When the West believed in China’s convergence

It was the era of happy globalization. One where, in Europe as in the United States, many thought, in the wake of the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama, that the fall of communism would mark the end of history and the definitive victory of liberalism. The one where Western leaders imagined that the entire globe would converge towards the same model – democracies open to trade and multilateralism – to which China would naturally conform.

One man embodied these hopes: Bill Clinton, President of the United States between 1993 and 2001. In 1999, the Democrat, then in the last months of his second term, was looking for success at the international level. China’s entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) appears to be a potential legacy for posterity. On March 9, 2000, he became lyrical during a speech at Johns-Hopkins University in Baltimore (Maryland).

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“Supporting China’s entry into the WTO goes beyond our economic interests. (…) This is the most important opportunity we have had to create positive change in China since the 1970s ” and the normalization of relations between Washington and Beijing, assures the tenant of the White House. « The question is not whether we approve or disapprove of China’s practices. », he continues, after having mentioned the threats that the Chinese rise in power poses « on Taiwan and its neighbors ”, human rights violations or the intentions then attributed to Beijing in terms of nuclear proliferation, « mto thes to know what is the smartest thing to do to improve them ”.

For the President of the United States, China, by joining the WTO, does not simply agree to import more American products. « She accepts [aussi] to import one of the values ​​most dear to democracy: economic freedom », he wants to believe.

Favorable political microclimate in Beijing

This speech marks the culmination of a spectacular development on the part of Bill Clinton. Eight years earlier, in his acceptance speech for the Democratic nomination in July 1992, he was indeed harsh towards his Republican adversary, outgoing President George HW Bush, who had to manage in 1989 the crisis born of the bloody repression of the movement in favor of freedoms, crushed on Tiananmen Square, in the heart of the Chinese capital. Bill Clinton promised not to “ pampering dictators, from Baghdad to Beijing ».

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