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WHEN CHINA SAYS 'SHUT UP," SHOUT BACK

The following letter to the editor appeared in the September 25 Wall Street Journal:

In his Sept. 12 editorial-page commentary "No More Chinese Whispers," James McGregor says the current U.S.-China relationship is infected with "weeds" caused by the U.S. criticism and by the "ignorant and insular in both China and America." He recommends that the U.S. follow the advice of a senior Chinese official to "shut up" and that both countries should designate some "statesmen" to eradicate the ignorance.

Instead of curing our supposed ignorance, Mr. McGregor only further confuses us. However, one message is clear: The Chinese do not want democracy, because they do not "want to destroy all the progress China has made." It is an either/or choice: economic development under dictatorship, or democratization at the expense of economic development. This view has been the Chinese Communist party's weapon in defending its dictatorship. Why Mr. McGregor presents it with an approving tone is puzzling. Data collected from hundreds of countries over more than 50 years show that democracy does not hinder economic growth. Also, democracies are more capable of absorbing social shocks such as strikes and demonstrations, whereas dictatorships are more vulnerable to such shocks. And, for countries with similar GNP per capita, citizens under democracy have much better lives than their counterparts under dictatorship.

Mr. McGregor fails to distinguish China the country and China the regime. We criticize the Chinese regime because it is not freely elected, and because it grossly violates basic human rights, not because we hate the Chinese people. Mixing the people with the regime is the tactic the Chinese regime uses. Mr. McGregor says that he is neither in the anti-China nor the pro-China camp; instead, he claims he is the "let's-try-to-understand-China" guy. This claim, along with his 15 years experience in China, makes his advice very creditable. Unfortunately, from his writing, it can be seen that he thinks like a government official in China. For example, he advices that "Both sides need to designate statesmen with the stature, credibility, influence, and wisdom to shape public opinion." Such advice is elitist and impractical. In a democratic society with free flow of information and a highly competitive public opinion market, how can you designate one person and "shut up" the rest?

What Mr. McGregor advises can only be done in a country in which the government has a full control of public information. No single individual has the capability to give a completely objective, value-free, comprehensive view of a country. Only dictators claim such capability.

Shaomin Li, Ph.D.
Professor of International Business
Old Dominion University
Norfolk, Va.

25 September 2006
The Wall Street Journal
(Copyright (c) 2006, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.)

This article was posted on: September 26, 2006

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