Friday, May 25, 2007

The China Post

For whatever reason, there have been a number of excellent media pieces on China this week. (Maybe it has to do with China's massive and growing economic and political might.) For the wonkishly inclined, the links.

Writing in the Washington Post, James Mann describes the appeal in the "Third World" of the Chinese political-economic model of an authoritarian state, a semi-capitalist but state-controlled economy, and rising personal incomes.

This all adds up to a startling new challenge to the future of liberal democracy. And the result is ominous for the cause of freedom around the world. China's single-party state offers continuing hope not only to such largely isolated dictatorships as Burma, Zimbabwe, Syria and North Korea but also to some key U.S. friends who themselves resist calls for democracy (say, Egypt or Pakistan) and to our neighbors in Cuba and Venezuela. The China model has emerged from the confluence of two independent developments over the past decade. Each stands on its own, yet the interaction between the two has been especially toxic for democratic values.

First has been the failure of U.S. foreign policy, symbolized above all by the war in Iraq. Over the past decade, U.S. foreign policy has been dominated by a school of thought that emphasizes military power and has tied the spread of democracy to the use of force. The second key development has been the staying power and economic success of the Chinese Communist Party.
It's not a feel-good piece, but it is a good introduction to economist Jeffrey Sachs' article in the Guardian on the way the Chinese government is winning allies, especially in Africa, by providing capital and services that the World Bank, even before its mismanagement under Wolfowitz, couldn't or wouldn't:
The advice that the African leaders received from their Chinese counterparts was sound, and much more practical than what they typically get from the World Bank. Chinese officials stressed the crucial role of public investments, especially in agriculture and infrastructure, to lay the basis for private-sector-led growth. In a hungry and poor rural economy, as China was in the 1970s and as most of Africa is today, a key starting point is to raise farm productivity... Two other critical investments are also needed: roads and electricity, without which there cannot be a modern economy... Of course, the African leaders were most appreciative of the next message: China is prepared to help Africa in substantial ways in agriculture, roads, power, health, and education. And the African leaders already know that this is not an empty boast. All over Africa, China is financing and constructing basic infrastructure.
And for the truly wonkish, RAND just published a study of Chinese military strength, especially naval power in the western Pacific, and finds that the U.S. is slowly sliding back to rough equality with the Chinese - which ain't good given the possibility of China seeking to retake Taiwan, disrupt trade in the Pacific, or simply show up the U.S.