Thursday, 24 September, 2020
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OPINION

China’s Original Sin



P Kharel

All existing indications are that another nation from another continent with another ideological outlook but with a commitment against export of ideology — is steadily but firmly emerging as the World No. 1 economy in the foreseeable future. This is a dispiritedly disconcerting eventuality to the West in general and the United States in particular. To rub their ideological expansion in the wrong way, the competition comes from the most powerful communist regime in existence.
The US wants to hold on to its No. 1 position as a military and economic power, with the dominant place in setting agendas for the rest of the world, even if with America First as the core thrust, whatever the situations and consequences for others. It grades Israel in West Asia and Japan in the Asia-Pacific as oases of democracy in the ocean of non- and semi-democracies. The race for global power created the Afghan problem since decades. China was not a participatory to the invasion of Iraq, which caused the loss of half a million Iraqi lives, mostly civilians’. Nor did it have anything to do with the tragic farce in Libya, Syria, Iraq or Lebanon.
History has much to teach. Especially from the 19th century to the first half of the 20th century, the rulers in Beijing submitted to the dictates of Western trade dictates. In the 1950s and almost for the rest of the century, poverty was everywhere in the communist country, termed “bamboo curtain” by the capitalist champions that savoured their own economic success story with excessive pride. However, the onset of the 21st century turned the tide.

Sour grapes syndrome
The new millennium saw an economically transformed China. Some scholars, predictably of the Western mould or orientation, inaccurately equate the US road to its current position with that the pace and patience China managed for long. Washington sees its interests threatened or security net in danger whenever another country appears to emerge with large influence in a particular region.
Proud of its more than 7,000-year documented history, China is unlikely to submit to the wishes of the “upstart” superpower whose full-fledged history of civilisation is of barely 400 years. It’s all an issue of Beijing’s sin of being economically successful and ideologically different from the bloc that prevailed for a long time. Moreover, China has not over-stretched its claim of security interests; it hardly stations troops elsewhere in the world in contrast to what the US has been doing all these post-World War II decades.
Dubious deals don’t respect ideals. China as a superpower is here to stay for a long time. The West is paying the price for allowing itself to fall asleep on the wheel for far too long than going all out for more enterprising and universally acceptable initiatives aimed at retrieving its once unassailable position. Washington found its idea bank dry and its global influence slipping steadily.
The European and American press rarely skips a story angle that presents China in poor light. But its probing eyes and critical faculties get blurred or blunted when it comes to comparable issues in countries considered to be the West’s loyal partners. That explains why oil-rich West Asian royalty is hailed as a major reformer when, for instance, women are given some rights to vote. In reality, many poor nations in Asia and Africa have more freedom since decades than what is found in some of the authoritarian regimes enlisted as close allies of the Western powers.
With the prospect of losing much influence in setting global economic and political agendas, Washington wants to contain communist China’s economic progress, trade growth and political clout worldwide. The consequence includes a severe loss for the US-led bloc. China’s success does not sit well with the once seemingly invincible US and its European cohorts. Ties with China cannot be wished away for other Asian, African and, increasingly, Latin American states who might even sympathise with the economic superpower that vows against exporting political ideologies.
Beijing recalls how the West intimidated, interfered and exploited China through a form of colonial bondage, particularly in the 19th and the mid-20th century. The colonial masters decided what was the best for the natives in keeping with their own perceptions and prejudices, guided by the argument that god had destined them to govern the ignorant natives who deserved to be ruled by the white rulers.
In the 40s, the Chiang Kai-shek lobby in Washington was effective in manipulating the four-time presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and keeping much of Americans unaware of communist leader Mao Zedong’s troops pacing up their march toward Beijing’s seat of power. Time magazine’s publisher Henry Luce and his wife lobbied for the Chiang Christian couple. Luce described Chiang’s “outstanding army” as the “creation of a very great leader of men”. His wife termed the Chinese “spiritual allies” of America and “fellow Christians”.

Wish to lord over
The pattern of operation of colonial powers was similar. Three and a half centuries of foreign governance in India is a telling tale of how cruel colonial rulers could be. Archibald Wavell, the British viceroy whom Queen Victoria’s great grandson Louis Mountbatten succeeded, saw Mahatma Gandhi as a “malevolent old politician…Shrewd, obstinate, domineering, double-tongued, with little true saintliness”. Praised for his works in English literature, the overbearing Rudyard Kipling extolled British rule over territories and populations many times larger than Britain’s. His notorious idea included: “The responsibility for governing India has been placed by the inscrutable design of providence upon the shoulders of the British race.”
In an address to the House of Commons, Winston Churchill disparaged Mahatma Gandhi as a “half naked fakir” and lamented that the loss of India “would reduce[Britain] to the scale of a small power”. Such being the legacy of “modern” colonial history, any emerging regional power or superpower cannot be expected to be intimidated by threats and taunts aimed at stemming its march forward. For the vast majority of the world, whether the emerging new economic power equation might find fresh opportunities for relatively larger space is not yet clear. Beijing does not forget history. Rome was not built in a day. Nor was China built in mere 500 years.
China can be termed neither an all-embracing saint nor a Robin Hood snatching from the filthy rich and helping also the downtrodden. Nor are China’s critics among the severest critics who fear the prospect of being a more effective competitor than them.

(Professor Kharel specialises in political communication.) 

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