China’s deal-making with the world’s tyrants has thwarted Western efforts on development, human rights, and proliferation.
The Beijing Consensus: How China’s Authoritarian Model
Will Dominate the Twenty-First Century
By Stefan Halper
(Basic Books, 296 pages, $28.95)
In his new book, The Beijing Consensus, international relations expert Stefan Halper argues that the mass appeal of China’s “market-authoritarianism” is undermining the West. What Halper calls the “China model,” which provides “rapid growth, stability, and the promise of a better life for its citizens,” is an attractive alternative to Western models of growth. By offering a path toward prosperity that does not involve the messiness of democratic politics, he writes, China is undercutting the appeal of the “Western model” and thereby “shrinking the West.” In other words, the embrace of the “China model” by millions in the developing world is rendering the West less powerful and influential.
Thus, according to Halper, those who worry about China’s rise are worried about the wrong things. China’s challenge to America, Halper argues, is not necessarily in the realm of military power. Rather, Beijing is offering the world a different set of governing ideas that produces “rapid economic growth, stability, and security — but not freedom in the public square.” With its successful development model, China is diminishing the so-called “Washington consensus” model of economic development, which is built around free markets, free societies, and open investment and trade. Ultimately, the damage done to these ideas will constrain America’s ability to set the international agenda.
Halper persuasively backs up this part of his argument. He marshals strong evidence to show that China is capitalizing on its newfound clout to secure the votes of the developing world in the United Nations General Assembly on issues China cares about. It is now almost impossible for the West to condemn China’s human rights record at the UN or for Taiwan to gain entry into any UN body.
Halper also highlights other deleterious consequences of China’s influence. Beijing has helped block attempts to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons; helped countries such as Angola, Cambodia, and Burma to block attempts by the West to demand political reform in return for economic aid; provided succor for the likes of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez; and protected the Sudanese government from the consequences of its genocidal policies.
But according to Halper, the problem is not just that China has more cash in its coffers to grant “no strings attached” loans and close deals with the world’s dictators. Of equal concern is that Beijing’s “state-directed capitalism” actually provides China with a competitive edge over the West’s more laissez-faire capitalist system. State subsidies to Chinese industries mean they can outbid their competitors by paying more, for example, for African resources. An authoritarian government means Chinese authorities do not have to contend with competing domestic interests to get deals done.
In essence Halper is making three arguments. First, growing economic resources provide China with more geopolitical clout, which it has used to undermine American influence. Second, the “China model” has mass appeal and thus threatens the governing ideas of the West. Third, state capitalism has a competitive edge over market capitalism.
Is he right? Only the first claim, in my opinion, stands up to scrutiny. Without a doubt, as Halper illustrates, China’s deal-making with the world’s tyrants has thwarted Western efforts on development, human rights, and proliferation. As Halper illustrates, China provided Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan with protection against Western disapprobation for his mass killings. China has impeded Western efforts to stop Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons. Chavez is more confident now that China has his back. And China has managed to form a reliable bloc of UN member votes to shield it from criticism of its own human rights abuses.
But the second claim — that the China model has mass appeal — is more suspect. The China model certainly appeals to dictators who want to stay in power. But what about the people over whom the dictators rule? I know of no evidence which suggests that people would readily choose to surrender their freedoms and live under a Chinese-style system. On the other hand, I do know of evidence that the China model is unattractive: it has little appeal within China itself.
According to Halper, “middle-class Chinese are more likely to worry about keeping their children in private school….than they are about running into the square and building Statue of Liberty models…” I am not so sure that is true. Take, for example, the Charter 08 movement, which has called upon the Chinese government to adopt a new constitution that looks very similar to our own. The regime acted predictably, detaining movement participants and sending its leader to jail.
But unlike past democratic movements in China that have been cowed into dissolution, this one is not going anywhere. After the sentencing of one of its leaders, Liu Xiaobo, on trumped-up charges, one of America’s top China scholars, Perry Link, wrote:
If the purpose of the harsh sentence was to intimidate others, it has not worked well. Hundreds of signers of Charter 08 have endorsed an additional statement declaring that if Liu Xiaobo is guilty then we are, too. Cui Weiping (a scholar)…spent the days following the announcement of Liu’s sentence conducting a telephone survey of more than 100 prominent Chinese intellectuals, including both signers and non-signers of Charter 08, on how they viewed the sentence. Finding almost unanimous disgust, she collected her findings…and published them in a series of twitter feeds that circulated widely in China and abroad.
But perhaps Charter 08 is a singular movement of elites, which shows only that a small (if influential) group is aggrieved enough to take action. What, then, explains the growing number of mass protests in China over everything from corruption to free speech to clean water and air?
According to Minxin Pei, economic growth has indeed “lulled into apathy” the middle class. But with signs of economic trouble in China, that middle class may be waking up. There is also the matter of the 700-800 million in China who are not in the middle class. Pei explains:
[E]conomic policies that favor the rich have already alienated industrial workers and rural peasants, formerly the social base of the party. Event in recent boom years, grass-roots unrest has been high, with close to 90,000 riots, strikes, demonstrations, and collective protests reported annually.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?