It was the greatest myth of the 21st century.
Sold on the misguided belief that economic reform would lead to political freedom, Western democracies fuelled the “China Miracle” at the cost of millions of jobs across the United States and Europe.
Twenty years later, the Communist Party is still firmly entrenched in Beijing while the very fabric of liberal government has been laid bare by what turned out to be a hollow lie.
“Any ideas of changing China [were always] an illusion. China is a nation of 5,000 years’ [of] civilization. China is China,” Qin Gang, the Chinese ambassador to the US, said last week.
In an interview with America’s National Public Radio, he echoed the views of his big boss, President Xi Jinping, who is also general secretary of the CCP and commander-in-chief of the nation’s armed forces.
Road to riches:
- China is now the second-largest economy in the world.
- It is also a global military power with ambitions of becoming the dominant force in the Indo-Pacific.
- All this has been achieved by economic success, backed by leading Western democracies.
- But it has cost 3.7 million manufacturing jobs in the US and a shrinking of the workforce in certain sectors in the European Union.
Democratic dilemma: “Many Western politicians and business executives still don’t get China. Believing, for example, that political freedom would follow the new economic freedoms,” Rana Mitter, a professor at Oxford University, and Elsbeth Johnson, a senior lecturer at MIT, said last year.
Alternative view: “[Still,] many Chinese believe that the country’s recent economic achievements have actually come about because of, not despite, China’s authoritarian form of government,” they wrote in a commentary, entitled What the West Gets Wrong About China, in the Harvard Business Review.
Delve deeper: Yet China’s rise as a major power goes beyond the shakeup in the world economic order. It strikes at the very heart of democratic values such as human rights.
Thought bubble: “Qin Gang admits that CCP not only seeks to control citizens actions and speech but also their thoughts. Those with ‘inappropriate thoughts’ are being taught to change in ‘vocational schools,’” Bonnie Glaser, the director of the Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund, tweeted earlier this week, referring to Ambassador Qin’s far-reaching interview.
China Factor comment: These are dangerous times for democracies across the world. The Communist Party of China is under the mistaken belief that the West is in permanent decline. Nothing could be further from the truth.