BEIJING — The United States stands for freedom and democracy. There is a large gap between the rhetoric and the reality, but the United States does export its political ideals abroad. And it does not just rely on force to do so. It relies on government-funded foundations like the National Endowment for Democracy that distribute grants to pro-democracy organizations abroad. U.S.-based NGOs like Freedom House rank countries according to their adherence to political freedoms, the implication being that other countries should conform to the ideals espoused in the U.S. Constitution.
What does China stand for? That question arose at a recent dialogue between Confucian and African thinkers in South Africa funded by the Confucius Institute. Such dialogues are relatively new: They are carried out on non-Western terms and funded by non-Western organizations. Now that China has more wealth, it can afford to fund dialogues that explore political alternatives to Western values.