China’s Risky Bet Against History

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China’s Risky Bet Against History

Without the openness that comes with democracy, China’s relations with the US and its neighbours are destined to be tense at best.

US relations with China hit a rough patch this year. The world’s sole superpower and Asia’s largest rising power jousted over the South China Sea, clashed over how to respond to North Korea’s sinking of the South Korean ship Cheonan, and for a time shelved military exchanges. Is this the beginning of an enduring rivalry or merely a temporary downturn?

The answer lies in the past as much as the present – but history provides some cause for concern about the future of US-China relations. A careful survey of the early twentieth century reveals that rising autocracies inherently and predictably spawn mistrust, and that their ascent culminates in rivalry, if not outright military conflict. By contrast, rising powers with rule of law and transparent governance offer multiple avenues for reassurance, meaning they can rise without provoking strategic competition.

Seen in this light, China has made a bet against history. Since Deng Xiaoping, successive Chinese leaders have assumed that economic modernization would assure the world of China’s benign intentions without requiring changes to one-party rule at home. Yet China’s economic interdependence with the world and references to ‘peaceful development’ and ‘harmonious society’ have done little to assuage the growing anxiety in Washington and Asian capitals about Beijing’s strategic trajectory. China’s bet against history is failing.

The United States has also made a gamble. Since Richard Nixon, successive US administrations have assumed that integrating China into the international system would transform China before China could transform the system. US engagement has paved the way for China’s integration into the global economy and membership in most international organizations, yet more than two decades after the Tiananmen Square crackdown, political reform remains on ice. Meanwhile, China has begun to transition from a rule taker to a rule maker in international affairs. This means that although it’s still too early to say that the US bet was wrong, our ability to say it was right is increasingly in doubt.

The United States can’t make China a democracy. Indeed, sudden political pluralism in China without the stabilizing underpinnings provided by the rule of law and good governance would only increase the risks of illiberal democracy and cause even greater uncertainty about China’s strategic trajectory. (And the current generation of Chinese leadership is anyway unlikely to introduce political reforms that would jeopardize the Communist Party’s singular hold on power).

But at the same time, both the United States and China need to recognize that economic interdependence and efforts at mutual diplomatic reassurance are no substitute for evidence of greater transparency and liberalism within China if we’re to build real strategic trust. This message should be delivered loud and clear by the White House and the State Department, with consistent demonstrations of support for human rights, media freedom, rule of law and civil society within China.

In Asia’s burgeoning multilateral architecture, the United States should work with other like-minded democracies to reinforce the theme that meaningful confidence-building depends on transparency and participatory government within the member states and not on the outdated principle of ‘non-interference in internal affairs’ that Beijing asserts should guide regional integration. The case must be made within the region that stronger institutions and citizen participation will ultimately create stronger states, a lesson well demonstrated by the democratic transitions of Korea and Indonesia.

The alternative—continuing to assume that economic integration and diplomatic engagement will ease the inevitable tensions caused by China’s rise—ignores an iron law of history: regime type matters.

No Democracy: No Peaceful Rise

Periods of flux in the hierarchy of nations have frequently ended badly. Germany’s rise and subsequent resurgence, for example, climaxed in two world wars, while the ascent of the Soviet Union to superpowerdom was less destabilizing, but still resulted in a Cold War lasting more than four decades. However, not all power transitions produce unfortunate outcomes. The United States peacefully displaced Britain, first in the Western Hemisphere, and then globally. And Japan became an economic giant without becoming a strategic competitor of the United States.

So why have some powers risen peacefully while others haven’t? The answer is regime type, a lesson of history derived from the most important power transition of them all—the eclipse of Pax Britannica.

Great Britain was the dominant power of the nineteenth century. Catapulted by victory in the Napoleonic Wars and leadership of the industrial revolution to a position of unparalleled strength, the British consolidated the world’s largest empire and founded an international order based on free trade and the gold standard. Yet by the turn of the twentieth century, Britain’s unassailable position had begun to crumble. The cause was the rise of two continental powers—Imperial Germany and the United States

Both of these rising powers challenged Great Britain. Germany engaged in colonial mischief across Africa and in the Samoan islands, and built up a powerful navy at home. The United States, meanwhile, also amassed a formidable navy, and clashed with Britain over the Venezuelan boundary, the border between Alaska and Canada, and the construction of the Panama Canal.

