Wednesday, August 06, 2008

A President's Faith

President Bush's remarks in Thailand today about China sounded familiar to me. The president criticized Beijing's human rights record, but then sounded an optimistic note, that China's leadership will move on political reforms to accentuate the economic growth of the country. Speaking in Bangkok, he said:

"We speak out for a free press, freedom of assembly, and labor rights not to antagonize China's leaders, but because trusting its people with greater freedom is the only way for China to develop its full potential."

I went back to a Fall 2005 article written in TNI by my colleague Chris Marsh, and found this:

"[I]n 2003, during the arrival ceremony for visiting Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, President Bush said that, based upon the maturity of the U.S.-Chinese relationship, it was possible to talk freely and openly about their differences, including religious freedom. 'China has discovered that economic freedom leads to national wealth', the president observed. He continued by stating that the growth of economic freedom in China gives reason to hope for increased social, political and religious freedom and that 'in the long run, these freedoms are indivisible and essential to national greatness and national dignity.'"

So there has been a consistent view, that China's economic development creates evolutionary conditions for democratic development.

But in the short run, say the next ten to twenty years, does some version of the managed pluralist system work and sustain itself?

It will also be interesting to see how the president's quite vocal criticism of China's record plays out. After all, he is adhering to what I thought was the implicit bargain reached last fall when he met with President Hu Jintao (see my essay in TAC on the subject).

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