Chris Blattman

China´s rise, Russia´s fall, in the Strait of Gibraltar

I imagine that something Spanish or Moroccan ought to weigh down my book bag on this bumpy ferry ride across the Strait of Gibraltar. But I am completely absorbed in Ryszard Kapuscinski´s Imperium, a meander through five decades of Russia´s farthest flung republics. Copious passages beg to be copied and blogged, but I have not the patience today.

Periodicals have the benefit of online versions, however, and I´m plowing through several, including the current issue of Foreign Affairs. John Thornton writes in that magazine of the prospects for democracy in China. One passage in particular strikes me as quote-worthy:

The significance of township elections should not be overstated. Townships are at the lowest administrative rung in the Chinese government structure, and even election supporters acknowledge that the process is still in its infancy.

Nonetheless, when conducted successfully, such electoral experiments can give township leaders a degree of popular legitimacy. They introduce competition among cadres and, to a lesser extent, between party and nonparty members where absolutely none existed before.

The expectation is that competition, even if controlled, will raise the quality of governance. Some Chinese scholars also find it notable that some township heads are conducting themselves with greater confidence because they know they enjoy a popular mandate and are therefore more willing to challenge the local party secretaries. This can create headaches for the CCP, one central government researcher noted, but it may also be the first seed of a culture of checks and balances.

See also John Ikenberry’s essay on the rise of China and the future of the West:

Seen in this light, the rise of China need not lead to a volcanic struggle with the United States over global rules and leadership. The Western order has the potential to turn the coming power shift into a peaceful change on terms favorable to the United States. But that will only happen if the United States sets about strengthening the existing order.

Today, with Washington preoccupied with terrorism and war in the Middle East, rebuilding Western rules and institutions might to some seem to be of only marginal relevance. Many Bush administration officials have been outright hostile to the multilateral, rule-based system that the United States has shaped and led. Such hostility is foolish and dangerous.

China will become powerful: it is already on the rise, and the United States’ most powerful strategic weapon is the ability to decide what sort of international order will be in place to receive it.

Perhaps I´ll see to an Imperium passage on the plane ride home.

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