Monday, June 27, 2005

On China: Daniel Drezner had this post last week on the effects of an open economic policy with China in regard to creating a society more respectful of human rights and civil liberties. Inconsistent reluts, to be sure, and those coming at the speed of Darwinian evolution.
By the Freedom House measures, China has been rated as "not free" for the entire history of our expanded trade relationship with them. Within that category there are some subtler trends -- in the eighties both the poliitical rights and civil liberties measures improved slightly. Both went back down after Tiannamen, and then since 1998 the civil liberties score has improved marginally.
Not the most encouraging news, especially not in light of recent policies on registration of blogs and other intenet sites. Drezner cites several reasons that an open policy may be working, if slowly, and that to the extent that it's not China may be an exception to the rule because of their size and the particular nature of President hu Jintao's rule. I'm not expert enough to say if he's right or not, but I'm not very confident that we'll see any social effect of our economic policy very soon. Drezner makes at least one very good point, though.
Third, when questioning the utility of a certain policy, one always needs to compre it to the alternative set of options. There is no other option that would cause China to democratize any faster that a policy of openness.
Of course, we could democratize China in a hurry if we wanted to, like we did Japan in 1945. But I think Drezner's point is that with any policy aimed at achieving a particular goal, there are some tradeoffs involved. In this case, the tradeoffs are speed and the certainty that they could choose as their leader someone who's personal ambition supercedes their willingness to relinquish power to individuals and more local institutions. In exchange, we don't have to go to war with 1.3 billion Chinese. Conservatives are hardwired to understand tradeoffs, so I'm willing to agree that the current course of action is the best and maybe the only practical one we can take towards China. I just wonder how realistic we're being in our expectations.

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