However, because of the nature of its regime, it was Germany and not the United States that saw a descent into rivalry with Britain. Essentially, Germany lacked rule of law and transparent governance—the domestic institutions underpinning democracy. Its constitution enshrined authority in the Kaiser, particularly where foreign policy was concerned. At the same time, the press was subject to official censorship.

Although pre-war Germany was no totalitarian state, it was still an autocracy, a reality that exacerbated British misgivings about Germany’s rise. In a regime that centralized authority, German foreign policy was only as transparent and predictable as the Kaiser, who was neither. As Paul Kennedy notes in The Rise of the Anglo-German Antagonism, British officials regarded Wilhelm as ‘a very odd man,’ ‘ultra-human,’ and ‘not quite sane.’ They worried that the Kaiser’s mercurial nature and emotional nationalism would translate into equally unpredictable foreign policy outcomes. As a result, fear of unwelcome surprises was a perennial element in Great Britain’s relations with Germany.

The centralized and opaque decision making process that followed from Germany’s autocratic governance further catalyzed British mistrust. With the councils of the Kaiser and his advisers held in secret and unreported in the German press, definitive assessments of German aims proved elusive. One British diplomat summarized this conundrum: ‘Germany is a mystery. Does she simply want the destruction of England…or does she want definite things which England can help her to get?’ Against a backdrop of uncertainty, the British had little recourse but to take Germany’s behaviour as an indicator of its intentions. They interpreted Germany’s colonial quarrels and naval build-up as evidence of hostile ambitions.

Germany’s authoritarian regime also inflamed British anxieties by limiting access opportunities. ‘Access is shorthand for intervening in another state’s decision-making processand can take the form of lobbying officials, playing off rival bureaucracies, or cultivating influential societal groups that in turn pressure the government. Because Germany’s political system centralized authority, only one point of access existed: the Kaiser. This point of access was unfriendly. As one British diplomat serving in Berlin put it: ‘the Emperor and his people are actuated by feelings of hostility against England which are only limited by the German regard for law and by the practical fear of reprisals…’ With the Reichstag and other domestic actors inside Germany deprived of real authority, the British had nowhere else to turn for access, and thus, little prospect of shaping Germany’s future course.

Mistrust begets rivalry. Great Britain, fearing Germany’s intentions, took steps to hedge against its rise. Germany countered, a maritime arms race ensued, and the two countries started down the long road leading to the catastrophic violence of World War I.

The ascendance of the United States followed a different path. Institutions underpinning US democracy—rule of law and transparent governance—reassured Britain that the rising power of the Western Hemisphere posed little threat. Ultimately, the US political system reduced British fear of policy surprises. Because Congress played a critical role in foreign policy, and its deliberations were public and reported in the press, the British could readily discern the US position on the leading issues of the day. In addition, through reading newspapers, the British could monitor the outlook of a key domestic actor—the American public. The British therefore had sufficient information to trace changes in US foreign policy before they were manifested outwardly. In essence, the nature of the United States’ democratic regime made it predictable.

The transparency that accompanied a free press also forestalled the growth of British mistrust. US actions that at face value appeared to signal enmity could be contextualized. A good example of this dynamic was the British perception of President Grover Cleveland’s threat to delineate the Venezuela boundary by force. Surveying the US political landscape in late 1895, British observers could readily determine that the Democratic Party faced an uphill struggle in the coming presidential elections. The pressure to pander to Anglophobe sentiment was clearly evident. Accordingly, the British were able to interpret Cleveland’s public ultimatum for what it was—an ‘electioneering dodge’ in Lord Salisbury’s words—rather than take it as a sign of real antagonism. Transparency similarly prevented US posturing on the Panama Canal and the Alaskan border from fuelling British mistrust.

Also, domestic US institutions reassured the British by creating myriad opportunities for access. In the decentralized political system of the United States, foreign policy was the purview of executive branch officials, members of Congress, the media, the business community, and even the public at large. This presented the British with numerous groups to lobby, manipulate, and cultivate. They consciously fostered an ‘English faction’ in New York and Washington, and established close personal ties with US counterparts. This translated into unparalleled access; British diplomats regularly hobnobbed with senators and cabinet members. The results were more than social: the British could actually shape an ascendant United States’ foreign policy. A case in point was the Open Door notes, which were essentially spoon-fed to US Secretary of State John Hay by his British friends.

