Freedom in a Chinese-led world

This is a piece ‘Will China rule the world?’ by Dani Rodrik in the as part of his regular commentary on Project Syndicate. At the very end, Rodrik says:

The good news is that a Chinese global order will display greater respect for national sovereignty and more tolerance for national diversity. There will be greater room for experimentation with different economic models.

This is significant optimism, coming from an economist who has constantly emphasised the important of ‘context’ in economic analysis. Of course, for most of the article, Rodrik points out the challenges China faces. both internal and external, on its path to global superpower-dom.

However, China has the potential to be as Janus-faced as the US. Its aggressive posturing over border issues with India is just one example of its disregard for national soveriegnity. China’s position on climate change, where China preferred to position itself among the poor countries even when its own leadership position (politically as well as in the polluting stakes) was never in question.Yes, the Chinese have been astute in using business to win friends where necessary, sweetening deals by rolling out freebies to appeal to poor-country governments and their people, and have also not hesitated in using their might (economic and political) to crush rivals when provoked. I have never been convinced by western arguments against China’s aid and investment in Africa. I don’t see any reason to begrudge the rapid infrastructure development that African countries. In doing so, China is ironically employing the oldest trick in democracy – that of patronage politics.

When its major foreign policy goals have beet met and its global supremacy established, will China continue to appreciate diversity? Is it entirely rhetorical today to wonder whether a time will come when China attempts to censor news and opinion that is not in its favour in the international media? I may be wrong, but I do feel that in spite of all its hegemonic power, it has to be conceded that the American government never suppressed dissenting voices through prominent and fringe media. In fact, no where possibly have we seen as much domestic political dissent as in the US itself. If we do risk losing that freedom, it will indeed be very tragic.

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