Commentary Magazine


Encouraging Despots

“Here comes the world’s newest superpower,” writes Cahal Milmo in the Independent yesterday. “China is set to make 2008 the year it asserts its status as a global colossus.” Fareed Zakaria, in his recent piece in Newsweek, agrees, predicting that 2008 “is likely to be seen as the year that China moved to center stage.”

As we start a new year, predictions invariably mention that Beijing is set to take over the world. China in the past merely enticed and puzzled the West. Now, it threatens to dominate us. Eliot Cohen of Johns Hopkins already calls the country “the most important power in the world.” Zakaria does not go that far, but he notes that “China has become the new x factor, without which no durable solution is possible.”

So here’s a question for us: Is it possible to solve any problem when a turbulent Communist state blocks all remedies? If we want to know why geopolitical disorders continue, we need look no further than Beijing. The Chinese have caused some of these maladies and contributed to almost all of the rest. Today, China proliferates nuclear weapons technology, supports murderous regimes, and is emerging as the core of a coalition of authoritarian states. The Beijing Consensus, touted throughout the developing world, is now the alternative to the West’s model of representative governance and free-market economics.

Washington’s approach has been to integrate the Chinese into the international community, to make their country “a responsible stakeholder.” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is certainly correct when she said, replying to Mike Huckabee’s charge that the Bush administration has an “arrogant bunker mentality,” that it was “ludicrous” to say we have a “go-it-alone foreign policy.” The problem is not that we are going it alone. On the contrary, the problem is that we seek the assistance of unrepentant despots in solving the world’s most urgent problems.

So here is a question to ponder as we think about the coming year: Is it really a good idea to give increasingly aggressive autocrats a commanding role in shaping the global order?