The Corner


Seeing China Clear

The Chinese Communist Party has elevated its leader, Xi Jinping, to the same status as Mao Zedong. He is the most powerful party boss since Mao. His status is virtually god-like. In a tweet, President Trump said, “Spoke to President Xi of China to congratulate him on his extraordinary elevation.”

At roughly the same time, the president’s chief of staff, John Kelly, said this about China: “They have a system of government that has apparently worked for the Chinese people.”

Millions of Chinese would cry against this statement, if the Party permitted. Fortunately, Stein Ringen (for one) needs no permission. I have done a Q&A with him, here.

Ringen is a Norwegian sociologist and political scientist. He is a professor emeritus at Oxford. He is the author of The Perfect Dictatorship: China in the 21st Century. For the Washington Post, he wrote an article summing up China today, here. I know no better — no more acute, no more truthful — short read on China.

With Professor Ringen, I discuss Xi, of course. And numerous other issues related to China. One question I raise is, “Political liberalization is supposed to follow economic liberalization, right? That’s a law, right?” If it is, it seems not to apply to China.

The CCP, Ringen says, learned a lot from the Soviets: learned how not to fall, learned how to hang on to absolute power. This is a lesson that Chinese democrats — all those who want to enjoy a free life, like the one enjoyed in Taiwan and other democracies — are bearing the brunt of.

You can learn a great deal from Stein Ringen. And he has a wonderful quality in a scholar, and in anyone: fearlessness. I don’t know anyone — any non-Chinese — who is more clear-eyed and forthright about China than he.

Again, that podcast is here.

Let me quote from the article cited above: “… we who live by the values of liberty and democracy must decide where we stand. When we look to China, should we see, using Henry Kissinger’s term, a civilization-state that merits our respect? Or should we see a repressive and domineering power state that should be resisted?”


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