The reassurances rooted in democratic governance enabled the United States to rise without provoking strategic competition. Shared language and ethnicity helped too, of course, but neither would have proven sufficient to avert a rivalry with Britain. Anglo-Saxon solidarity may have boosted the United States’ appeal among the British masses, but what assuaged its leadership was US predictability, transparency, and permeability to outside influence.

It’s clear, then, that the eclipse of Pax Britannica demonstrates that autocracy coupled with mounting strength is a recipe for mistrust, while democratic governance in a rising power serves as a source of reassurance. This finding transcends the early twentieth century — it’s an iron law of history that even the canniest rising power can’t escape.

China’s Bet Against History

In 1991, Deng Xiaoping famously explained that in order to reassure the world of its peaceful intentions, China should ‘cope with affairs calmly; hide our capacities and bide our time; be good at maintaining a low profile; and never claim leadership.’ Since then, China’s reassurance strategy has evolved as its economic clout and military capabilities have become impossible to mask, and its participation in global governance has become unavoidable. Rather than maintaining a low profile, China has gone on the offensive to combat perceptions that its growing strength constitutes a threat, initially vowing a ‘peaceful rise,’ and more recently, reiterating its commitment to ‘peaceful development.’ China has also engaged in confidence building dialogues with its neighbours and the United States, both at the official and Track 2 levels. Although China’s reassurance strategy has changed over the past two decades, the nature of its gamble hasn’t. The Chinese government has consistently wagered that alleviating mistrust abroad won’t require political reform at home.

For China’s leadership, this bet against history has always held considerable appeal. It leaves unchallenged, as Minxin Pei has noted, the consensus against political liberalization that emerged after the Tiananmen Square protests and the collapse of the world’s first communist state, the Soviet Union. It also permits the Chinese government to believe that political reform can be postponed indefinitely without incurring international blowback. Above all, it keeps open the option that Beijing might use its growing economic power to dilute aspects of international governance and the liberal order that have threatened to change China’s own domestic political institutions.

But China’s bet is unravelling. Despite a concerted effort to put a friendly face on its rise, China has failed to quell growing doubts about its future course. In 2009, the Center for Strategic and International Studies published an opinion survey of strategic elites in Asia and the United States. When asked what nation would constitute the greatest threat to regional peace and security in 10 years time, respondents from Australia, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, and the United States all listed China as the most likely country. In the wake of Beijing’s more recent assertiveness towards Japan, Korea and ASEAN, public attitudes towards China in those countries have deteriorated further, and identification of China as a potential threat has increased again.

The mistrust of China that overhangs Washington and Asian capitals stems from the nature of China’s domestic institutions, not simply its behaviour on the world stage. China’s system of one-party rule has magnified anxieties that, in the best of circumstances, would attend the rise of a new superpower.

Authoritarian characteristics such as pervasive state secrecy and a muzzled press all compel outsiders to engage in dark speculation about Beijing’s ambitions. With governmental deliberations walled off, China’s future course is fundamentally unclear. Outsiders have little choice but to treat China’s military capabilities as an indicator of intentions. Not surprisingly then, the PLA’s accelerating modernization programmeand more assertive operational and declaratory position have provoked deep misgiving in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. The fact that Chinese scholars and experts aren’t able to openly research or debate the negative blowback from China’s actions in the region only reinforces this negative cycle.

China’s dearth of access opportunities is particularly problematic. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has limited voice within the government, the business community remains co-opted, and the media lacks independence. Meanwhile, the one institution in China that’s most protected from outside observation—the PLA—appears to be growing in influence over foreign policy decision-making. With few points of access, opportunities for shaping China’s future course are comparatively slim. This further exacerbates concerns about China’s rise.

One thing that is particularly striking is that senior officials, intelligence analysts and scholars from Delhi to Washington are unable to explain exactly why China took a more assertive stance in the recent round of territorial disputes. Some blame the PLA; others point to China’s leadership succession in 2012 or the influence of China’s nationalistic netizens; Chinese scholars offer only the explanation that China is the status quo power and the victim of her neighbours’ changing policies. These conflicting accounts all reflect the opaqueness of China’s decision-making process and the fundamental problem of trust that results. This same opaqueness prevented the Bush administration from understanding Chinese decision-making and finding ways to de-escalate after a PLA Air Force fighter jet collided with an unarmed US Navy EP-3 surveillance plane in 2001. At the time, those of us in government were determined to take steps with Beijing to prevent a repeat of such dangerous uncertainty about Chinese crisis management and decision-making. Yet adecade later, the situation is arguably worse.

