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To China with Love

Because we are routinely accused of being “pro-China” or even CCP-symps, it seems useful to clarify our position and above all the premise from which it emerges.

To do that, let’s start with the opposing thesis of the China Hawks: China is still a Communist country and thereby just as much an enemy of the United States as it has been since the days of Mao, except now vastly more dangerous.

Since many or most of the China Hawks are Republican conservatives, previously devoted to free markets, they must explain away the apparent contradiction of a Communist country being such an extraordinary economic success. This they do in several ways, all portraying China’s success as an illusion:

  • China steals. The Chinese economy appears to be successful only because China has spent the last three decades engaging in theft of intellectual property on an enormous scale, especially in high technology.
  • China appears to be prosperous only because it massively subsidizes Chinese enterprises, many explicitly state-owned but also many that appear private but are dominated by the government.
  • China finances these subsidies via great towers of debt, which will eventually come crashing down.
  • Finally, to the extent that China has succeeded in creating “state capitalism” whereas, say, Russia massively failed, it is because the Chinese are smarter than the Russians. Or as Uncle Duke, late American ambassador to China and hero of Doonesbury, put it long ago, the Chinese are “an especially tricky people.”

In the most extraordinary version, promulgated for instance by Newt Gingrich in a book which appears to have been written to flatter Donald Trump, this entire program was exhaustively planned by the CCP, for many decades, including by reputed reformers such as Deng Xiaoping.  A long list of titles by China Hawks, all on the theme of some “100-year March,” attribute to the Chinese a long-term strategic vision of a coherence and constancy unprecedented in the history of the world. An especially tricky people, indeed.

As a corollary of these assertions, the Hawks like to crow about what they regard as the complete failure of the liberal democratic view that capitalism brings democracy in its wake. After 30 years of alleged free markets, China is still not a democracy and therefor never will be, they say.

To each of these major points we have responded elsewhere. We will not repeat ourselves here but we offer our own alternative thesis: There are two Chinas, one liberated by economic reforms starting with Deng, and one desperately resisting the political implications of those reforms. Often enough, the two Chinas war within the leadership or even within the leaders themselves, Deng being the most conspicuous example.

Deng did usher in dramatic economic reform, explicitly based on what we know as the first principle of information theory.  All real information comes as a surprise, and only surprise counts as information. We don’t know whether Deng knew he was quoting information theory; he had long since grown suspicious of all theory.  Yet the idea that surprise is everything and therefor grand economic plans are doomed was pervasive in his writings and speeches.

Liberator he was. And butcher of Tiananmen Square he was as well.

Chairman Xi has behaved in similarly contradictory ways. Under Xi, Chinese regulators have maintained both a lighter and more competent hand than their U.S. equivalents under either Biden or Obama. And in China “to get rich is glorious” still, an aphorism that will never make it into the U.S. Democratic Party platform.

Yet Xi crushed Hong Kong, instituted the most cruel and totalitarian of COVID lockdowns (the envy of certain American health officials), stepped up subsidies to state enterprises, and publicly humiliates Chinese entrepreneurs who appear too big for their britches such as Jack Ma.

The contradictions are unsurprising because the liberal-democratic insight is correct: capitalism does lead to democracy, just neither quickly nor gently.

Any state must enfranchise—even if not explicitly—those who control what the state most needs.

Magna Carta was no gift to English serfs; it benefited only the nobles who were able to threaten King John in the field.  The Commons in Parliament gained decisive power only as the naissance capitalism made them indispensable funders of the kings’ wars. Rome remained a republic only so long as the legions were manned by relatively well-to-do citizen-soldiers. When the legions could be filled only by mass enlistment of the poor, Rome became a mob democracy; the legions chose the emperors.

In none of these cases did power shift quickly or in nice civics class fashion. Violent resistance by incumbent powers was the rule. It is ludicrously unhistorical for the China Hawks to point to China and ask: “well, where is your precious democracy?”

In China, massive shifts of power have already occurred, and have been as massively resisted. The most dramatic happened only a few months ago.

Chairman Xi’s almost overnight reversal of his COVID lockdowns, clearly in reaction to mounting public protests, will go down in history as a momentous “anti-Tiananmen” event. A national Chinese government, for the first time in a century, bowed to public protest.

Yes, a lot of people were arrested, beaten, or murdered along the way to Xi’s retreat. Yet, In the end the handwriting remained on the wall, though likely many more will likely suffer as the rulers try to repeatedly to wash it away.

What role can the United States play in this struggle between China and China?

Less than one might wish. There is, however, one thing that we must not do, or rather cease to do. National pride can be the dictator’s most powerful weapon. We should stop inflaming Chinese national pride on Xi’s behalf.

In May 1941, Stalin, who had already murdered millions of his own people, was quite likely the most hated man in the Soviet Union. A month later the Nazis invaded. By the end of the summer, Stalin was worshipped as the indispensable leader of what is still known as “The Great Patriotic War.” By all too many Russians of that generation, the dictator was revered until the day they died.

The worst thing we can do is inflame the Chinese people with the idea that the great struggle of their time is not between free and Communist China, but between China and the United States. That, alas, is precisely the view the Hawks incessantly promote, and which we as consistently oppose.


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P.S. My new book is coming out on May 30: “Life After Capitalism”. To celebrate, we are giving away 100 copies between now and May 30. Click on this link now to enter the giveaway!

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