Michael Barone on why we ought to keep an eye on China:
In between Qianlong and Deng, China went through tough times. The Taiping rebellion (1849-64), decades of Western domination, the Chinese revolution (1911-27), the War with Japan (1931-45) and Mao Zedong’s Communist policies (1949-76) each resulted in the deaths of millions.
The Chinese ruling party and, apparently, the Chinese people see the economic growth of the last 35 years as a restoration of China’s rightful central place in the world. And note that that period is longer than the 27 years of Mao’s rule.
American supporters of engagement with China, including the architect of the policy, Henry Kissinger, agree and have expressed the hope that an increasingly prosperous China will move toward democracy and peaceful coexistence.
Those hopes, as James Mann argued in his 2007 book The China Fantasy, have not been and seem unlikely to be realized.
Other China scholars like Arthur Waldron and Gordon Chang have predicted that China’s Communist party rulers will be swept from power. . . . Regime members, like French aristocrats, no longer believe in their own ideology but cling to power. The Chinese people have come to expect rapidly rising living standards, and may abandon the regime if it doesn’t produce.
Regime elites must be careful, like Deng in 1989, or the rulers will lose everything and chaos will be unleashed on China.
One of the first lessons of history I learned is that most revolutions (including our own) aren't caused by the revolt of the downtrodden masses. They come from the rising expectations of a newly prosperous merchant class who have experienced the benefits of economic freedom and want the political freedom to take full advantage of it. If that happens in China, that country will become a powerhouse the likes of which we've never seen. Unless we're ready for it, China will kick our economic ass around the block and back.
Unfortunately, some people would have us go in the opposite direction. President Obama in Kansas City:
there is a certain crowd in Washington who, for the last few decades, have said, let’s respond to this economic challenge with the same old tune. “The market will take care of everything,” they tell us. If we just cut more regulations and cut more taxes–especially for the wealthy–our economy will grow stronger. Sure, they say, there will be winners and losers. But if the winners do really well, then jobs and prosperity will eventually trickle down to everybody else. And, they argue, even if prosperity doesn’t trickle down, well, that’s the price of liberty.
Now, it’s a simple theory. And we have to admit, it’s one that speaks to our rugged individualism and our healthy skepticism of too much government. That’s in America’s DNA. And that theory fits well on a bumper sticker. (Laughter.) But here’s the problem: It doesn’t work. It has never worked. (Applause.) It didn’t work when it was tried in the decade before the Great Depression. It’s not what led to the incredible postwar booms of the ’50s and ’60s. And it didn’t work when we tried it during the last decade. (Applause.) I mean, understand, it’s not as if we haven’t tried this theory.
Freedom doesn't work. It never has, and it never will. Our lives belong to our betters.
Some symmetry there, I guess. China will become us, and we will become China.