A response to a Globe and Mail article on China

This is a response to the following article, which I feel perfectly summarizes the typical biased hogwash that passes for scholarship in the west: China’s leadership entrenches – and this cannot bode well

Earlier on I advocated the work of Martin Jacques and his video here, because he is so far the only western scholar to have taken a genuine interest in the Chinese perspective and properly understand China’s role in the world today. This is in sharp contrast to the drivel posted in the article. I comment on this Globe and Mail article because I wish to clarify with a clear example exactly what Jacques call the “lazy western” approach to understanding China, which is to understand China as an abomination because it doesn’t conform to the west.

The first paragraph that begins denouncing China already reeks of western snobbery:

“But there is no movement to empower Chinese citizens though democratic reform. As Mr. Xi recently explained to the Greek Prime Minister: “Your democracy is the democracy of Greece and ancient Rome, and that’s your tradition. We have our own traditions.””

The quote by Xi Jinping is clearly placed in a bad context which is meant to denounce the Chinese leader. However, this is clearly the case: democracy IS an ancient Greek and Roman tradition (not so much the latter; the Roman Empire abandoned ‘democracy’ and went imperial after Augustus, and in Greek times democracy was only practiced by one state (Athens) and even then, very limited), and China does indeed have our own traditions. By dismissing Xi Jinping’s comments as a lame excuse uttered by a dictator, you have dismissed the cultural traditions of the Chinese civilization. China, as an ancient civilization and modern civilization, is as proud and accomplished as any other in world history. We do not need to be ‘civilized’ or ‘rescued’ from our ignorance. If anything, the reverse is true; culturally.

Onto the next paragraph:

“Given Mr. Xi’s promise to further purge China of “decadent things of the bourgeoisie and capitalism,” we can expect enhanced censorship of the Internet and stronger measures to persecute the expanding ranks of principled, courageous defenders of the Chinese constitution, the rule of law, free speech and human rights for religious and ethnic minorities. Liu Xiaobo, the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, remains in prison, and his supporters who have not yet joined him there are either under house arrest, have disappeared altogether or are subject to severe harassment by the Chinese state.”

It is interesting that the term ‘courageous defenders of the Chinese constitution’ was used. As I recall, Canada didn’t even have a ‘real’ constitution (i.e. actually passed in Canadian parliament) until 1982; so what should the advocates for rule of law in Canada be called until then? Further, it is a widely known ‘secret’ that we don’t even follow our own constitution when it comes to how parliament is run. The governor general, guaranteed by law to be the head of state, is not really the head of state. How it’s written and how it is are totally different. If such blatant disregard to written law is allowed in Canada, and celebrated as part of our national character, why should the Chinese enforcers of a constitution that has historically had even less weight attached to it be particularly emphasized?

Indeed, this seems not specifically a WESTERN notion as much as it is an AMERICAN notion. The idealization and emphasis of the Constitution seems to be exclusively an American phenomenon. In the USA, the constitution is indeed the supreme law of the land, as even a comma is scrutinized in the Supreme Court (this is why, apparently, banning guns is not allowed; a comma. This obsession with the constitution is uniquely American because to Americans, their constitution is the ultimate glue of their nation. Everyone is bound by the same laws. This is because the United States, then and now, exists in a relatively unique situation. They are one of the few countries if not the only one nearly completely void of cultural and historical traditions. Because they rebelled from Britain, they intentionally reject many things British or European in origin, in part to assert their independence. Their constitution was basically the ‘first’ thing in American history, thus earning its reverent spot. Canada, on the other hand, proudly embraces and inherits many things British, and thus establishing a cultural continuity.

In China, the cultural continuity is always there. The constitution then has much less weight. The historical tradition in China when it comes to state and people is the analogy to a family: the state is the head of the family. While children may express temporary displeasure towards their parents, usually it works out in the end. Further, there is expectation for parents to issue discipline and to make decisions that the children don’t like. Properly understanding this as a CHINESE phenomenon and not as CPC propaganda comes truly handy in understanding modern China.

“Beyond paying lip service, Wednesday’s report proposed no genuine market reforms, such as legal guarantees to level the playing field for foreign (including Canadian) companies seeking to do business with China. Such change would counter the interests of China’s Communist ruling elite, who benefit immensely from state domination of the economy. Ninety of the deputies at this year’s Congress have declared individual assets in excess of $150-million. One, Zong Qinghou, has more than $10-billion in personal wealth. The bottom line is that while China’s system is unquestionably corrupt and economically inefficient, it works very well for those in political power. Its sustainability is another question.”

It seems a favorite western pass time to take jabs at the ‘corruption’ of the Chinese government. Indeed, the Chinese state has become synonymous with corruption and embezzlement. This isn’t without merit. Most officials in China are indeed corrupt on some level. However, the statement that China’s system is “unquestionably … economically inefficient” is so wrong it is laughable. It is classic blinded by ideology. There is no reasonable argument that can be made to say that China’s economic system and reform is ‘inefficient’, considering China has sustained an average GDP growth of over 8% per year for nearly 30 years. This is practically unprecedented in history, and certainly unparalleled in modern times. In 1992 China didn’t even have one of the 20 largest economies in the world despite being home to nearly 1/4th of the world’s population, today it stands at number 2, while expecting to overtake the number 1 spot in less than a decade. China’s economic growth IS efficient, and the benefits of that growth on even so-called disadvantaged peoples is enormous. Indeed, China’s state is remarkable in its effectiveness, when compared to literally anyone else (authoritarian or democratic or anything in between). This is why the Chinese population is remarkably satisfied with their government, much more so than in any democratic country (when was the last time any democratically elected leader had an approval rating over 60%?).

