A well informed electorate is a prerequisite to democracy. Yet, on China, Australians are being misled by our mainstream media.
Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers of American democracy, wrote that “a well-informed electorate is a prerequisite to democracy”. We are living in an unsettling geopolitical period when we need to be well informed.
With the war raging in the Ukraine and the constant drum beating over Taiwan, it is all the more urgent for the electorate to be well informed. Yet, a perusal of the poll results on Australian public opinion (e.g. Lowy Institute Poll 2022) indicate otherwise. Australians are viewing China’s economic growth, human rights record and military with increasing negativity.
Here is an area where the contradictions of a democracy shows up most poignantly – faithfulness to the truth against political expediency. The two agencies that are most responsible for informing the public about Australia’s relationship with the rest of the world, the incumbent government and the mainstream media, appear to have difficulties accepting China for what it is. The narrative constructed of China and its supreme leader Xi Jinping has been orchestrated to present hegemonic intent and expansionism. Such narratives are imbued with political agendas, careerism, personal ambitions, bigotry and other impulses. Under these circumstances, understanding one’s sources of information matters and alternate views are important. Here is one:
From Xi Jinping’s speech on the 100th Anniversary of the Communist Party of China and the articles by Tho Xin Yi of CNA (12th and 13th Oct.), there are two fundamental objective underlying his “China Dream”:
1. To build a moderately well-off society.
2. To construct a modern socialist society.
In order to build a moderately well-off society, Xi is endeavouring to revive China’s past glory as the centre of world trade (e.g. Tang and Sung Dynasties) by establishing a present day Silk Road. If Xi’s road to achieving a moderately well-off society is through trade, it stands to reason that he would assiduously avoid any form of war, even over Taiwan, that would disrupt the world’s trading environment. Regarding unification with Taiwan, China favours a “one country two systems” arrangement; also recently advocated by Elon Musk for which he was duly thanked by the Chinese government. The issue of Taiwan is a particularly sensitive one for China because it is a reminder of the continuation of gunboat diplomacy and humiliation. While the Western nations accede to Taiwan being part of China (United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2758 of 1971), they continue to present China as an aggressor by broadcasting Taiwanese democracy and sovereignty. If Taiwan is part of China, then Taiwanese sovereignty is Chinese sovereignty and reunification is an internal affair.
The West led by the US continues to provoke China by sailing warships through the Taiwan Straits. Xi seems to be acknowledging this problem in the 20th National Congress by describing the last five years as “extremely uncommon and abnormal”; and preparing the Chinese population for a possible conflict with the iteration, “We must strengthen our sense of hardship, adhere to the bottom-line thinking, be prepared for danger in times of peace, prepare for a rainy day, and be ready to withstand major tests of high winds and high waves,” (CNA 16/10.2022). The Western media describe these word as “chilling”, ignoring any indication of a defensive stand. What they fail to appreciate is that if Xi does not keep his composure, war would break out just as it has in Ukraine. His patience is all the more commendable if one recognises that the provocation in Ukraine was a creeping one while that in Taiwan has been immediate and unrelenting.
The paradigm of Xi’s Road and Belt Initiative includes exports of Chinese services and technology. Detractors have not only presented Chinese technology, e.g. Huawei 5G, as a security threat but the R&BI as a debt trap. Contrary to wild speculations, a World Bank Brief on 29, 2018 indicates that BRI projects have the potential to substantially improve trade, foreign investments and living conditions of citizens in participating countries, with the proviso that lending rules must be transparent and lending conditions acceptable.
Perhaps little known is that “… China has waived its debt to poor countries, mostly in Africa. According to the Forbes on May 29, 2019, over the period 2000 to 2018, China has written off around $9.8 billion of debt to other countries” (Mohammad Saiyedul Islam, Global Times, 17/08/2022). In the same report, Saiyedul indicates: “According to the Oxford China Africa Consultancy at Oxford University, Cuba received debt forgiveness worth $6 billion in 2011. Outside of Africa, other large cancellations include Pakistan ($500 million) and Cambodia ($490 million).”
The second objective of constructing a modern socialist society seems to be motivated by the desire to have a stable and efficient government that allows major structural changes to be made to the country without major upheavals. Under Xi’s leadership, China has a policy of “common prosperity” to ensure that the wealth of the country is more evenly distributed. This was done concurrently with the CCP’s reigning-in of big business and leaders like Jack Ma. Coupled with all these is Xi’s vision for a more sustainable economy through tackling corruption and environmental problems. With so much on his plate, it is little wonder that Xi is seeking an unprecedented third term in office. Be that as it may, the mainstream media describe this as Xi reversion to a more Marxist/Leninist form of government and the desire of a dictator to rule in perpetuity; even as economists and social scientists in the West lament the rising gap between the rich and the poor in their own country.
An alternate narrative is not complete without a peek at the personality of a very private person leading a rather opaque society. Journalist Tho (CNA 13/10/22), citing Dr Ngeow Chow Bing of the Universiti Malaya, indicates that Xi has done more to help people with disabilities than any of his predecessors. His policies in the 14th five-year-plan has the goal of achieving a better life for the disabled community. Another notable indication is provided by Kerry Brown in his book “CEO, China: The Rise of Xi Jinping (2016, I.B.Tauris) “Xi assiduously made sure that family members do not move into areas where he had authority in order to use his official position to carry out business.” By Brown’s account, he even asked his younger brother to get out of Shanghai while he was there.
The road to different people’s aspirations is indeed paved differently. As tolerant religious leaders say, there are many different paths to heaven.