Commentary Magazine


China Conundrum

What should we do about the rise of China? To answer this question, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) convened an “independent task force,” a group of thirty experts, including Commentary contributors Aaron Friedberg and Arthur Waldron. The group has just issued its findings under the title: U.S.-China Relations: An Affirmative Agenda, A Responsible Course.

Like all such documents, the report has its share of compelling and tedious moments. The most revealing section of this one is its nine dissents, a record-breaker for the consensus-seeking CFR. (For the record, Friedberg and Waldron are among the dissenters.) In his demurral, Winston Lord, U.S. ambassador to the PRC under Ronald Reagan, complains that the report “seriously understates the harshness of the Chinese political system and the backsliding in recent years on political reform and human rights.”

Coming at the same issue from another direction is Maurice Greenberg, the insurance tycoon and former chairman of AIG, who in his own dissent takes issue with what he calls the report’s “persistent urging of democracy in China.”

Greenberg, who has been making a mint in China, notes that since 1975 when he began to travel there, he has seen “unbelievable change,” especially in the economy. The key to it all, he maintains, is political stability, which we should not endanger. The United States should therefore “stop pressing China to adopt a democratic political system–that is up to them. If it is to occur, it has to be their own choice.”

I do not know what this particular logical fallacy is called in Latin, but one is left wondering who is the “them” that Greenberg is referring to here? And if democracy in China “has to be their own choice,” who is going to be making this choice? The Chinese people or their self-appointed and self-perpetuating Communist leaders?

But let’s not be in a rush to solve this difficult conundrum. The Chinese market is huge. There’s money to be made.