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Sunday, February 13, 2005
Information - the Great Leveler

One of the things we have always heard about China is that it changes very slowly. We are the upstart nation, while China has been around the block again and again. As a result, we should be wary, we are told, of the idea that China will be changed radically (for the better or worse).

The problem with this argument, I think, is that China in the past was insulated from the rest of the world in ways that other countries were not. I think the growth of China's economy and infrastructure, and the state of modern telecommunications (including Satellites, the internet, etc...) and the ease of global travel has made it impossible for China to remain at a standstill in terms of the economic, intellectual and political freedoms that are enjoyed by the citizens of other nations. China's strategy seems to be to keep citizens happy by extending, to a limited extent, economic freedoms -- the economy is growing, there are more opportunities, more business interactions. But as economic freedom advances, demands for other rights will inevitably follow.

This doesn't mean that the internet means we have the end of dictatorship. But a country that large cannot sustain itself in the modern world if it is closed and isolated. The rewards of trade and commerce are too clear, especially when the alternative is impoverishment and despair. I'm not exaggerating here, the history of closed societies is exactly that. Picture East Germany or North Korea, just with about a billion people. It ain't pretty. The leaders recognize that they need to participate in the world economy -- but they are reluctant to give up the totalitarian impulse completely.

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