China and the West: Full Circle

An analysis piece in the Financial Times looks at the relationship between China and the West and asks whether a policy of engagement is bringing about the changes that the U.S. and other Western nations had aimed for:

In Google’s experience, for example, the longer it operated in China, the more search words it was forced to ban and the greater the number of cyberattacks it fielded from Chinese sources.

In fact, in the opinion of several Chinese officials, the process of engagement in which successive US and other western governments have invested so much time and effort, may not have enamoured the Chinese public to the west at all. One senior Communist party official, speaking on condition of anonymity several weeks prior to Google’s move, said he saw a general regression in public disposition to the west.

“Even though Chinese, and especially Chinese youth, know the west better than ever before and there are many more exchanges and contacts between China and your countries than in the past, the west is less popular now among Chinese people than at any time since ‘reform and opening’ began [in 1978],” the official said. Indeed, anyone who regularly reads the postings of Chinese netizens will notice that comments critical of the west frequently far outnumber those that are positive.

Against this backdrop, Google’s decision prompts one of the simplest but furthest-reaching questions of all: how should the west deal with China? Or, to put a finer point on it, how can an international system created under Pax Americana to serve the interests of the west accommodate a rising giant that is set to remain different in almost every aspect – politics, values, history, natural endowments and per capita wealth – from the incumbent ruling order?

Even posing the question can elicit shock. James Mann, a former Beijing bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times, notes in his 2007 book, The China Fantasy, that although it is still theoretically possible that the country may yet morph into a democracy that promotes civil liberties and fosters an independent judiciary, the belief that this is a likely outcome is sheer self-delusion.

For more on these ideas, see an interview with James Mann.


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