China’s “security through prosperity” undermines Western colonial hegemonyAug 3, 2023
It was in 1982 in Calcutta, India, on my way to a conference in Bhubaneswar in Orissa state when I was confronted by the sight of homeless people sleeping on the pavement right in the heart of the city in the early nightfall. This morning (01/08/2023), I was confronted again by the sight of homelessness on BBC TV news. This time it was in the streets of London. It was not just a sporadic affair but rows of people shrouded in sheets (the only difference being that in Calcutta they were under cheesecloth while in London they had blankets and sleeping bags).
Whether that spectre is indicative of new social permissiveness, taking cognisance of vagrancy laws, or that illegal migration has reached a point that the authorities are unable to handle; or that Britain has fallen into hard economic times, will take time to unfold. One should think that it is a combination of a number of factors. However, this article is not about homelessness but about how, in a changing world, countries choose their method of achieving prosperity.
For at least 500 years, the Western powers dominated the world through colonisation, unfair exploitation of the world’s resources (human and natural) and innovations. Those that they cannot completely colonise, they dominated through gunboat diplomacy. In other words, they sought prosperity through security. By “security” I mean a paradigm of coercive methods (e.g. through military subjugation, trade sanctions, cold wars, etc.). The rest of the world was compliant. After WWII, the Soviet Union which posed the only challenge to the status quo was finally resolved through the Cold War. Russia is presently being dealt with in Ukraine in a proxy war. Domination remains as long as others remain benighted by a lack of wherewithal.
This collective hegemony has been seriously challenged in recent years by the rise of China which took a different path i.e. security through prosperity. China’s history has always been one of seeking prosperity under a ruler that can provide adequate protection against marauders. It was, and still is, their idea of tien sia, the makings of a good ruler, and the path to a good life. After three decades of Maoist style planned economy which mired China in poverty, Deng Xiaoping declared an Open Door Policy in 1978 which opened up China to foreign trade, investments and the badly needed Western technologies. Under the next two presidents, Jiang Zeming and Hu Jintao, the Chinese economy chalked up double digit growths (around 10%). The prosperity acquired through working harder and smarter was the enabler to build up the security that they needed. Under Xi Jinping, corruption was brought under control, the military was reorganised and upgraded to the point that the Western nations, seeing threat through a Western lens, began to question their motives or intentions. China became an enigma that arose from a modus operandi quite unlike that of the West which understandably interpreted its intention through a Western mindset. The meteoric rise of China generated fear and suspicion, not just because it is poised to supersede the US as the largest economy of the world but because it is renegading against the “rules based international order” put in place by the US to advantage itself and its allies. Yet they found no case of expansionism to support their suppositions. Apart from taking some disputed South China Sea Islands to defend its maritime silk route, China has not violated the territorial sovereignty of other countries. Without factual evidence, the Transatlantic Alliance (US + NATO) set its propaganda machine into overdrive, creating narratives of human rights abuses and oppression around Tibet, Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Taiwan. China’s Belt and Road Initiative, no less successful than the operations of the World Bank and IMF, has been denigrated as a death trap.
President Biden has described the competition between the US (and its allies) and China as a competition between “democracy” and “autocracy”. Framed in this manner, a choice between freedom and oppression, it makes the Western nations look good. However, if the competition is taken from the perspective of “prosperity from security” and “security from prosperity”, no more than an euphemism, one could easily work out that the latter is the more benign of the two. At its most banal, seeking prosperity through security is practiced through the sale of arms by the military industrial complex.
There is no shortage of evidence that the US and its allies are attempting to stop China “before it is too late”. The US makes no bones about “containing” China. Without mincing his words, President Joe Biden said on March 2021: “China has an overall goal … to become the leading country in the world, the wealthiest country in the world, and the most powerful country in the world. … That’s not going to happen in my watch because the United States is going to continue to grow”. The growth that the US has shown since those words is in its instruments of coercion – selling arms to Taiwan, setting up more bases in the Philippines, sending arms to Ukraine and using semiconductor chips sanctions on China. One could even be excused for suspecting that the Transatlantic Alliance is attempting to provoke a war against China using Taiwan as proxy. On 31/01/2023, NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg visited Japan purportedly to “strengthen NATO ties with Japan”. It was seen as an attempt to establish a NATO in Asia. European Commission chief, Ursela von der Leyen, went to Manila to stick her beak into the Philippines’ and Taiwan’s disputes with China. Suzanne Lynch says in Politico (31/07/2023): “European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen used a speech in Manila on Monday to take aim at China, slamming Beijing for its increasingly militant stance in the Indo-Pacific and its failure to live up to international responsibilities on Ukraine.”
Perhaps it is still not too late for the US and NATO to realise the fact that the axes of economic and military power have moved and that it could save itself by changing tack to a “security from prosperity” modus operandi. In an interesting article in The Cradle (2023) titled “D-dollarisation kicks into high gear”, Pepe Escobar concluded by saying “The Hegemon – clinging to a toxic cocktail of neoliberalism, sanction dementia, and widespread threats – is bleeding from within. Dedollarisation is an inevitable response to system collapse. In a Sun Tzu 2.0 environment, it is no wonder the Russian-China strategic partnership exhibits no intention of interrupting the enemy when he is busy defeating himself.”