China

The 21st Century Belongs to China? Don’t Buy It


- March 5th, 2019
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From across the pond comes an English academic to tell us that democracy (by which he means the United States) is in decline, while autocracy (by which he means China) is on the rise.

This is a restatement of the “China Century” thesis, which argues that the 21st century will be dominated by China in the same way that the 20th century was dominated by America.

America’s best days are behind it, says David Runciman, in his book, How Democracy Ends.

Runciman sounds for all the world like a big “D” Democrat—a member of the political party that, at least since the time of Jimmy Carter, has specialized in “malaise.” The Democrat “two-step” goes like this. First, they cause “malaise” by hamstringing the economy, then they highlight it as an excuse to enact government programs that make even more people dependent upon the welfare state they control.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, specializes in “robust good health.” His booming optimism is reminiscent of Teddy Roosevelt’s. You can almost imagine him charging up San Juan Hill. How invigorating and refreshing to see energy, rather than excuses, in the Oval Office.

Like Roosevelt and Reagan, Trump believes that America’s best days are ahead of it.

Runciman and others who predict the death of democracy because of their inclination to be impressed with China are simply wrong. Democracy is not in decline. Autocracy is.

As the first American social scientist allowed to conduct field research in China in 1979, I have kept a careful eye on that country’s politics for nearly 40 years. The specter of China trying to bully and bluster its way to dominance increasingly is uniting the world against it.

Had Hillary Clinton been elected president in 2016, of course, I might well find myself agreeing with Runciman that, “The democratic cause is on the defensive today.” In her headlong rush toward higher taxes and more government regulations, Madam President further would have crippled an American economy already burdened with too much of both.

Fortunately, the surprise election of an American original has forestalled such a calamity. Trump believes, with Calvin Coolidge, that “the chief business of the American people is business,” and has jumpstarted that enormous engine of progress known as the free market.

While the Brits may not have caught on to the fact that America’s best days are ahead of it, the Democrats have. Witness the increasingly panicky calls for impeachment.

When their chief initiative is to carry out a political coup to remove their political opponent from office they are truly out of ideas.

If men of the Left like Runciman are mistaken about what lies across the Atlantic, they are even more mistaken about what lies on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. “Pragmatic authoritarianism” may have been an accurate description of Chinese political practices under Deng Xiaoping, at least until he massacred defenseless students in the main square of his capital city. But it completely miscasts the present reality of life under the increasingly dictatorial rule of presumed president-for-life Xi Jinping.

As I write in Bully of Asia, China is becoming more totalitarian almost by the day. To give just one example, everyone’s social media is monitored all the time, and used as the basis for a “social credit score” that goes down if you criticize the regime, and goes up if you flatter it.

This score is then used by Beijing to determine whether you will be allowed to travel outside the country, obtain a low-interest rate loan, or even buy an in-country plane ticket. If your social credit score falls low enough, you will be sent to a re-education camp even if you have not committed a crime.

Runciman, our British cousin, argues that China’s lack of “individual dignity” is more than compensated for by a surfeit of “national dignity.” In this he is parroting the current party leadership which, in effect, proposes just such a trade-off to the people it oppresses.

Here is, in essence, what the Chinese Communist Party tells the masses: You may be under constant state surveillance, unable to speak freely, and prevented from forming political associations. But remember that to be Chinese is to be part of the greatest phenomenon in human history, and China’s growing economic and military greatness is your greatness.

The national narcissism that such xenophobic and nationalistic appeals are intended to stoke, however, are a poor substitute for the universally recognized human rights that the Chinese people are being systematically deprived of.

And Xi’s one-man rule will ensure that corruption will grow, innovation will be stifled, and capital increasingly will seek to flee the country for safe havens abroad.

Runciman see the rise of authoritarianism and the decline of democracy. I see the amazing spectacle of both countries reverting to type.

America under Trump is returning to the market principles that have made it the dominant power in the world for over a century, and its economy is booming.

China under Xi is reverting to the totalitarian despotism that gave it birth in 220 B.C. and its economy its going downhill fast.

My money is on the market.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

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