Warren I. Cohen on China’s Charm Offensive

On Truthdig, Warren Cohen reviews two recent books about China: Philip Pan’s Out of Mao’s Shadow, and Joshua Kurlantzick’s Charm Offensive:

Two new books— Philip Pan’s “Out of Mao’s Shadow” and Joshua Kurlantzick’s “Charm Offensive”—look at today’s China from very different perspectives. They describe the conflicting forces within China and the difficulty the international community has in understanding what’s happening there. Pan, one-time Washington Post bureau chief in Beijing, roamed the country collecting tales that provide evidence of the Communist Party’s transgressions, past and present, of its increasing corruption, and of its determination to retain a monopoly on political power. Crushing those who attempt to keep alive memories of the sins of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping or who try to reveal or seek restitution for the crimes of the thousands of avaricious officials who plague the nation today, the one-party state rolls on. The scores of thousands of mass demonstrations annually against its practices change little. And, he argues, the party has succeeded in part because the people have been willing accomplices in the act of forgetting. Movingly, depressingly, Pan tells the story of some of the ordinary people and some of the rights activists, lawyers and journalists who struggle, largely in vain, to call the party to account.

On the other hand, Kurlantzick, also a journalist, focuses on China’s international achievements, its growing influence in Asia and the world. Lamenting the sullying of America’s image in the world, he conjures up a China overtaking the United States in the affections of mankind. He is not unaware of Beijing’s miserable human rights performance or of the Communist Party’s arbitrary and unchecked rule. He notes, however, the success of Chinese leaders in keeping the outside world focused on their nation’s economic miracle—the extraordinary development of its coastal economy over the last 10 to 15 years and the millions of its people it has lifted from poverty.

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