The Magazine

Unsoothing Scenario

Free markets are not leading to freedom in China.

May 28, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 35 • By DAN BLUMENTHAL
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If Kurlantzick and Mann are right, we are in for a tougher challenge than we are currently prepared to meet. We face a China that is growing richer and stronger, that is still authoritarian and more globally influential, undermining some of our most important national interests. And we face impediments to rational debate about how to approach China because so many elites are invested in the Soothing Scenario.

Both Mann and Kurlantzick offer sound advice. According to Mann, we must break away from the inevitability theory: American visitors to China need to get out more--to the countryside, to the real China--and witness the impediments to democratization. And then we need a serious debate on the implications of the "authoritarian stability" scenario for our China policy. Kurlantzick makes some reasonable suggestions about rebuilding our own soft power, and recommends treating and tracking China as the global phenomenon that it is, breaking down the seams between military commands and regional bureaucratic fiefdoms.

We can compete with an authoritarian China if we realize what we are up against, and appeal to countries (especially in Southeast Asia) based on our values, which, Kurlantzick believes, still resonate with beleaguered democracies.

Dan Blumenthal is resident fellow in Asian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute.