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Learning to Manage the China Threat

Summary:
While regime change in China is not impossible, it is not likely, and would almost certainly not lead to Western-style democracy if it occurred. Given this, the US should be seeking to mitigate the security threat China poses through collective security arrangements, not attempting to cause regime change. TEL AVIV – When US President Bill Clinton backed China’s accession to the World Trade Organization, he suggested that the move would spark profound changes “from the inside out.” By joining the WTO, China would not simply be agreeing to import more American products; it would be “agreeing to import one of democracy’s most cherished values, economic freedom.” And “the more China liberalizes its economy,” Clinton

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While regime change in China is not impossible, it is not likely, and would almost certainly not lead to Western-style democracy if it occurred. Given this, the US should be seeking to mitigate the security threat China poses through collective security arrangements, not attempting to cause regime change.

TEL AVIV – When US President Bill Clinton backed China’s accession to the World Trade Organization, he suggested that the move would spark profound changes “from the inside out.” By joining the WTO, China would not simply be agreeing to import more American products; it would be “agreeing to import one of democracy’s most cherished values, economic freedom.” And “the more China liberalizes its economy,” Clinton predicted, “the more fully it will liberate the potential of its people.”

Reality has turned out to be far more complicated.

The notion that free trade leads inexorably to democracy did not begin with Clinton. His predecessor, George H.W. Bush, operated under the same assumption: “No nation on Earth has discovered a way to import the world’s goods and services while stopping foreign ideas at the border.”

Two decades after China’s WTO accession in 2001, its economy has reached the expected milestones. But it is nowhere near becoming a democracy, and American leaders have not only lost confidence in the presumed relationship between economic and political freedom, but now fear that Western democracy is vulnerable to Chinese influence.

As then-US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned last year, the free world should “change China, or China will change us.” Likewise, following last summer’s G7 summit,...

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