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Opinion | The flawed rise of China

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Chinese leaders stand on Tiananmen Gate above the large portrait of Chinese leader Mao Zedong during a parade to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, in Beijing on Tuesday

It was once hoped that prosperity would make for a cuddlier country across the Himalayas. That hasn’t happened. And unless it puts freedom on top, it’s not clear if it will

The rise of China is undoubtedly one of the great dramas of the 21st century. There’s no dispute that its extraordinary trajectory of economic growth has dominated major discussions on the international political economy. As the country celebrates the 70th anniversary of the creation of the People’s Republic, it is worth noting the unease felt around the world over the prospect of China’s emergence as a superpower to rival the US. As an economy, China is bound to get bigger than America. As a leader of the world, its chances are far lower—for the simple reason that it does not place freedom on top of its order of priorities.

The rise of China is undoubtedly one of the great dramas of the 21st century. There’s no dispute that its extraordinary trajectory of economic growth has dominated major discussions on the international political economy. As the country celebrates the 70th anniversary of the creation of the People’s Republic, it is worth noting the unease felt around the world over the prospect of China’s emergence as a superpower to rival the US. As an economy, China is bound to get bigger than America. As a leader of the world, its chances are far lower—for the simple reason that it does not place freedom on top of its order of priorities.

It could be argued that Communist China got off to a bad start, with Chairman Mao’s various collective schemes plunging millions into poverty. But once the party’s ideological imprint loosened under Deng Xioaping, allowing for market reforms (with “Chinese characteristics), its economy soared. Its model of statist capitalism has lifted an estimated 800 million people out of poverty within the span of two generations.

It could be argued that Communist China got off to a bad start, with Chairman Mao’s various collective schemes plunging millions into poverty. But once the party’s ideological imprint loosened under Deng Xioaping, allowing for market reforms (with “Chinese characteristics), its economy soared. Its model of statist capitalism has lifted an estimated 800 million people out of poverty within the span of two generations.

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But is the Chinese model worthy of emulation? The country’s system of governance evidently lacks appreciation of individual liberty as a human value and fundamental right. Its record against its own people makes many a stomach churn. Free speech is frowned upon, and dissent squelched. For all its achievements, thus, it would be foolhardy to take China as an inspiration. It was once hoped that prosperity would make for a cuddlier country across the Himalayas. That hasn’t happened. And unless it puts freedom on top, it’s not clear if it will.

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