Globalization Means Westernization

MUNICH: Does globalization produce a world of democracies? The easy answer is a resounding "No." It does, however, increase the costs for autocratic regimes of not having accountable political systems. In this respect globalization implies, like it or not, Westernization.

This is far different from the old liberal idea that trade and contact with totalitrian regimes begets democracy, sooner or later - an idea on display during President Clinton’s visit to China earlier this summer. No doubt he hoped, as do many in the West, indeed in China itself, that the visit would catalyze change in the Middle Kingdom, opening up the one-party regime and introducing Chinese societies to the values of the democratic West.

If these hopes are likely to be disappointed, it is not for lack on trying by America’s charismatic president. It is simply because the relationship between economic ties and democratic change are more complex. True, trade makes any country in the age of globalization, whatever its political ideology, more dependent on all the players in the world wide marketplace. Even if China’s leadership wanted to, it could no longer clock its subjects from contact with Western goods, markets, ideas.

To deduce from this, however, as Western leaders do whenever they visit places like China, Cuba, and Iran, eager businessmen in tow, that somehow greater economic interdependence will automatically encourage political reforms in their host country is reminiscent of the naiveté which gripped many in the West during the days of "Detente." Back then, contacts with the old USSR and its satellites were believed to promote major domestic change. But autocratic regimes, we learned through the disappointments of detente, are unusually well equipped to stifle yearnings for freedom among their populace.