Despite some hiccups caused by the sorry state of the world economy, China is still The Future for many global analysts. Thomas Friedman of the New York Times has even suggested that Americans have a lot to learn politically from the economic successes of Chinese authoritarianism. That China is the rising world power seems taken for granted in many elite foreign policy circles.
I'm not buying. I didn't buy "Japan is Number One" when that was the mantra two decades ago, because Japan had severe demographic problems--as in, very few children; its lack of the most basic form of people power in the most elementary form, I thought, would soon become evident in economic weakness (as it has). China also has serious demographic problems. Thanks to a brutally enforced one-child policy, China will likely get old before it gets rich. And between now and then, there will be some 20 million or so Chinese men who have no possibility of marriage, their future wives having been aborted decades ago because of the one-child policy. Twenty million or more young men with no prospects of marriage is not, to put it gently, a formula for social stability.
The brutalities of the Chinese regime have also had a toxic effect on China's public moral culture, as was demonstrated last year in a widely-viewed YouTube video: a truck driver in a Chinese city ran over a small child who was crawling across the street, stopped--and then ran over the child again, as if the toddler were so much road-kill.
Then there is government-run Chinese medicine, which has become a lethal enterprise.
Uighurs, a Turkish minority living in northwest China, are considered a threat to Chinese ethnic hegemony in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region. Second Uighur children in this lightly populated area are not infrequently euthanized by Han Chinese doctors. Uighur political prisoners are treated by the Chinese government as livestock: not for slave labor, but for organ harvesting. In what became known as the Xinjiang Procedure, high-ranking Chinese government officials needing organ transplants would check into a hospital near a prison where Uighurs were held. Uighur political prisoners were then blood-typed. Blood-typing was followed by tissue-matching. Then, as investigative journalist Ethan Gutmann writes, "the political prisoner would get a bullet to the right side of the chest. (A Chinese doctor) would visit the execution site to match up blood samples. The officials would get their organs, rise from their beds, and check out."
The Uighurs were not the only victims of this grotesque "procedure." Gutmann estimates that some 65,000 Falun Gong practitioners had their organs "harvested, their hearts still beating, before the 2008 Olympics." An indeterminate number of Chinese House Christians and Tibetans almost certainly suffered the same fate. Something far worse than garden-variety human rights abuse is going on here, Gutmann concludes: "China, a state rapidly approaching superpower status ... has, for over a decade, perverted the most trusted area of human expertise (i.e., medicine) into performing what is, in the legal parlance of human rights, targeted elimination of a specific group" (Ethan Gutmann, "The Xinjiang Procedure," Weekly Standard, Dec. 5, 2011).
What kind of regime does these sorts of things? A regime that, to put it gently, lives in a very different moral universe--a moral universe the character and consequences of which Thomas Friedman and other Sinophiles might carefully consider. As, indeed, might the Vatican, where one still finds officials eager to establish diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Beijing. Yet surely the Church's role in any possibly humane Chinese future will be built around its steadfastness under persecution and its forthright defense of the human rights of all (including Uighurs, Tibetans, and Falun Gong devotees), not by reaching agreements with those who may well have harvested organs from Catholic dissidents, pioneering a new form of martyrdom.
Can a regime, no matter how powerful, become the world's lodestar if it is morally corrupted by an utter disregard for the dignity and sanctity of human life? The 20th century gave one, negative, answer to that question; I suspect, and certainly hope, that the 21st century's answer will be the same.
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.