As it turns out, the most important world-historical event from 2001 may not have been the 9/11 attacks. Instead, China’s entry into the World Trade Organization may have the most repercussions for the 21st century. The WTO formally accepted the People’s Republic as a member in the heady days after the free world’s triumph over Soviet communism. While the dominant free countries embraced a theory of peaceful, democratic “convergence,” equal footing in global trade powered what Chinese leader Xi Jinping has dubbed “national rejuvenation.”
The convergence theory gained currency in the post-Cold War era and animated the policies of three consecutive administrations in Washington. In its simplest form, the idea was that as countries embraced globalization, they would become “responsible stakeholders” of the liberal international order and would liberalize in their domestic politics.
Convergence theory didn’t work out in China’s case.
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