There’s no small irony in China’s situation today. Its leadership has demonstrated an admirable determination to learn from the mistakes of past rising powers, going so far as to sanction a TV miniseries tracing the ascent of nine states. And yet, Beijing is repeating a classic error of past rising powers by attempting a peaceful rise absent domestic reform. History shows that regime type matters. Betting against history is like betting against the house; history always wins.

America’s Crossed Fingers

China isn’t the only country to have made a risky wager. When the Tiananmen Square crackdown raised doubts about the transformational impact of engagement with China, Americans briefly hesitated. Since then, successive US governments have doubled down on the bet, assuming that economic growth and political freedom would eventually go hand-in-hand in China; that the information technology revolution would challenge the Chinese Communist Party’s chokehold on power; and that China’s growing middle class would inevitably demand a greater say in their government.

It’s too early to conclude this best was wrong, but not too early to begin doubting the certainty that it was right.

Since opening to foreign trade and investment in the early 1980s, China has grown immensely richer, pulling hundreds of millions out of poverty. Its GDP has, according to World Bank and WTO figures, increased 10-fold, while per capita income has risen 15-fold, from around $220 to $3,400 from 1978 to 2008. At the same time, China has embraced information technology wholeheartedly. It now boasts the world’s largest population of Internet and cell phone users. These are all developments to celebrate on their own merits. Yet China’s political system hasn’t become more open, and that should increasingly be a cause for concern.

In reality, China retains all the trappings of authoritarian rule — the Communist Party continues to monopolize political power, the National People’s Congress remains a rubber stamp parliament, and the courts lack an independent judiciary. Village elections, once touted as the leading edge of a larger wave of democratization, have failed to bear fruit. China’s human rights record has actually deteriorated in recent years, with the jailing of prominent dissidents, and the heavy handed suppression of ethnic unrest in Tibet and Xinjiang.

Nor has information technology proven a silver bullet for the problem of censorship. To the contrary, the Chinese government has harnessed information technology to block websites, police online forums, and filter text messages. This past year’s confrontation between China and Google only underscores that the Internet won’t fundamentally alter the balance of power between Chinese society and the state.

Far from being transformed by US engagement, China has begun to transform the international system instead. China’s rapid recovery from the global financial crisis has given lustre to an authoritarian model of development in some corners of the globe. Meanwhile, China has begun to effectively rewrite international maritime law by insisting on the right to determine what ships can operate inside its exclusive economic zone. Its no-strings-attached investment in African infrastructure has challenged the good governance norms linked to Western-style foreign aid. In addition, China’s online censorship is reshaping cyberspace into an open Internet and a separate body of cyberspace cloistered behind the aptly named Great Firewall.

A Reality Check

Three decades ago, Deng Xiaoping was wise to embrace economic reform and opening and the United States was right to move down the path of integrating China into the global economy and international governance. But both sides also made bets about the relationship between rising economic power and interdependence on the one hand,and domestic political reform within China on the other. It’s time for each side to reassess the assumptions behind those bets, for recent events and history suggest that the current path will only lead to increased geostrategic rivalry despite growing economic interdependence.

Beijing needs to recognize that a lack of domestic political reform and opening is rapidly morphing into a strategic liability. No matter how many times a rising China reiterates its commitment to ‘peaceful development,’ no matter how many confidence building dialogues a rising China participates in or free trade agreements it signs, the anxieties generated by its closed political system will remain. Rightly or wrongly, China will be mistrusted and even feared. Wary of China’s growing power, the United States, Japan, South Korea, Australia, India and others will behave in ways that aren’t in China’s interests. This means that although China won’t face a unified alliance like the Soviet Union did in Cold War Europe, it will confront an international landscape that is increasingly unfriendly.

China’s flawed bet against history will result in more than quasi-encirclement– it will prevent China from realizing a level of political influence commensurate with its economic strength. Widespread mistrust of China’s ambitions will handicap its ability to take a leadership role in the international community. In this sense, an authoritarian system will ultimately deprive China of the fruits of its rise. In the current political environment in Beijing, no figure aspiring to a leadership role after 2012 can publicly articulate this problem, but the next generation of leaders would still do well to consider it as they chart their nation’s future.

