Regardless of whether it is in democracies or otherwise, decisions on foreign policies including those that concern wars against other countries are almost always made exclusively by governments, with limited or no consultations with the citizens and often at the behest of vested interest who operate mostly within and at times, from abroad. Once decisions on wars are made, public consensus are “manufactured” via the corporate media, often a cahoot in the cabal.
As a result, we have seen how in recent past, wars that were based on falsehood but those that successfully manipulated and garnered public support in favour, destroyed country after country and killed and maimed hundreds and thousands, with impunity.
Lately, a similar spectre of war seems to loom large. Led by the US, the West seem to be on a mission to undermine, intimidate and demonize China at multiple fronts, a familiar ploy to wars. Although at this stage these anti-China posturing is lip-deep, war drums are also being beaten non-stop in near distance and this is ominous.
It is true that China’s system and its behaviour, both internal and external are not the most ideal. But question that must be asked whether China’s system and its dealings are so bad or are these in any manner worse than others to merit the kind of vicious demonisation it has been subjected to, by the West and more particularly, by the US, lately?
The article is an attempt to analyse China and its dealings objectively with the hope that broader citizen awareness of and their collective informed conversations on concerned issues would help in understanding this hugely important country and their position in a more balanced manner and in the process, help separating truth from myths and resolving disputes in a more collective, respectful, credible and peaceful way. This is important for world peace and stability.
Allegations against China
Led by the US, the West regard China’s one-party “authoritarian” political system, an abhorrent practice and thus, is in conflict with “our liberal democratic values”.
The West also rebuke China for its “human rights abuses of Uyghur Muslims”.
Furthermore, West/US berate China for its harsh treatment of the Hongkong pro-democracy/anti-Beijing protesters.
Lately, the West especially the US has been denouncing and militarily intimidating China for its alleged unilateral “illegal” control of the South China Sea (SCS) and for its “aggressive posturing” against Taiwan etc.
The West/US also blame the Asian giant for “mishandling” the COVID 19 outbreak which originated in Wuhan, China. They blame China, saying that the virus is a “lab leak” and that China’s poor handling of it had contributed to its worldwide spread, an allegation that China rejects.
The West especially the US also criticise China for “unfair trade practices”.
Against these barrage of allegations, complains and intimidations it is indeed interesting to note that it was not that long ago that the West, especially US, applauded China for its rapid economic growth, dramatic poverty alleviation and its economy’s remarkable transformation from an impoverished peasant economy to a manufacturing market economy, a world factory, that supplied cheap goods to the world, especially the West.
Thus, it is important that we explore and analyse more objectively the West/US/China relations and their changed perceptions, within the contexts of realities on the ground and in the process, strive for a more balanced view on concerned issues and map out a way forward.
China’s economic transformation
We all know that in recent years, China has transited initially from a peasant economy to a factory economy and more recently, to an advanced technology-based economy and progressed from a $92.6 billion GDP in 1970 to a $14.72 trillion GDP economy in 2020, the second largest economy in the world after the US which is poised to surpass the US in coming years.
In recent years, China also overtook the US in attracting Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and during the same period, it also emerged as the leading FDI provider to the developing world – China’s FDI outflow has increased from virtually zero in 1970 to $1.23 trillion in 2019 and currently, covers 125 countries and in the process, has spread its influence worldwide, especially in West/US’ hegemonic backyards in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
A redeeming feature of China’s dramatic economic rise is that much of its success owes to its own efforts and most importantly, unlike the West which accumulated its wealth through colonisation, occupation, loot and plunder and lately, through neo-colonial “international order’ that according to Andre Gunther Frank institutionalised “unequal exchanges” promoting “extraction of at one end and accumulation at the other”, China’s economic prosperity came entirely through its own efforts – through hard work, innovations, adjustments, investments in science and technology and in infrastructure, both within and across and through competitiveness.
In this regard it is noteworthy that during the period that China transited from the factory economy to world’s second largest economy and emerged as world’s biggest FDI provider it also modernized and built its military capability and the latter has significantly reduced West’s capacity to intimidate it militarily which in turn seems to have contributed to West’s and that of America’s mode change towards China – from adulation in 1990s the mood has turned to outright hostility at the present time.
China’s political system
It is true that in the aftermath of the communist takeover in 1949, China began with a top-down heavy-handed authoritarian system of governance and they paid heavy price for it.
