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Graham Perry
Graham Perry
Experienced Arbitration Lawyer | China & Chinese Business Affairs | Public Speaker/Lecturer.


‘We opened up for geopolitical, economic, security reasons, + we hoped – as an added plus – this would loosen up the Chinese political system. But the engagement was not preconditioned on that.’

These are the words of Winston Lord, now aged 84, but in February 1972 a 34-year-old prominent Washington aide, who was uniquely present when Chairman Mao Tsetung and Premier Zhou Enlai met with President Nixon and National Security Adviser Kissinger in Zhongnanhai in Beijing.

Lord said recently, looking back at the political earthquake, that “None of us was naïve enough to think that just because we opened up with China that this was going to make them a Jeffersonian democracy” but at the heart of Washington strategy was the hope + expectation that China would have to change; that China going forward would have to adopt the basic requirements of a civic Western society + embrace social and economic pluralism + political choice. The Party could rule in the short term but not in the long term, + in time China would be required to follow the basic elements of One Man One Vote Western Democracy.

Fast forward to the early 2000s + the same thinking lay behind the decision to admit China to the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Yes, the world wanted more trade + business with China but they also assumed that the pressures of an increased volume of transacted business would lead to the introduction of increased economic and political rights in China and to the marginalisation of the Communist Party.

In this key sense, the US has been frustrated. China will become the largest economic power in the world in 2028 but with the Party still at the apex of the China power structure. Economic advance has made the Party stronger, not weaker. The US now has to deal with something quite new and this has sent its academics back to the drawing board scratching their heads + asking themselves “Where Did We Go Wrong?”

23 FEBRUARY 2022 #361

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