I believe that I disagree with David von Drehle’s assessment in his Washington Post column of the Chinese government’s recent behavior. He thinks Beijing has lost its confidence:
Yes, confidence. A confident government doesn’t lock up a million or more ethnic Muslims for months, even years, of brainwashing, as China continues to do in Xinjiang. A confident Beijing would no sooner throttle the intellectual vibrancy of Hong Kong than Canada would crack down on Montreal, or the United States would stifle San Jose. Repression is — always and everywhere — the mark of a government afraid of its own people. In the modern world, where human capital is the indispensable resource, repression is, therefore, fatal to development.
Lost its confidence or overly confident? I think more the latter—the Chinese authorities believe they have more to lose from looking weak to the Han Chinese population than they do by exterminating the Uighurs, whether literally or culturally, or from stifling Hong Kong. He comes closer here:
Making matters worse is China’s proud self-image as the world’s most patient country. China thinks in decades, in centuries, in millennia, whereas the West flits from month to month and quarter to quarter. But strategic patience is not a virtue in itself. It serves only when the underlying strategy is sound. A strategy of repression is doomed to fail no matter how long or how brutally it is pursued.
Let’s leave aside whether China’s strategic patience is overrated. One thing I will hand the regime: they write a heckuva press release. But he’s right that strategic patience is just a means to an end and the end is the continued rule of the Chinese Communist Party. Other interests will be subordinated to that.
I think he’s right about this:
First, the West holds a winning hand in our commitment to individual rights. We can lose only by folding. The fact that we haven’t always lived up to our ideals in no way repudiates the ideals themselves. Diversity of thought, freedom to question and create, equality before the law, and individual human dignity have always tended to foster prosperity and strength — and always will.
The Chinese authorities cannot repress their way to a creative, vibrant economy. That’s why they’ve relied so heavily on theft. He goes a little overboard here:
Some nations are further along in this journey than others. Where there is no rule of law, there can be no equality before the law. Where there is no education, there can be little intellectual diversity. Where there is extreme want, dignity is a luxury. But no matter where a nation finds itself on the path of development, the next best step is one that points toward human fulfillment. The West prevails by believing in this idea, nurturing it and holding it up as a beacon.
China has no practical rule of law for the reason mentioned above but it’s ahead of us in education. They have ten times the recent STEM graduates we do. We do beat them in journalism, psychology, and interest studies majors, however.
And China has eliminated more “extreme want” over the last 20 years than the rest of the world has extreme want. They deserve credit for that.
To the extent that it has prevailed at all it has not prevailed through promoting human fulfillment but through having a vibrant economy. Free people produce more than slaves. No matter how smart their creators are five year plans inevitably result in the misallocation of resources.