An epic global contest between autocracy and liberal values lies ahead
The article ends with these words:
Engagement with China is the only sensible course, but how does it avoid becoming appeasement? That is the challenge facing the Biden administration, which held a summit with China as we went to press. It is at the heart of strategic reviews like the one Britain has just unveiled.
It starts with building up the West’s defences. Institutions and supply chains must be buttressed against Chinese state interference, including universities, the cloud and energy systems. The creaking American-led infrastructure behind globalisation—treaties, payments networks, technology standards—must be modernised to give countries an alternative to the competing system China is assembling. To keep the peace, the cost to China of military aggression must be raised, by strengthening coalitions such as the “Quad” with India, Japan and Australia, and bolstering Taiwan’s military strength.
Greater resilience allows openness and a tough stance on human rights. By articulating an alternative vision to totalitarianism, liberal governments can help sustain the vigour of open societies everywhere in a confrontation that, if it is not to end in a tragic war, will last decades. It is vital to show that talk of universal values and human rights is more than a cynical tactic to preserve Western hegemony and keep China down. That means firms acting against enormities by, say, excluding forced labour from their supply chains. Whereas Western amorality would only make Chinese nationalism more threatening, principled advocacy of human rights sustained over many years may encourage China’s people to demand the same freedoms for themselves.
China’s rulers believe they have found a way to marry autocracy with technocracy, opacity with openness, and brutality with commercial predictability. After the suppression of Hong Kong, free societies should be more aware than ever of the challenge that presents. They now need to muster a response—and to prepare their defences for the long struggle ahead. ■
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