The recent ouster of Bo Xilai from the Communist Party can provide an interesting glimpse into the political mechanisms of the Chinese state. The fact that Mr. Bo was dismissed for “corruption” charges means that he was probably doing something right, or that he was too sloppy with his privileges and embarrassed the wrong people. We all know that socialism, in all its forms, leads to benefits for the few at the expense of the many (remember the bailouts of Western financial institutions?), but Mr. Bo’s ouster deserves a closer look, because he was a fairly prominent politician, and was actually slated as a possible successor to Hu Jintao, the Communist party’s current boss.
What I want to focus on is the fact that Mr. Bo was ousted at all. This move means that Beijing is becoming increasingly responsive to the demands of its citizens. Indeed, as China continues to liberalize its markets, democratic initiatives, whether real or appeasing, will continue to bubble up throughout the fascist state. This is because democracy is the natural political order that arises out of market-based institutions (private property, international trade, etc.). The world will have to be careful with China’s democratic transition though. Democracy is not a good thing in itself, especially democracy that is based upon an allegiance to a state. I am thinking of France in the 19th century and Germany in the 20th, although the democracies that sprung up during the post-colonial revolutions can also be good examples.
The main ideas behind the post-colonial revolutions were state sovereignty and democracy – not liberty – and the results, I think, speak for themselves.
China’s transition to democracy is going to be violent sometimes. Nationalistic fervor will run rampant at times. Whole ethnic groups within and without the Chinese state may be targeted for discriminatory measures. These likely scenarios will be the result of clashes between factions that wish to maintain power and factions that wish to wield power. Both will appeal to Han nationalism (the Han are the dominant ethnic group in the Chinese state) in attempts to win over the public to their cause.
What the West and especially the United States will need to do is accept some degree of humility when China lashes out (probably through the use of force around its peripheries or through provocative protectionist tariffs). It would be wise to withdraw from the 38th Parallel and implement even greater free trade between Washington’s traditional East Asian allies and the “Tigers” of the region. Hell, include these states in a pan-Pacific trading bloc and China, even an adolescent one, would think twice before acting too irrationally.
Military retaliations for any of Beijing’s petty peripheral assaults will only lead to an escalation of hostilities. Greater trading relations with China’s neighbors will not only enhance the prosperity of these societies but such relations will also bring about more caution from Beijing and more sympathy for the states on the receiving end of Beijing’s growing pains.
On the diplomatic and clandestine side, the West must undertake an initiative that provides Chinese dissidents with a blueprint for a more decentralized, democratic, and cosmopolitan China. Literature is the key here.
China’s growing pains will present some difficulties for the world, but they don’t have to be problems. The West needs to stick to its tried-and-true formula of individualism, free trade, peace, and decentralized government in order to navigate the rough waters ahead. If the West can do this, then a democratic, capitalist China will become one of the greatest gifts to humanity in all of history, or at least since the radical birth of the United States.
P.S. I don’t want to hear about China’s nationalism turning into something like Napoleon’s or Hitler’s campaigns. Look at the geography of Europe and China, and you’ll see that the Chinese state has already conquered more than what Hitler or Napoleon did. Beijing is essentially locked in place due to geographical limits and its military is far too weak to undertake campaigns to invade neighboring states.