Thereafter, and guided by the Confucius philosophy that, “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in getting up every time we do” China has since incrementally reformed its legislative and decision-making processes, and made their governance and policy-making processes inclusive, participatory, decentralised, and accountable, albeit within the framework of the one-party system.
In the current system, China permits free and frank critiquing of policies within but not outside which is contrary to West’s political system – democracy – that allows freedom of expressions, within and outside.
Nonetheless and in contrast to the democracies that stipulate “freedom”, as a key component of governance but do not incorporate in their political systems the guarantee of rights of citizens to the basic needs as an inalienable responsibility of the state, China’s political system has made access to health, education, food, jobs and shelter fundamental and uncompromisable rights of all citizens and a responsibility of the state whereby policies are made and resources are allocated, accordingly.
Indeed, the contrasts between the two systems in terms of outcomes are quite stark. For example, outcomes of China’s ‘’citizen right-to-basic needs” policy is there for all to see – with a population of 1.4 billion, China is among the top five least hungry countries of the world. Whereas, India, the largest democracy of the world and a member of the US led QUAD (a quasi-defence alliance), is among the seven most hungry countries of the world, where 190 million people go to bed every night with empty stomachs. Similarly, in the US, per the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Household Survey, there were, 35 million hungry people in that country in 2019. What makes these dismal hunger statistics of India and US a real tragedy, is that both these democracies produce enough food to feed their people a few times over, and yet they have systems that deprive large sections of their people from gaining access to food.
Furthermore, unlike China which has continuously reformed its systems to respond to its emerging needs and prioritised citizen-right-to-basic needs as its key agenda, West’s model of ‘representative democracy’, which according to some has since morphed into a “liberal-totalitarian system” has not undergone adjustments/reforms in the last one hundred years and thus has lost its capacity to represent nor serve the interests of the people, equitably. On the contrary, elements of inequity and powerlessness of citizens are now structurally embedded in some of the democracies such that in these countries, liberalism is an illusion and representation, a myth.
Another noteworthy contrast between China and West’s political systems is that while China does not lecture others to follow theirs, the West especially the US tirelessly harangue others to follow theirs, forgetting that “..imposition of ideological attitudes [on others] is somewhat reminiscent of the history of the late Soviet Union, in that it doesn’t even believe the values it tries to project abroad” (Sergey Naryshkin).
Finally, and this is important – regardless of how faulty or otherwise the Chinese political system is, one thing is certain: their political system would never allow someone like Trump to ever become the president of their country.
China’s human rights records
China’s human rights records are at best patchy. In recent times, the US has bitterly criticised China for its persecution of Uyghur Muslims in its Xinjiang province. While an independent international probe would be the step in the right direction to assess and validate these allegations, there is no doubt that persecution of Uyghurs in one form or another has occurred and is taking place and these do warrant due investigation and accountability.
However, what makes America’s condemnation of Uyghur persecution a little problematic if not hypocritical and makes the case of the Uyghurs somewhat weak, is that the flag bearers of human rights tend to cherry pick cases of abuse. For example with respect to India, a close ally of the US, where the ruling BJP government has turned Kashmir, a Muslim majority autonomous state, into a virtual concentration camp and in other parts of the same country, where Muslims are lynched, harassed and murdered almost daily, with impunity, Washington has chosen to look the other way. Similarly, Israel’s occupation of Palestine and its persecution and murder of Palestinians are known facts, and yet the US does not condemn these blatant human rights abuses and much worse, stands by Israel and justifies these horrific abuses as “Israel’s right to defend itself”.
Sadly, America’s selective targeting and condemnations of human rights abuses have dented its moral credibility and weakened much of its capacity to promote change. This is unfortunate.
To address more credibly the cases of human rights abuses around the world including those that occur in China, efforts should be made to pursue these cases through established global frameworks, through agreed international standards, compliances, reporting and imposition of sanctions on the defaulters.
Democracy protests in Hongkong, a city-state which operates under the one country-two system political framework, constitute a legitimate right for Hongkong dwellers and therefore, the brutal suppression of the protesters by the Hongkong authorities, which have been undertaken at the behest of mainland China, is reprehensible, though the protesters’ waving of American flags and carrying of placards bearing images of Trump during the protest marches do raise questions regarding the real motive of these protests and much worse, provide the perfect pretext for the Chinese government to brand the protesters as “foreign agents” and legitimise suppression. This is unwarranted.
