Turning the Corner on China
Words. Lots of words made into resolutions, but mostly toothless words. The European parliament passed a resolution condemning China’s treatment of the self-immolation tragedy back in March of 2010. In December of 2011, they followed up with more rhetoric on China’s abysmal human rights practices. A few weeks ago, the U.S. finally passed Senate Resolution 356, which largely follows Europe’s lead.
And now when China was part of a veto to a no-brainer condemnation of the Syrian regime, Susan Rice, UN ambassador from the U.S. to dropped her diplomatic gloves and proclaim the U.S. to be “disgusted” at the move.
The world is getting tired of China, but does it matter?
Face it. China does not want anyone to tell it what to do on anything, and takes every criticism, condemnation, edict or resolution that it doesn’t like as an opportunity to demonstrate that fact. China wants to do things China’s way. Pass all the resolutions you want, China will use them as a point of identity in order to distinguish themselves from the rest of the world.
Its like that Nietzsche observation where people take an irrational contrarian position on an issue just to prove they exist and are relevant to the planet.
China doesn’t want to be accepted in the West, in fact, China probably despises our arrogance and presumptive authority and would rather the world follow their perspectives and practices.
Susan Rice fed up and "disgusted" with China
Regardless, there is the sense of a tangible shift—a wising up, if you will, of world opinions towards China.
So now, toothless resolutions and all, perhaps the writing is on the wall and we are beginning to turn the corner on our view of China’s place in the world and the West’s relationship to that place. The old way of viewing China is giving way to a new reality and our pre-conceived notions of the China dynamic are fading. Say goodbye to the old-school thinking that assumed:
- China will be a source of unlimited business opportunities for the West.
- We must speak quietly on human rights issues lest we offend our potential economic interests in China.
- If we show China how wonderful Western capitalism and markets can be, they will eventually come around and adopt democratic reforms.
Our perceptions and hopes for China up to this point have been based on our own greed, period. Because of this, China knew that any condemnation of its currency, products, human rights record, or Tibetan policies from the West would always be a half-hearted exercise at best. If we really cared about China’s failings we would have imposed sanctions long ago. As it stands, China has our Western greed in its corner as powerful advocate, so they approach our limp condemnations with a sense of rebellious glee. The more we criticize, the more they willfully show their intransigence by vociferously offering their pro-Chinese rebuttal. Thanks Nietzsche.
So its good that we are taking a newer look at China as a whole. Martin Jacques’s book When China Rules the World was way ahead of the curve in this regard. Duncan Clark, a Beijing consultant, notes these shifting winds from the economic perspective: "People (in the Chinese government) here think no-one can do without China, and I think now some companies are thinking no-one can deal with China.." Even Google has taken a reasonably principled stand by pulling out of China. Resolutions on Tibet by the EP and U.S. Congress are a good start. UN ambassador Susan Rice calling China and Russia’s Syrian veto “disgusting” is another. Re-asserting a U.S. naval presence in the Pacific signals that we may have had enough of China’s bullying in the region. All of these acts—much less the tone-- were unthinkable even a few years ago.
All of this probably will not move China one centimeter for now, but there is at least a sense of a unified front emerging among members of the world community and a feeling that the China “potential” is not worth its weight in human rights abuses and cheap products.
So in the spirit of turning the China corner, a good healthy list of emerging China perceptions might recognize:
- That China works on behalf of China and has only a limited interest in a level economic playing field in relationship to the world economy.
- That our greed has not served us well. It’s time to re-prioritize the values that gave us some sense of credibility in the past. Human rights, fair economic policies that do not pander to market “potential” and other similar measures would be a good start. We must find renewed courage to speak and act according to these values.
- That China does not want to be like the West. Until the ruling Communist Party departs, they will take great pride in showing us how prosperous they’ve become without democracy or human rights. They will continue to oppose any UN measures that even remotely suggest Western hegemony or are detrimental to China’s interests. China willfully presents a contrarian if not opposing opinion to Western ideas and philosophies and we must revise our definition of cooperation away from turning a blind eye to China’s posturing and abuses in the hopes of some future gain, towards a more balanced approach to Western interests and concerns.
- That bloviating loud-mouthed criticism of China does not work; it only strengthens their resolve. For example: John McCain’s recent proclamation that an “Arab Spring will come to China” will be met by some form of strict clamp-down on free speech in China if for no other reason than to tell the Senator to shut up and mind his own business. Guaranteed. Public criticism of China only makes them stronger in their resolve—there’s that Nietzsche again! The Chinese are frustrated with their government on many levels, but if a Western big-shot critic makes a comment about it, they’ll circle the national unity wagons first and deal with their frustrations later.
The only effective way to level the playing field with China is through one of their own time-proven techniques—modified for our times: "Change through a thousand cuts. " Work individual issues, one at a time, on the ground if possible, and through the average Chinese citizen, not the Government. China’s recent acquiescence to individual villager revolt against corrupt policing gives us a hint of the potential of such small actions.