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China’s rise, in both the economic sense and military sense, presents the United States with a host of tough challenges. Those tasks will grow more and more difficult the longer that America struggles with ten percent unemployment while China’s economy continues to grow at ten percent per year. Chinese President Hu Jintao’s state visit this Week highlights the many problems that a resurgent China presents to the West and the Obama administration’s spotty record of dealing with those issues effectively.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton deserves praise for calling out the eight-hundred pound gorilla that dominates the room labeled “US-China Relations”: human rights violations in the PRC. Last Friday, Clinton called on Chinese leaders to fulfill their human rights obligations to the nation’s citizens and specifically expressed support for prominent dissidents, including 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo. From the lack of religious freedom to the statist control of personal freedoms inherent to the Hukou System to the absence of anything that the West would recognize as due process, the PRC continues to be a brutal, totalitarian state and – given its size and growing strength – the most important totalitarian state in the world today. Yet, America’s massive and still-growing national debt and the role China plays in securing that debt ultimately puts the current administration in an awkward position. The Secretary of State might be allowed to talk tough about China, but her boss isn’t going to dare do the same thing.
“I want to suggest that there has been an evolution in China over the last thirty years since the first normalization of relations between the United States and China, and my expectation is that thirty years from now we will have seen further evolution and further change,” President Obama said when asked about human rights in China yesterday.
And so what my approach will continue to be is to celebrate the incredible accomplishments of the Chinese people, their extraordinary civilization, the multiple areas in which we have to cooperate not only for the sakes of our countries, but for the sakes of the world, to acknowledge we are going to have certain differences and to be honest as I think any partner needs to be honest when it comes to how we view many of these issues. And so that frank and candid assessment on our part will continue. That doesn’t prevent us from cooperating in these other critical areas.
There has, of course, been an evolution in China over the last thirty years, but it’s not exactly the sort of evolution that President Obama suggests. Chinese leadership, confronted with the implosion of the USSR and the obvious economic disasters that Mao created, finally wised up. They understood that slavish devotion to the Marxist economic theories would ultimately bring about the downfall of the ruling class, but a clever melding of capitalist economic principles and communist/fascist style control could result in the best of both worlds: a nation that would grow rich, but where the vast majority of those riches would enhance the lives of the ruling class. And so has modern-day China grown. There is, to be sure, much more of a middle class in China today than there has ever been, for that is a price that must be paid for a solid economic foundation. On the other hand, the ruling class is growing richer and richer, where hundreds of millions of Chinese in the working classes are no better off today than they were thirty years ago. Chinese leaders are no more tolerant of opposing thoughts and opinions in 2011 than they were in 1981. Instead, the infusion of riches provides those leaders with the luxury of sounding a great deal more tolerant and respectable than they actually are.
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