Indeed, Hongkong demonstrators need to demonstrate clearly that this is their movement and that protests are their legal rights that are not inspired nor instigated by outsiders.
China, a “security threat”
In recent years, China has asserted its control over the South China Sea (SCS), an important shipping route that connects East Asia with rest of the world. China routinely monitors the movements of non-Chinese vessels in the area. The US and its allies see China’s “unilateral” control over the SCS a “security threat”.
Indeed, China’s assertion of its control over the SCS is problematic, but none of its Asian neighbours (except Japan) that are in the vicinity, regard the territorial dispute a “security threat”. For example, the Philippines President, Mr. Duterte has made it clear that, “We do have disputes with China over the use of the South China Sea, but I am not choosing war to resolve it.” Similarly, Malaysia, another contender to the SCS has chosen quiet diplomacy over confrontation as its strategy on the issue of maritime-territorial sovereignty of the SCS.
On the other hand, the US, which is approximately 15000 kms away from the disputed area, regards China’s actions in the SCS as hostile acts and Australia, an obliging ally of the US and in the region, though not in the immediate vicinity, has joined the US in flexing military muscles and threatening China. These activities in SCS, namely war posturing by the West/US/Australia and China’s readiness to confront are deeply worrying.
Therefore, instead of waiting for the tension to blow over and as the maritime sovereignty is an international issue, it may be more helpful to seek an internationally agreed solution, say through international arbitration and if need be through deployment of multi-national forces that guarantee equitable access to the SCS to all and ensure security of all parties including China’s.
China/Taiwan hostility is another unresolved issue in the region. However, given the complexities of the geopolitics, it is very difficult to say who threatens whom. Regardless, all parties need to treat the issue with care and sensitivity and avoid conflagration.
COVID 19 and the “Wuhan lab leak”
In recent times, the US has raised concerns about the source of COVID 19 that first broke out in December 2019 in China’s Wuhan. Mr. Trump, then the US President, called the virus “Wuhan/China” virus and claimed, without evidence, that the virus was a “lab leak” from a Wuhan laboratory, implying China’s culpability in the creation and spread of the deadly virus. However, Dr. Anthony Fauci, America’s top infectious diseases expert, has doubted the theory and asserted, along with the majority of international scientists, that the virus is likely to have occurred through natural mutations, “the most likely origin is from an animal species to a human.” However, lately, the Director General of WHO, Mr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said that an “accidental lab leak is possible” and thus is asking “China to be more transparent as scientists search for the origins of the coronavirus”.
Indeed, COVID 19 is a pandemic and therefore, world has the right to know the truth of its origin to ensure accountability and more importantly, find enduring therapy and preventions and therefore, efforts must be made to get to the truth of the source and establish accountability, through a well-coordinated global effort, preferably through WHO where China must cooperate.
China 101: Key Lessons
There are many things that are positive about China and these include for example, that regardless of how a state organizes itself politically, it must treat basic needs of citizens as fundamental rights and act accordingly and secondly, that a country can develop on its own without attacking and plundering others.
Indeed, it would do the world a great deal of good to draw lessons or two from the Asian dragon.
However, like most countries China is not perfect. They thus need to mend some of their flaws and the onus is on them and not others to make these changes.
Indeed, to expect that China – a country which happens to be the world’s second largest economy, the largest trading partner and the largest provider of FDI to the developing countries and militarily a mighty country – would change through demonization and/or intimidation especially by those whose own track records in peace and human rights are anything but inspiring, is not only delusional but outright stupidity.
Indeed, China’s recent snub to a proposed visit to Beijing by the US deputy secretary of state, Wendy R. Sherman is a clear demonstration of the depth of disdain and an illustration of its distrust that China treats US with.
In sum, at a time when the entire world is reeling under a ravaging pandemic and is in serious economic duress where thousands are falling sick and dying daily and millions are losing jobs and livelihood and counting, bad mouthing and muscle flexing against the second largest economy in the world and that has tackled COVID 19 more successfully and decisively, may not be the most effective way to resolve disputes, whatever these are.
The way forward is not through the diktats of any group and/or alliance whose own moral standing is anything but encouraging, but through internationally laid down protocols and frameworks, such as the UN.
The author is an academic, and a former senior policy manager of the United Nations