The West can accept China’s wealth but not its power

Feb 13, 2022
Shanghai cityscape
(Image: Unsplash)

China is challenging the fractured world order of the West — and the pushback from the imperial powers of yesterday is mired in hypocrisy.

Why is the West so determined to demonise China? Sure, it may have driven a lot of tough business and trade deals and, sure, it may be competing for influence among the world’s poorest nations — but which rich and powerful nation hasn’t?

As China’s business and trade performance has so remarkably boosted the wealth of many countries, surely its own wealth is not the problem. Nor can it be what China does, overtly or covertly, politically or diplomatically, to promote its interests outside China — everyone else does this too, more or less.

So it must be its power that is creating such a tizz. In other words, while it’s acceptable (sort of) for China to become wealthy, it’s not acceptable for it to become powerful — least of all militarily. To have the kind of power that has, anywhere else, long been the closest companion of serious wealth.

To the West, it seems, China has forgotten its place: “Why, look at what that nasty communist Mao did despite we of the West having once tried so hard and with such sincerity to help put the Chinese people on the right path. How dare they now present to us such a face of strength and power!”

Let’s try to see this through Chinese eyes: “We, the Chinese of the 21st century, recall that we were once the most advanced civilisation on the planet. We promoted and achieved great discovery in the sciences and the humanities, in adventure way beyond our shores and, yes, in warfare. We nurtured towering philosophers and thinkers. We were great traders. The ancient Silk Road, all the way across the brutally vast deserts, steppes and mountains of Asia to Europe, was ours. Way back in the 1400s our great ships were trading through into the Mediterranean in the lead-up to Europe’s Reformation — which we may well have seeded. And Columbus may well have used our maps to ‘discover’ the ‘new world’.

“We suffered, over the millennia, from the tyranny of warlords and princes. But Genghis’s and Kublai’s Mongols forged a wider unity and showed a sufficiently bold face to the rest of the world that we were for a long time left to build and strengthen as a country, as a people and as a vibrant mix of cultures, industry and innovation.

“But our leadership wavered and tyranny returned. We withdrew into ourselves, creating vulnerabilities which others, foreigners, came to exploit. In time, we were to be widely plundered, looted and reviled — sometimes being openly given the same status, in our own country, as dogs. In the ‘opium wars’ of the mid-1800s, we failed to stop the British ravaging us with their opium from British India, and the curse of opium was to spread throughout the world.

“Dogmatic and fundamentalist Christians were these foreigners all, in whose eyes we heathens could not be saved. They promoted a leadership for us which would be compliant with their needs and their beliefs — such as the Kuomintang and Chiang Kai-shek. How we suffered. Again. Suffered until a new order, a new belief system, which to us seemed to be working well enough in Russia, offered us some hope.

“For a time, the Japanese ravaged and reviled us. The same Japanese who had been encouraged, back in the early 1900s by America’s Teddy Roosevelt and a cheer squad of the usual European imperialists, to build an empire in the east. To trample all over Korea and to not be unduly held back from having its way with us. How stupid they were.

“Throughout the centuries, when the world was open, we travelled to wherever the work was. We sent our earnings home to help our families, the core of our being, survive. We were industrious and entrepreneurial, often beyond the fragile tolerances of our host communities. They habitually set us apart and treated us badly. But we dug deep. The Australians even crafted a law to prevent us from coming. Their leaders did not call it the ‘white Australia policy’, but most Australians did and were for a long time proud of it. Proud enough to declare, when the Jews of Hitler’s Germany were desperately seeking refuge, that Australia did not have a racial problem and it was not going to import one.

“Mao Zedong started well but lost his way and delivered yet another period of deep suffering for us. From which, though, many lessons were learned and they have contributed to the rise of our new China. Such as in reinforcing our national character (partly through all that suffering) in strengthening unity and stability, in improving our sharing of opportunity and wealth, and in boosting our position of identity and influence in a challenging world order. A tired and ageing order which, to its horror, seems to be slipping.

“Where would we Chinese be if we simply joined such an order; if we were to embrace its beliefs?

“Well, in thinking it through, we would consider, naturally, the order’s performance through its ages of imperialism — from which originated the plundered wealth (especially from India and Africa) that paid for its power — to more contemporary times.

“We could start with Christian-dominated Europe’s role in provoking in Russia a new political and social belief system — free of the princes of ‘divine right’ and the religious dogmas which had for long enough so shackled and enslaved its people. And how, later, following Russia’s contribution of some 27 million dead in World War II and its breaking of Hitler’s monstrous back (while the West waited for its chance to do some ankle biting), Truman and Churchill turned their backs on Roosevelt’s promised assistance with Russia’s rehabilitation, instead applying energy and fear to the demonisation of the new, the unholy, Russia.

“We would note the order’s role, also at that time, in restoring the European imperialists to their possessions in South-East Asia and the mighty bloodbaths that followed. And what it has done since in the Middle East and Iran, from the time of carving up the region’s oil bounty among the powerful nations of the West to its messy installing of compliant dictators, and its even messier deposing of non-compliant dictators. Not to mention its confected invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, and its catastrophic promotion of the ‘Arab spring’.

“We would consider, too, its behaviour in Central and South America, and its studied neglect regarding the ethnic slaughtering in Rwanda and Bosnia.

“In the age of abundant information and more available truth, it is now more widely acknowledged than ever that other versions of this history have been concocted to excuse Western excesses and to promote Western interests.

“We Chinese conclude, overall, that we have more to give to today’s world than we can either take or learn from those of the West who yearn for their flawed and misrepresented yesterdays.”

Today’s China is built on a proud, if at times harsh and tumultuous, history. A history from which it derives its unique character and from which it draws the confidence to continue on its own course. It’s a course that should continue to benefit from abundant positives in its evolving political, social, industrial and business systems and the sophistication of its international relations. As well as to assure, naturally, its protection from others.

Given the bristling military assets and interests of others in its vicinity and the dreadful record of the West’s military and other adventures around the world over the past 60 or 70 years, is it any wonder that China has been pushing its first-line defences further out into the South China Sea?

Or would the West rather have China give it something more immediately meaty, something with which to cast a dark shadow over China, such as some missile assistance to, say, a Cuba? For the blackest hearts at Langley, the answer would probably be a resounding “yes” — even though Khrushchev’s Russia thoroughly rubbed their daddies’ noses in it. For the moment, seeing what can be made of Hong Kong and Taiwan might suit, but the Chinese may now, more than ever, be up to this game.

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