The world's most populous nation has adopted a limited free market economy within the last decade and the results have been astonishing by almost any measure:
Using a purchasing power parity measure, which nearly all economists agree is the appropriate measure of economic output, China's economy is already two-thirds the size of the U.S. economy and larger than any other economy in the world. It is projected to exceed the U.S. economy by 2016 and grow to more than three times the size by the end of the century.
On its way to becoming the world's biggest economy, China is at the same time the largest totalitarian government in world history. Should we anticipate true democratic reform there? Maybe... but maybe not.
Over the past 16 years, the Chinese leadership has tried its best to dodge democratic reform while looking for alternative measures to stamp out rampant corruption and increase government efficiency. However, it seems to have recently come to the conclusion that there is just no way other than democratic reform.
Chinese President Hu Jintao has indicated that China will institute a program of democratic reforms, and Premier Wen Jiabao has given more detail, pledging to introduce direct elections at the township level "within a couple of years". . .
"China will press for democratic progress, unswervingly reestablish democracy, including direct elections," the Premier, who favors mild reform, told a news conference prior to the 8th EU-China summit on September 5. "If we Chinese people can manage a village, I believe they can manage a town in several years. This system [of direct voting] will be realized step by step."
This could be seen as progress, I suppose, but to my ears, Premier Jintao's statement sounds appallingly patronizing.
As for the contradictions, consider this:
The latest move in a long campaign to restrict how Chinese have access to the internet hinted at the eagerness of the Communist Party to ensure political and moral rectitude among a growing number of internet users. This has surpassed 100 million, the world’s largest after the US.
In the campaign to curb dissent, thousands of cyber cafés, the main entry to the web for many Chinese unable to afford a computer, have been closed. In Shanghai, authorities have installed surveillance cameras and require visitors to internet cafés to register using identity cards. . .
In addition, China recently imposed new regulations to control Internet content, particularly news.
State media said that only "healthy and civilised news and information that is beneficial to the quality of the nation" would be allowed.
The wording was vague, allowing officials to crack down on users infringing the limits of what the Government regards as acceptable. "The sites are prohibited from spreading news and information that goes against state security and public interest."
Is it possible to "unswervingly reestablish democracy" without freedom of speech, information, and communication? I don't see how.
The Russian and Chinese armed forces have begun their first joint military exercises. . . The eight-day operation got underway [in August] with consultations between military delegations from the two countries in Vladivostok, in Russia's far east. Analysts say China and Russia are signalling they are prepared to counter US dominance in international affairs.
As the world moves steadily closer to the advent of exponential general-purpose molecular manufacturing, with its potential to radically alter the geopolitical balance of power -- both economically and militarily -- such developments bear close watching. Although it is far from certain whether advanced nanotechnology will first take hold in one of these giant nations, their individual and collective reactions may determine how freely we survive, and for how long.