Friday, November 18, 2005

Economic Growth and Liberty

After the conclusion of the APEC Summit in South Korea, President Bush will head to Beijing. During his visit to Japan earlier this week, Bush called on the Chinese regime to liberalize, claiming a link between economic growth and political and religious freedoms.
As the people of China grow in prosperity, their demands for political freedom will grow as well. President Hu has explained to me his vision of "peaceful development," and he wants his people to be more prosperous. I have pointed out that the people of China want more freedom to express themselves, to worship without state control, to print Bibles and other sacred texts without fear of punishment. The efforts of Chinese people to -- China's people to improve their society should be welcomed as part of China's development. By meeting the legitimate demands of its citizens for freedom and openness, China's leaders can help their country grow into a modern, prosperous, and confident nation.

Biography of an Idea
The notion that economic liberalization leads to political liberalization is not a new one. The Clinton administration argued back in 2000 for extending Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status to China on the grounds that:
including China in the world trading system would lead to development of a market economy and to political reform and a more open Chinese society. [iv (PDF)]

Robert Zoellick and others have argued the same. Last week, however, the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, in its 2005 report, concluded that this has not been the case in China to date.

China's economy has been growing at 8-10% annually for over two decades and will continue to do so for the next fifteen years, according to China's director of statistics. A brief look at the blogosphere doesn't give any impression of liberalization politically. Simon blogs on Beijing's (unsuccessful) attempts to keep as much power as possible at the center. Martyn posts on Beijing's fear of a "Color Revolution," which is to say American export of freedom and democracy. The simple fact that Martyn has to spell freedom and democracy with the number zero replacing the letter o to get around the Great Firewall of China indicates to me the lack of liberalization on the government's part.

Chinese President Hu Jintao recently stated that the world need not fear a rising China. In his 2002 China visit, Bush commented:
China is on a rising path, and America welcomes the emergence of a strong and peaceful and prosperous China.

I would argue that a better statement would be that America welcomes the emergence of a strong and prosperous China, if that China is also free and peaceful. If not, America and others will remain cautious.