At just over 140 pages, The China Fantasy: Why Capitalism Will Not Bring Democracy to China (Penguin) could easily slip through your mail slot, under your door or between your thoughts. In it, James Mann briefly explores why and how the United States explains and excuses its political and economic involvement with the Chinese government. (He distinguishes between China, the Chinese people and the government.) Mann, who worked as Beijing bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times and as a columnist writing about American foreign policy on China, uses the knowledge he accumulated to write this zinger of a little red book.
For anyone who does not comprehend why democratic governments and good corporate citizens would continue to deal with the oppressive Chinese regime, Mann has the explanation: it has to do with—surprise!—money. (Hail to Google for finally taking a stand in January 2010!)
During the Cold War (remember the Red Menace?), the U.S. needed an ally against the Soviet Union. Then there was a period, all too brief, when both Carter and Clinton tried to tie human rights to trade. But it gave way to the Soothing Scenario: that the more the Chinese people consume, the more democratic the country will become. That’s my paraphrase, but the scenario allows governments to sell everything they can to the Chinese and not feel conflicted about it.
There is a more believable scenario, however: that China will continue to grow as an economic and military power, oppressing its people all the while. Nothing in China will change, while the rest of the world accepts that what happens in China, stays in China.
It’s easy enough to forget history, but The China Fantasy reminds us why we should be uneasy about our government’s ever-friendlier relations with a country that flagrantly oppresses its citizens, and about an international community that responds with barely a murmur of disapproval.