by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The most important international development of the last two decades has been the rise of China as a great economic and military power. As China transformed, many Western scholars and policymakers predicted that economic reform and integration into the world economy would force the country to liberalize politically and become a “responsible stakeholder” in the international system. The idea, sometimes called “convergence theory,” was that as China grew wealthier, it would become more like the United States.
The theory was comforting, but it did not pan out. China grew economically without democratizing. Instead its government became more ideological and repressive, with military ambitions that are not just regional and defensive but global and designed to intimidate. And as the distinction between civilian and military technology gradually eroded across the globe, Chinese President Xi Jinping made it official policy for Chinese companies to put all technology at the disposal of China’s military. As the Princeton University scholar Aaron Friedberg has written, “What Xi Jinping and his colleagues have in mind is not a transitional phase of authoritarian rule to be followed by eventual liberalization, but an efficient, technologically empowered, and permanent one-party dictatorship.”
Let’s face it: Xi has killed the notion of convergence.
China is enormously important to the United States—for reasons both positive and negative. American companies highly prize its huge market, which is a crucial engine of growth for the world economy. But we cannot allow our strong interest in good economic relations with China to blind us to Beijing’s hostile political intentions.