At a political fundraiser in Utah on 10 August, U.S. President Joe Biden described China’s economy as a “ticking time bomb”, adding that “That’s not good because when bad folks have problems, they do bad things”. It’s not only an unusually undiplomatic comment, but an unfair one that borders on the ridiculous.
It’s true that Biden is doing his best to bring China and its economy down. The day before his “ticking time bomb” comment, he had brought in new rules against investments made internationally by the private sector, including banning those in the most sensitive technologies like computer chips. It seems to me that Biden’s main purpose in life is to preserve American hegemony and keep the no. 1 spot in the global hierarchy. As the country with the economy catching up to the U.S., China’s is the one to keep down.
Official and other commentators, both in China and the U.S., have reacted to Biden’s comments in various ways. According to the Global Times, Fudan University Center for American Studies Deputy Director Xin Qiang, Biden and other presidential hopefuls are keen to “distract voters from ingrained US domestic problems such as abortion, guns and drugs”. White House Spokesman former Rear Admiral John Kirby backed up Biden’s view and added that China had been guilty of “intimidation and coercion of not only their neighbours but countries around the world,”
For what it’s worth here’s how I regard Biden’s comments. I add that I was in China from mid-May to late July this year, my main reasons being to attend conferences and undertake ongoing teaching commitment. I don’t hesitate to base myself not only on statistics and economic and social data, but also on personal impressions.
First of all, I regard Biden’s suggestion that the Chinese, or more specifically the Chinese leaders, are “bad folks” who will do “bad things” when they have problems as not only silly but downright racist. For him as the leader as the world’s main hegemon to make such a judgment is rash and presumptuous, as well as undiplomatic. I don’t know who he is that he thinks he has the right to cast moral judgments on people because he sees them as rivals for power. All I can say is that my dealings with Chinese, over the years quite extensive, suggest to me that they are anything but “bad folks”. Of course, there are Chinese who do “bad things”, as there are people of all countries and ethnic groups who do “bad things”. But most of what I’ve seen from Chinese is that they are very good.
Two other points. Firstly, I prefer Xi Jinping’s focus on “world civilizations”, “world development” and so forth, and his quest for “building a community with a shared future for humanity” as greatly preferable to the American obsession with staying on top as number 1. I am well aware that the Western press in general sneers at Xi Jinping’s formula, suggesting it’s obviously insincere and merely a cover-up for a sinister grab for power. But I for one think it is quite possible to take him at his word. I’m not prepared to dismiss it just because the extremely biased Western media do so.
As for Kirby’s suggestion that China intimidates and coerces not only neighbours but countries around the world, numerous Pearls & Irritations authors have pointed out that China has only one base on foreign soil, as opposed to the hundreds of United States overseas bases, including in Australia. They have also pointed out that China’s foreign wars are very few and far between by comparison with the Americans, or several other powers. Looking at the broad sweep of history, it seems to me to be rational to think of the Chinese as a peace-loving people and Chinese culture as seeking peace, not war.
As for the economy, numerous reports speak of problems. I found among my students in China this year some nervousness about their future employment, though I would like to add that most seemed to have a pretty good job that suits their qualifications. Things are not as vibrant as the last time I was in China in 2019. The problems in the property sector are serious, as in other places. On the other hand, considering how recent the lockdowns are, I was struck by how well things are going, not how badly. I don’t pretend formal expertise in economics, but the whole atmosphere in China now is certainly not one in which seething discontent is going to lead to serious instability. In other words, I regard the suggestion that China is a “ticking time bomb” due to its economic problems as grossly exaggerated, if not absurd.
There were things I didn’t like about life in China. Apart from the frightful heat wave, I found surveillance going into the universities too widespread and unnecessary. On the other hand, my impression among the students was that they were very much able to think for themselves and are not simply arms of the state. In several cases I was surprised at their willingness to disagree with government policy, even when in the presence of people with the potential to influence their future.
We are already in a multipolar world. That is likely to be increasingly the case in the future. For all the hype in the Western mainstream media and among Western leaders, China is not trying to replace the U.S. for the number 1 spot in the world. Of course, it would like to increase its influence. It is very determined to defend itself. But it is not an aggressive power wishing to subvert democracies wherever they exist. It is most certainly a country with which we can and should coexist. From my point of view, we should regard it not as a country that we can profit from but don’t really trust, but as a friend.
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