PITY THE CHINESE. The inhabitants of the world's next superpower cannot search the internet or assemble or travel or speak or read or write or even reproduce without restriction. Yet in the lands where freedom is abundant, China, rather than earning well-deserved rebukes, continues to be championed as the ineluctable future. This disgraceful journey began with a liberal assumption: the west, it was claimed, is more likely to influence China by partnering with it, by giving it a prominent position inside, rather than pushing it outside, global institutions.
But in the decades since, far from moulding the Chinese state's behaviour, it is the west that has incrementally given up on its own values in order to appease Beijing. It has been customary since the early 1990s for American presidents to invite the Dalai Lama to Washington. Last year Barack Obama did away even with this minor gesture of solidarity with the Tibetans for fear of offending Beijing. Even the brief private audience Obama eventually granted the beleaguered Tibetan leader was accompanied by humiliation: the Dalai Lama was made to exit the White House through the back doors.
Contrary to the claims made by western apologists, China is not a substantially freer country today than it was a decade ago. The tools that have empowered the Chinese peoplethe internet, for instancehave strengthened the state in equal, perhaps even greater, measure: an ordinary Chinese citizen's ability today to communicate instantly with the outside world is matched by the state's capacity to silence him equally rapidly. Freedoms mean nothing if they are not accompanied by corresponding restrictions on the state's power to check them on a whim. Liu Xiaobo may be celebrated as a hero in the west, but in China he does not even have recourse to an appeal.
Author Kapil Komireddi is an Indian freelance writer; he writes principally about foreign affairs, particularly Indian foreign policy, and his work has appeared in American, Indian and British publications.