Michael Schuman is the author of “Superpower Interrupted: The Chinese History of the World” (PublicAffairs, 2020) and “The Miracle: The Epic Story of Asia’s Quest for Wealth” (HarperBusiness, 2009).
His article ends with these important words:
Xi wants to elevate authoritarianism and foster a new world system devoid of liberal values. In a January speech, he argued that it was “arrogance, prejudice and hatred” to promote democracy and human rights. “What does ring the alarm,” he stated, “is the attempt to impose hierarchy on human civilization or to force one’s own history, culture and social system upon others.”
In other words, to Beijing, the entire American mission to promote civil liberties is an inappropriate intrusion on the world.
Democracies are, of course, far from perfect. They suffer from inequality and injustice. But Xi’s vision for “a community with a shared future,” as he calls it, is like a neighborhood where a man beats his wife every night, but anyone who tries to help her is “intervening in his internal affairs.” In order to show you are not “prejudiced,” you invite the guy over for pool parties, and smile as if nothing’s wrong. Maybe he’ll bring you a few beers. That’s how Xi defines “mutual respect.”
I don’t want to live in that neighborhood. For the West to full-on decouple from China is impractical. But we do have to think hard about how we choose to engage with Beijing. Fueling Xi’s rise by sharing our best technology is not a good idea. Imposing costs on China for its human rights abuses, in the form of sanctions, is a must.
Pro-Beijing advocates will say that we in the West are being hypocritical and that our real agenda is to “keep China down.” Still, we’re under no obligation to share our technology and capital with a regime that is increasingly contemptuous of what we hold dear.
The only way to contend with today’s China is for more people to become China hawks.
That’s a terrible solution. But the alternative is worse.
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Illustration by Brian Stauffer for POLITICO