Five tough truths about US-China relations

The more American and Chinese officials proclaim their innocent intentions toward each other, the deeper the level of mistrust they generate. Official candor on five key truths about US-China relations will likely contribute to a more mature bilateral relationship and could help halt a potential slide to conflict.

4. Economic reform will not lead inexorably to political reform.

For 30 years, China’s communist leadership has succeeded in largely disproving the liberal Western faith that decentralizing control over the economy would necessarily foster political reform. Taiwan, South Korea, and others have shown that when prosperity builds a middle class and technology provides access to global information, the people will inevitably demand their civil and human rights.

But Beijing offers a different, non-democratic, development model for Asia, Africa, and even South America: Discarding most Marxist theory and practice, it retains its Leninist system of governance. Beijing is betting that relative prosperity will keep its populace satisfied and stable and will substitute for the political legitimacy lacking in one-party rule. It also hedges its bet by periodically stirring up Chinese nationalism against perceived threats from outside powers led by the US.

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