For its part, Washington needs to appreciate what three decades of bipartisan engagement of China has accomplished—stability and prosperity in Asia, economic opportunities for American business, and an amazing escape from poverty for hundreds of millions of Chinese. At the same time, however, the United States needs to do what Chinese leaders can’t—articulate why political reform is in the interests not only of productive US-China relations, but also Beijing’s relations with the rest of the world.

This will require shedding three blinders that have distorted the US strategic approach to China over the past three decades.

First, Americans must dispense with the notion that pressure for democratic norms and human rights are a by-product of domestic US politics and not a strategic necessity in their own right. We have both heard senior stewards of the relationship with China frame democracy and human rights issues with their Chinese counterparts in exactly these misleading terms. Since the controversy of the Iraq War, foreign policy ‘realists’ and aspiring grand strategists have become even more dismissive of the values component of US foreign policy. This isn’t entirely surprising, since Americans frequently retreat from their idealism in the wake of difficult military conflicts (the Philippines insurrection, World War I and Vietnam, for example) or in the midst of economic adversity (the Great Depression). But that is just the point: history demonstrates that pressing for improved governance, democracy and human rights in China is critical to averting conflict. It may be rooted in American idealism, but it’s also profoundly realist.

Second, Americans must understand the limits of engagement and hedging as tools of foreign policy. To date, the United States and China have kept tensions in check and avoided falling into an enduring rivalry. This was possible because China, though rising and autocratic, was still weak. But as China’s strength mounts, the uncertainty surrounding itsascendance compels the United States to place greater emphasis on hedging. The delicate balance between engagement and hedging, which long permitted the United States and China to cooperate while managing mistrust, is at risk of breaking down. What will replace it is strategic competition. A third element to US strategy is necessary—one which may cause more tension with China in the short-term but remains essential to stable relations in the longer-term. That third element would focus on political reform within China as an indispensable dimension of building better US-China relations.

Third and lastly, US experts on China and Asia must shed faux cultural sensitivity towards the idea that ‘Asian values’ are inherently different from the West with respect to basic questions of human dignity and political participation. The 2010 Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, has highlighted how many patriotic Chinese would embrace democratic norms as a way to strengthen their nation. Beijing has dismissed the prize as an imposition of Western values on China, but the democratization of Taiwan, Korea, Mongolia and Indonesia undermine Beijing’s arguments that democratic norms are inconsistent with Asian civilizations. By the same token, of course, Americans should not embrace these basic truths as uniquely American or Western. There are many permutations to the pursuit of justice and basic human dignity that deserve respect. But all the paths lead to the same fundamental respect for the individual. There’s nothing in Asian culture that causes Chinese citizens to enjoy political imprisonment any more than their brethren do in Europe, Africa or the Middle East.

Political Liberalization as Policy Strategy

If the United States is to forestall a repeat of historical conflict with rising authoritarian states, it will be critical to develop a foreign policy strategy to encourage political liberalization in China that’s comprehensive, realistic and agile.

First, it’s important to recognize that rapid democratization in China would actually make a rivalry with the United States more likely. Sudden political pluralism would empower a population far more nationalistic than its current rulers. Minus rule of law and good governance, which require years, if not decades of institution building, China would likely become an illiberal democracy. Giving a nationalistic citizenry an unchecked say over China’s foreign policy would therefore cause even greater uncertainty over its strategic trajectory than exists today. This means the target should be rule of law, governance, accountability and increased political participation—not necessarily elections by next Tuesday.

Second, it will be critical for the President of the United States to take ownership of the strategy. In his first year, President Obama sent mixed signals to Beijing by delaying meetings with the Dalai Lama and downgrading the access and attention to legitimate dissidents from Xinjiang. More recently, in his September 2010 address to the General Assembly of the United Nations, the President spoke forcefully about the importance of democracy and human rights in US foreign policy. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also spotlighted the issue of internet freedom. This is a hopeful transition, but it will now be essential that the leadership in Beijing hears from the President and the Secretary of State consistently about the importance of specific issues of democratic governance in China to the United States. The discourse with China shouldn’t be relegated to the on-again/off-again ‘human rights’ dialogue by the Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Religion and Labor. It’s no longer enough to simply find ‘dialogues’ that check the box for American human rights NGOs.