These two paragraph together are particularly insensitive:

“It appears the coming year will not be a good one for human rights in China. Last Saturday’s horrific massacre in Kunming, where dozens of people were killed by knife-wielding Uyghurs, was referenced twice on Wednesday. The government is promising to crack down harder on ethnic minorities that resist Chinese political and cultural domination.

Unfortunately, the signal importance to these minorities of language, culture and religious rights evidently escapes China’s leadership. For many Uyghurs and Tibetans, for instance, the fight for symbols that recognize their identity – their own flag, a seat at the United Nations, a free media that tells their people’s story in their own terms, their own schools and political leaders – is a paramount concern. It is the stuff of their souls, for which some will resort to terror and violence, even laying down their lives in horrible ways. An intensified crackdown by Beijing will almost certainly lead to more ethnic hatred and bloodshed.”

It appears that the principle concern of this ‘scholar’ isn’t the fact that an act of terrorism was committed, causing the mass casualties including at least 29 deaths, but on some grim predictions about ‘souls’ and religious intolerance. This illustrates the biggest hypocrisy when it comes to China or any other state that is not ‘western’. 9-11 is an act of terrorism, not a response to religious oppression. The London subway bombing was an act of terrorism. But when it happens in an ‘enemy’ state, all of a sudden it becomes a fight for freedom and justice. No, this is truly an act of terrorism; and China and indeed any state has the right to take measures to safeguard its citizenry.

“As new political institutions further centralize power in presidential hands and diminish the premier’s authority, Mr. Xi is increasingly assuming a role like that of Russian President Vladimir Putin. China certainly supports Mr. Putin in his grab of Crimea, and if Russia leaves the Group of Eight, the Sino-Russian alliance will strengthen commensurately”

This is almost laughable and shows the author’s complete ignorance of China’s history. While technically there has been at most one other time in Chinese history where power has been centralized in “presidential hands”, China’s power has usually been centralized to one person. In the Imperial Age, the Emperor held absolute power. In the modern age, since 1949, China has always had a supreme leader; albeit they may not have held the title ‘president’. Chairman Mao was the supreme leader for all of his life; and he was succeeded by Deng Xiaoping, who never held the nominal title of president. Since then China’s power has always been centered around the nominal national leader with the brief exception of the tenure of Hu Jintao, whose lack of authority is not a consequence of ‘reform’ but a lack of personal charisma and family background. As Mr. Xi said, China has its own ‘traditions’.

Further, the assertion that China and Russia would become ‘allies’ and that China supports Russia’s actions are both far fetched. Of course China would pay lip service, but that’s as far as that will go. Historically China has always been strongly opposed to foreign intervention. From a principle perspective, I believe the Chinese leadership disapproves of Putin’s actions, but it is a gray area to the Chinese because in the time of the Soviet Union all of Ukraine (and many other countries) were properly part of the Russian state, and so these actions could be interpreted as ‘reclamation’, which China is not ruling out for their own actions in the future.

These two paragraphs are both laughable:

“Moreover, Wednesday’s report suggests China will step up its struggle for regional power and influence against Japan in the coming year. The government indicated ominously that “we will safeguard the victory of World War II and the postwar international order, and will not allow anyone to reverse the course of history.” Combined with a promise to increase the military’s budget by 12.2 per cent, well in excess of anticipated gross domestic product growth, this cannot bode well.

Nobody wants to see a polarization of international relations, with repressive, authoritarian regimes in China and Russia allied to challenge international institutions based on the imperative to free economic markets and the sovereign right of nations to democratic self-determination. But as Mr. Xi indicated recently, “the situation in Ukraine, which seems to be accidental, has the elements of the inevitable.” ”

The only imperialists in the 20th century in Asia were the Japanese. Over 20 million Chinese people died as a consequence of their conquest, and many more suffered their violence. For this Japan has never issued a sincere apology to the Chinese people. Further, they try to erase this blemish on their history by altering their history books and tell their children it never happened. This is compared to Germany, where holocaust denial has become a crime punishable by jail time.

China is right to be angry with Japan. Further, Shinzo Abe is widely regarded as a right wing imperialist who has no moral qualms in returning Japan to the imperial path it walked on nearly a century ago. In this and most other cases, China is only interested in protecting their own interests and not grab what’s not theirs.

The last paragraph truly splits the line among ‘us and them’. The ‘non-western’ countries are labelled as ‘repressive, authoritarian’, while ‘us’ is ‘rest of the world’ by the implication of the use of the term ‘international institutions (based on freedom)’. The truth is, more countries in the world have a favorable view of China than not, and the trend is increasingly so. China is not all flash and talk when it comes to foreign assistance. Instead of offering the ‘gospel of democracy’ and be judgmental over how other governments operate, or token assistance packages akin to giving a dime to a vagrant, China offers substantial help in the form of constructing roads, infrastructure, and solid investment. China succeeds abroad in large because it sees any government as an equal and offer equitable, fair trade deals, rather than a ‘holier than thou’ attitude designed to create banana republics under the ruse of ‘spreading democracy’.

As Martin Jacques argued, a new world order with China at its center is inevitable. The only question is will people in the world take the time to really understand China?

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