforts at thought control are no longer contained within its borders, notes Columbia University’s Andrew Nathan. By denying visas to journalists and scholars, putting pressure on universities and film festivals, censoring Hollywood film scripts, surveilling Chinese students in the West, and so on, China seeks to control what is thought and said about China in other societies, he writes for Foreign Affairs:
It is not doing this to promote a Chinese model, the way the Soviet Union promoted communism, but instead to protect China’s international image and prestige. But that does not make its effort less dangerous to the freedoms that we cherish in the West.
Again, Liu Xiaobo said it best. In a 2006 essay published on the Chinese-language website Ren Yu Ren Quan (Humanity and Human Rights) he warned:
When the “rise” of a large dictatorial state that commands rapidly increasing economic strength meets with no effective deterrence from outside, but only an attitude of appeasement from the international mainstream, and if the communists succeed in once again leading China down a disastrously mistaken historical road, the results will not only be another catastrophe for the Chinese people but likely also a disaster for the spread of liberal democracy in the world.… [F]ree countries must do what they can to help the world’s largest dictatorship transform itself as quickly as possible into a free and democratic country.
As China’s influence grows in this world, the West would do well to heed Liu’s words, says Nathan, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group. RTWT