Arriving in China last week as part of his multi-country Asia trip, President Barack Obama echoed many of the same themes as George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George H.W. Bush before him. He saluted China's ancient and dynamic culture, touted the intricate links between American and Chinese businesses, and vowed that Washington and Beijing would work to prevent any conflict from erupting between them. Calling China a "majestic country," Obama vowed that "The notion that we must be adversaries is not predestined." But Obama made one dramatic change from the historical script: He did not predict that the Communist Party would collapse.
For at least two decades, most American leaders - and many American China-watchers - have been waiting for the party to fail. At least since the Tiananmen protests of 1989, the US foreign policy establishment has assumed that China's Communist Party would eventually bow, making way for Chinese democracy. After all, in 1989 virtually every other communist regime collapsed, and in the following years democracy spread across Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe, and East Asia, including neighbors of China such as Thailand and South Korea. "Color Revolutions" swept through countries as diverse as Georgia and Lebanon. Even nations far poorer than China, like Malawi and Bangladesh, held successful multi-party elections.
American leaders also offered more principled arguments for why the Chinese Party eventually could not continue to "stand on the wrong side of history," in the words of Bill Clinton.