China is a nuclear power with the world’s largest army and a population of over 1.3 billion. It boasts the world’s second-largest economy, and is the largest single foreign owner of U.S. public debt. Its Communist Party regime, in place since 1949, now serves as a model for authoritarian states around the globe. And it may well be heading toward a major economic and political crisis. Yet for some reason, the U.S. presidential candidates have barely mentioned China in nearly a year of campaigning. When they do, the discussion tends to focus on pressing matters such as the price of imported tires.
The current state of media freedom in Latin America was driven home in early May, when three journalists were murdered in Mexico within a week of World Press Freedom Day. This dramatic example underscores a larger trend identified by Freedom House in the recently released Freedom of the Press 2012 report, which noted that a range of negative developments over the past decade have left media freedom on the defensive in much of Central and South America.
Earlier this month, Chinese authorities were forced to temporarily suspend trading of shares in the online unit of the People’s Daily newspaper, the official mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party. The price had soared so rapidly since the website’s April debut on the Shanghai Stock Exchange—giving it a greater market value than the New York Times—that it triggered regulatory rules aimed at halting speculative manipulation. This development is just the sort of absurd extreme that comes shortly before an economic bubble bursts.
In a startling one-two punch, China’s Communist regime won accolades last week from high-profile representatives of U.S. business and labor writing in America’s leading national newspapers. In the Wall Street Journal on December 1, former service workers’ union president Andy Stern touted China’s “superior economic model,” and in the New York Times on December 2, prominent Wall Street potentate Steven Rattner offered his guarantee that China’s speeding economic locomotive would remain firmly on track.
In a recent New York Timesopinion piece entitled “To Save Our Economy, Ditch Taiwan,” Paul V. Kane advanced a scheme that he claimed would, among other things, fix the American economy and lead to a new and mutually beneficial relationship with China. The United States, he proposed, should jettison its support for Taiwan—firmly, absolutely, and forever.
The victory of opposition Patriotic Front leader Michael Sata in Zambia’s September presidential election was a welcome example of an almost entirely peaceful rotation of power in a maturing African electoral democracy. President Sata can now carry Zambia further into a position of continental leadership by quickly making good on three campaign promises: revising Zambia’s draft constitution to better protect basic freedoms, fighting corruption, and properly protecting the rights of all Zambian workers, especially those employed in the growing number of Chinese-owned mines and related industries.
In recent remarks made at the Heritage Foundation, House Speaker John Boehner said that “in Russia’s use of old tools and old thinking, we see nothing short of an attempt to restore Soviet-style power and influence.” In using this formulation the Speaker gets things only half right. Moscow is undeniably seeking ways to reassert power and influence. But Russia’s Putin-era effort to flex its muscles is not in the Soviet mold, as the Speaker suggests. The contemporary effort represents, instead, a modern, adaptive form of authoritarianism, whose particular methods and tools pose new challenges.
Never before has Belarusian leader Aleksandr Lukashenka faced aneconomic crisis in his country like the one he bears responsibility for today, with a collapsing currency, severe shortages, and dwindling hard currency reserves. Never before has he been under more pressure from the European Union and United States through sanctions for his human rights abuses and from Russia through its cut-off of subsidies. Together, these unprecedented developments are leading some observers to suggest that Lukashenka’s days might be numbered.
President Raúl Castro introduced market reforms in Cuba earlier this year to preserve, not dismantle, the communist system. He retains a tight grip on power and seems intent on pursuing a Chinese model of market economics combined with political repression. The reforms have, however, brought about a significant change in attitudes in Cuba, according to a recent Freedom House survey. Optimism is growing, expectations are rising, and Cubans want more freedom. Will the Chinese model work in Cuba?