I have to say that Robert Kagan "pinned the tail" on the proverbial donkey when he pointed out the true and violent nature of the Chinese government towards its citizens and its neighbors in his most recent column. Here's a look:
It would serve the White House and the State Department best if they took note of Kagan's excellent article and thought twice about attending the opening ceremonies at the Olympics. While such a move might anger the Communists in China and create and military brouhaha(Just look at the ramming and forced landing of our EP-3 on Hainan Island, launching missiles towards Taiwan and other actions.), I believe it's probably one of the best acts we can do to demonstrate to the Chinese government that democratically elected governments cannot stand the horrific crack-down on the people of Tibet.
The question for observers of Chinese foreign policy is whether the regime's behavior at home has any relevance to the way it conducts itself in the world. Recall that in the 1990s we assumed there was a strong correlation: A more liberal China at home would be a more liberal China abroad, and this would gradually ease tensions and facilitate China's peaceful rise. That was the theory behind the strategy of engagement. Many still argue that the goal of American foreign policy should be, in scholar G. John Ikenberry's words, to "integrate" China into the "liberal international order."
But can a determinedly autocratic government really join a liberal international order? Can a nation with a 19th-century soul enter a 21st-century system? Some China watchers imagine the nations of East Asia gradually becoming a kind of European Union-style international entity, with China, presumably, in the role of Germany. But does the German government treat dissent the way China does, and could the European Union exist if it did?
China, after all, is not the only country dealing with restless, independence-minded peoples. In Europe, all kinds of subnational movements aspire to greater autonomy or even independence from their national governments, and with less justification than Tibet or Taiwan: the Catalans in Spain, for instance, or the Flemish in Belgium, or even the Scots in the United Kingdom. Yet no war threatens in Barcelona, no troops are sent to Antwerp and no one clears the international press out of Edinburgh. But that is the difference between a 21st-century postmodern mentality and a nation still fighting battles for empire and prestige left over from a distant past.
These days, China watchers talk about it becoming a "responsible stakeholder" in the international system. But perhaps we should not expect too much. The interests of the world's autocracies are not the same as those of the democracies. We want to make the world safe for democracy. They want to make the world safe, if not for all autocracies at least for their own. People talk about how pragmatic Chinese rulers are, but like all autocrats what they are most pragmatic about is keeping themselves in power. We may want to keep that in mind as we try to bring them into our liberal international order.