‘In the short run, if forced to take sides, many countries might choose China over the West. After all, China is the largest goods trading partner of 64 countries, against just 38 for America. Instead of isolating China, America and its allies could end up isolating themselves. In the long run, unlike the oil-soaked Soviet Union, China is big, diverse and innovative enough to adapt to outside pressure. It is testing a digital currency, which could eventually rival the dollar as a way to settle trade. It aims to be self-sufficient in semiconductors.’
‘The day-to-day contact of 1m foreign-invested businesses in China with their customers and staff, and 40,000 Chinese firms abroad with the world, is a conduit that even China’s censors struggle to contain. Students and tourists engage in millions of ordinary encounters that are not intermediated by Big Brother.’
Cuba takes note.
‘Greater resilience allows openness and a tough stance on human rights. By articulating an alternative vision to totalitarianism, liberal governments can sustain the vigour of open societies everywhere in a confrontation that, if it is not to end in a tragic war, will last decades. It is vital to show that talk of universal values and human rights is more than a tactic to preserve Western hegemony and keep China down. That means firms acting against enormities by, say, excluding forced labour from their supply chains. Whereas Western amorality would only make Chinese nationalism more threatening, principled advocacy of human rights sustained over many years may encourage China’s people to demand the same freedoms for themselves.
China’s rulers believe they have found a way to marry autocracy with technocracy, opacity with openness, and brutality with commercial predictability. After the suppression of Hong Kong, free societies should be more aware than ever of the challenge that presents. They now need to muster a response—and to prepare their defences for the long struggle ahead. ■