For the past several years, the buzz among those who take more than passing interest in world affairs has been about the meteoric rise of Communist-controlled China as the new global power.
There are those around the world who view China’s emergence as a certainty, long anticipated, and deserving celebration. For them, this historic development is also indicative in some ways of the diminishing importance of the West, and in particular the decline of the U.S. from its pre-eminent superpower status.
Among the many voices who have thrown caution to the wind in embracing China’s rise as inevitable and good is Thomas Friedman, a New York Times columnist and author.
In a column published in September 2009, Friedman gushed without embarrassment that one-party autocracy, as in China, “led by a reasonably enlightened group of people” could be positive. He decried the wastefulness of American politics and democracy, and urged Washington could do better by learning from autocrats in Beijing how to make and implement profitable decisions.
Sometime in the middle of last year, China’s economy overtook that of Japan to rank as the world’s second largest. With economic power, according to conventional wisdom, comes military power and the recognition of a country’s status as a great power.
But apart from China boosters and those who entertain the fantasy of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend,” the autocrats of Beijing have few friends within and outside the country.
Communist-controlled China might well be a giant striding forward, but its feet are made of clay. The autocrats are fearful of their own people wanting freedom, and this fear writ large is indicative that contemporary China’s appeal as a cultural and political model is woefully limited.
Development without respect for human rights ultimately stunts growth for people yearning for individual liberty. The story of Liu Xiaobo, incarcerated for the past 20 years by Beijing’s autocrats, is revealing of how great is Communist China’s internal vulnerability, and why the world needs to be cautious about its future.
Liu Xiaobo was named the recipient last year of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Since he could not be present at the award ceremony, Liv Ullmann, the Norwegian actress and film director, read from one of his writings titled, “I Have No Enemies: My Final Statement.”
“Freedom of expression,” Liu Xiaobo wrote, “is the foundation of human rights, the source of humanity, and the mother of truth. To strangle freedom of speech is to trample on human rights, stifle humanity, and suppress truth.”
These words of Liu Xiaobo deserve wide circulation and read not merely as a rebuke of Beijing’s autocrats, but also as an admonition and warning to the “politically correct” crowd in the West, ever ready to trim individual liberty and censor free speech.
Historians for the longest while have been captivated with the idea of the rise and decline of great powers. But there is another equally compelling theme demanding notice in modern times — that tyranny has a short shelf life of just a few generations.
And societies, such as China or Iran, ruled by autocrats fearful of freedom are “paper tigers” to be held in pity.
©2005-11 Salim Mansur
Salim Mansur BA, MA, PhD, is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Western Ontario. He is also a columnist at Canada’s Sun Media. His column appears here with Salim Mansur’s express permission by special arrangement with him.