China: A Threat to or Threatened by Democracy?

China: A Threat to or Threatened by Democracy?

How can one know whether China will or will not democratize? In general, as Karl Popper showed in The Poverty of Historicism, political futures in even the middle distance are unknowable because of the inherently uncertain and contingent dynamics of politics. Therefore, an analyst should focus on the multiple factors that make different futures more or less likely.

In The Black Swan, Nassim Taleb shows that in the post–Bretton Woods age of unregulated financial globalization, an extraordinary volatility is ever more likely. Thus, practical wisdom suggests a need to hedge against the unknowable and gargantuan risks of sudden booms and busts. Not even the hedge funds know how much to hedge. Unless one can create new international institutions to regulate the new monies created since the dollar floated in 1971 and since new instruments (non-bank banks) were invented in the middle 1980s, the global forces at work will produce unimaginable futures.

The almost impossible problem is how to imagine China’s democratization potential in relation to the out-of-control and unpredictable workings of the new global economy. Are there ways to conceive the issue that might be more fruitful than others?

Despite the conventional wisdom, China is not a market-Leninist system in which the economic imperatives of wealth expansion are in contradiction with the political imperatives of control-oriented, anti-market Leninist institutions. China has already evolved politically into a non-Stalinist authoritarianism. Somewhat similar transitions occurred in nineteenth-century Imperial Germany and Imperial Japan, producing regimes that were readily compatible with sustained rapid growth. There are no hidden forces of history guaranteed to undermine China’s resilient authoritarianism. China is a successfully risen superpower out to shape the world in a direction consonant with the priorities and imperatives of its authoritarian ruling groups—and, more especially, to preserve the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) monopoly of power without accountability.

In order to deal with a superpower—anti-democratic China—democracies feel compelled to become less democratic. The democratic tide, therefore, is ebbing. India constrains demonstrators. Japan fears to speak with the Dalai Lama. The European Union pulls back from democratic Taiwan and considers selling arms to China. Chinese security forces are allowed to police the Olympics torch run even in Western democracies. Chinese leaders visiting the West are protected from seeing or hearing people protesting rights abuses by the Beijing regime. Publishers hesitate to bring out works critical of the CCP.

As with the Japanese graphic novel (manga) China Has One Less Bone (a reference to the symbol for bone, which in Chinese has one less stroke), China’s success is leading to a diminished appreciation and defense of freedom. Author Oda Sora misleadingly tells...