As I watched the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games and witnessed the incredible images created by the Chinese people, my mind flashed back to the late Boris Yeltsin who imparted to me an insight on China which I thought would be of interest. Yeltsin told me that he saw to it that the people of Russia had political and religious freedom before they had any sort of economic freedom. "Because I knew if they had those it would be harder to go back." There has been a retrenchment of freedom in Russia but compared with what is gong on in China Yeltsin had it right.
Yeltsin's Chief of Staff, Gennady Burbulous, told me that when Chinese leaders met with Yeltsin they rebuked him, saying that they would retain control of China for the Communists. The Chinese leaders told Yeltsin, "You will regret the day you have given up control." Followers of both Russia and China know that there are fewer freedoms in Russia today than there were under Yeltsin.
Yet compared with China Russia is a bastion of freedom. While there are no longer independent television stations in Russia, many Russians get signals from various parts of the world. And there are many newspapers critical of the government. Not so in China. The Russian people are rather well informed about what is going on elsewhere in the world. Not so the Chinese. The Chinese people hear only what the Chinese Government wants them to hear. It is fairly easy to travel abroad from Russia. It is much more difficult for the Chinese. There is some freedom of religion in Russia. True, the Russian Orthodox Church is again the official religion of Russia but other denominations are permitted to practice there. Not so in China. Leaders there are persecuted for their religious beliefs.
Economic conservatives in this country have argued for decades that economic freedom inevitably leads to political freedom. Where is the proof? In ways China has some economic freedom. Is there any political freedom? I am open to be convinced but I can't find any.
Russia fancies herself now as a major world power as she was before the fall of the Soviet Union. We shall see. China will be a major world power soon. But the Chinese people have no real say about the direction of their government.
Many economic conservatives in the USA celebrate because cheap Chinese goods are available on the American market place. Millions of well-paying American jobs have been exported to China. I know I am considered a heretic in some circles because I would prefer to have those jobs here even if we would find ourselves paying for the goods at a higher cost to the consumer. Moreover, it concerns me greatly that China is financing our huge national debt. We are beholden to the Chinese to the tune of trillions of dollars.
Clearly China is capable of becoming a modern, powerful country. But it presently is a country in which freedom beyond the market place is nearly non-existent. Yeltsin, for all his faults, was correct. I doubt that Russia, despite the Cold War-type rhetoric of its leaders, will be a real threat to the West, particularly since its demographics are in steep decline. China is a different matter. Some of its leaders have an active plan to get the USA out of Asia. I am not sure our leaders take this threat seriously.