Third, Presidential ownership of this strategy will help to ensure that it doesn’t devolve into a self-defeating crusade against China. In his own time, President Bush would explain to Presidents Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao that improvement in governance, rule of law, religious freedom and civil society would all help China to become stronger—not weaker. He explained that Chinese society is going through wrenching changes because of rapid and uneven development; changes that a single political party can’t possibly manage without the help of other non-governmental actors and proper accountability to the people. Chinese leaders will always be suspicious of American strategies for ‘peaceful evolution’ in China, but they will engage more productively if it’s clear that the President isn’t interested in weakening China’s economic development. Consistent Presidential attention to necessary changes within China will also help to prevent sudden explosions in the relationship over human rights. When the Bush administration appeared to soften its stance on human rights in China before the President’s last trip to Beijing for the Olympics in 2008, the White House was forced to overcompensate by hosting high profile dissidents. The result was more friction with Beijing and less effective dialogue. There should be no US surprises on human rights and democracy.

Fourth, the United States should support efforts that help Chinese officials strengthen their own institutions. Today, Georgetown University engages in a dialogue with the Party School on religious freedom; the Supreme Court works with Chinese jurists on questions of jurisprudence; NGOs like the Asia Foundation seek partnerships with local Chinese organizations and universities seeking to be more effective in meeting citizens’ needs. These efforts at institution building take place within the parameters of China’s own Constitution. The results will be gradual, but the resources should be increased. Meanwhile, there’s no contradiction between encouraging this slower insider strategy to reform in China with more direct efforts by organizations like the National Endowment for Democracy or Freedom House to spotlight human rights and democracy failures that may be more embarrassing for Beijing. The US government should support both.

Fifth, it’s critical to realize that despite the self-congratulatory nature of Chinese foreign policy towards Asia, Chinese leaders aren’t impervious to the opinions of their neighbours. As Asian multilateral architecture continues to proliferate and institutionalize, the United States should actively promote an agenda that moves the region away from the idea of ‘non-interference in internal affairs’ and towards respect for individual rights within member states. The momentum regionally is with the United States on this question, but there’s no single view of what constitutes universal norms. Polls show that Japanese and Koreans view democratic norms as universal and the principal of non-interference as outdated, for example. But the same polls show that while Indians and Indonesians agree strongly on the universality of democratic norms, they’re main somewhat more wedded to non-interference because of their own colonial and non-aligned pasts.

The United States will therefore have to pursue a differentiated strategy towards advancing democratic norms in Asia, one which reflects the diversity of the region and its international institutions. That may mean partnering with OECD countries like Japan, Korea and Australia and the EU on a caucus to advance transparent development assistance and good governance in the region, while working with Indonesia to encourage ASEAN to strengthen the human rights commission in its new Charter. The United States will also want to increase coordination with other like-minded states so that Beijing hears as unified a message as possible on domestic Chinese practices that deny human rights or obstruct the development of transparent and accountable institutions.

And last, despite the shorter-term nature of confidence-building measures, the United States would do well to increase regional and international pressure on Beijing to remove the opaqueness and uncertainty around its foreign and national security decision-making processes. The PLA will resist, since that same opaqueness is seen by the military leadership in China as a strategic asset. So the answer will be to hold civilian leaders responsible for the actions of the PLA.

There’s no doubt that the Central Military Commission of the CCP exerts control over the PLA from the top, but there are few checks and balances or sources of information or operational guidance below that. Setting expectations that China’s civilian leaders will be pressed by their Japanese, Korean, Indian, Vietnamese and other counterparts on PLA activities will condition the civilian leadership in Beijing to do their homework and begin putting in place their own independent levers to adjust PLA operations, rhetoric and planning so that these don’t undermine larger Chinese foreign policy interests. Even the creation of a Chinese equivalent of a National Security Council—though not strictly speaking ‘political liberalization’—would enhance the transparency and accessibility China’s neighbours are looking for and begin putting in place more accountable decision-making institutions.

The United States can’t democratize China. But what it can do is shape the environment in which Beijing’s future leadership debates political liberalization. China still has time to unwind its bet against history and embrace greater political openness. If it chooses this path, it will allow Beijing to achieve a truly peaceful rise.

Michael Green is a senior adviser and holds the Japan Chair at CSIS. He previously served as special assistant to the president for national security affairs and senior director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council.

Daniel Kliman is a visiting fellow at the Center for a New American Security.

Related Reading:

  • Kenneth Bourne, Britain and the Balance of Power in North America, 1815-1908
  • David Steele, Lord Salisbury: A Political Biography
  • Paul Kennedy, The Rise of the Anglo-German Antagonism, 1860-1914