In more striking terms than other nations, China presents contrasting images to the world, with each view highlighted in recent news.
The nation’s rapidly expanding strategic naval capabilities are discussed in a report just released by the U.S. Department of Defense, concerned about Beijing’s shift toward developing extremely long-range maritime forces.
Meanwhile, this summer, China Vice President Xi Jinping undertook a highly publicized trip to Hong Kong, while Vice President Joe Biden recently completed a China visit.
Both leaders emphasized the extraordinary economic growth now under way. Biden has given special emphasis to complementary aspects of the commercial relations between the two great powers.
At the start of this year, Chinese President Hu Jintao was feted in the United States. Washington and also Chicago rolled out particularly wide and rich red carpets. Any red colors present, however, were only distantly related to the banners of traditional revolutionary Communism. Meetings were dominated by the concerns of commerce and capitalism.
In Chicago, senior corporate and political leaders have made a sustained effort to attract commercial partners in China. Aircraft giant Boeing estimates contracts resulting from this visit likely will total approximately $19 billion.
These visits symbolize truly revolutionary economic change in China. Only six decades ago, the new Communist People’s Republic led by Mao Zedong was proclaimed on the mainland of China.
On the other side of the world, what Winston Churchill aptly termed the Iron Curtain had descended across Europe. Allied cooperation of World War II had disintegrated.
In late June 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea, and a bitter and bloody war ensued. Washington, which had implicitly written off Taiwan along with mainland of China, became committed to the defense of the offshore redoubt. China’s military intervention in Korea brought direct combat with American troops. The Cold War became a global conflict.
In 1992, China leader Deng Xiaoping declared “People’s Socialism,” opening the economy to entrepreneurship and private investment, and starting national economic transformation.
Yet China is still relatively closed politically, with harsh penalties imposed for going too far from Communist orthodoxy. American self-interest argues for expanding cooperation with China in trade and investment.
American principles require opposing human-rights abuses.
Late last year, China’s imprisoned dissident, Liu Xiaobo, was refused permission to attend an Oslo ceremony to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. His empty chair testified eloquently regarding the dark side of contemporary China.
We should press on both fronts, and also reinforce the expanding economic role of democratic Taiwan, but do so indirectly. Taiwan has become a banker for the industrial revolution on the mainland. The Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement between China and Taiwan represents extraordinary opening of markets.
A more open economy increases human-rights pressures, and provides opportunities to underscore this dimension. Over time, commerce can restrain China’s formidable global navy.
Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis.