The danger, of course, is that as the dictatorship attempts to remodel itself it will collapse, with nothing to take its place but chaos, internal struggle and more dictatorship. That is a worrying possibility for China, and one that is made worse as the outside world colludes with the dictatorship instead of pressuring it to change, and fails to prepare for its end.
But causes exist for optimism. Democratic transition is now well-understood and thoroughly tested. This country provides an excellent example. Chinese are increasingly well educated. So China, which has hitherto provided a false model that suggested modernity and dictatorship could somehow be combined, may now consult that experience and show us, in the years and decades ahead, how her great civilization can transform itself into a modern constitutional state. When the curtain rises again on the drama of China's quest for freedom that was so abruptly halted in 1989, the whole atmosphere in Asia and the world will change. China's example will lift freedom's prestige and leave its current dictatorial friends isolated and contemplating where to flee.
I believe we will see this day, and soon. When it comes, China will redeem her honor, galvanize the forces for freedom globally, and more than recompense for the harm she has done and is doing to democracy today.
Arthur Waldron is the Lauder Professor of International Relations in the Department of History at the University of Pennsylvania. He is also vice president of the International Assessment and Strategy Center in Washington. The above article is the second part of the feature that appeared in yesterday's paper and has been taken from his speech delivered at the first Biennial Conference of the World Forum for Democratization in Asia in Taipei on Sept. 17.