As China’s leaders morph from Stalin to Hitler, US and other democracies must confront it
At the end of September 2008 in Beijing, I received an invitation from some Chinese classical liberal and democracy activists to meet them for dinner at a nearby restaurant. Amongst the guests was Liu Xiaobo. He and the others had all been under surveillance, some periodically under house arrest and others like Liu in prison for their views. But despite this, and the seemingly clandestine aura of the dinner, they all seemed very cheerful, none more so than Liu. They thought given the seeming relaxation of the repression which had followed the Tiannmen events, there was hope that the Communist Party of China (CCP) was ready to introduce some democratic reforms. None more so than Liu, who was preparing a Charter 08 on the lines of the then Czech dissident Václav Havel, asking for constitutional reform and multi-party democracy. I feebly demurred, saying I doubted if the CCP had changed its spots. Liu issued his charter, which was signed by hundreds of intellectuals. In December, he was arrested and later sentenced to 11 years in jail for “subversion of state power”. He died in a prison jail earlier this month from liver cancer, despite his plea and those from various leaders at the recent G20 meeting to be allowed to travel abroad for treatment. He was hastily cremated and his ashes strewn in the sea.
Apart from expressing “sadness and sympathy” Western leaders stopped short of criticising China.
This pusillanimity is due to the view that economic and commercial relations with China
are too valuable to be undermined by human rights concerns. As Gordon G Chang (“A China
policy that works — for America”, Strategika
, May 17, 2017, www.hoover.org
) has noted, the US’ policy of engaging with China
irrespective of its bad and dangerous behaviour “has over time created perverse incentives. As America continued to work with them, they saw no reason to stop belligerent actions”.
However, with President Xi’s announcement of his “China
Dream” the scales should drop from everyone’s eyes to see how the Chinese envisage their “new” world order. An important point about President Xi’s announcement of his “China
Dream”, which the official translation defined as “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”, is that, as Jamil Anderlini (“China’s great rejuvenation has a dark side”, FT
, June 22, 2017) has pointed out, the correct translation of the Chinese phrase used by President Xi, “would be Chinese race”. The Chinese term zonghua minzu
“is universally understood to mean the majority Han ethnic group, who make up 90 per cent of the population” (Anderlini, “The dark side of China’s national renewal”, FT
, June 21, 2017). It also “very deliberately and specifically incorporates anyone with Chinese blood anywhere in the world, no matter how long ago their ancestors left the Chinese mainland”. Premier Li Keqiang has also asserted that irrespective of their nationality and attitude to the CCP, the Chinese diaspora has a duty “to help achieve the investment, technological, development goals of the PRC (People’s Republic of China)”. Whilst Chinese theoreticians are arguing that the sovereign nation state is an illegitimate Western invention “which contradicts the traditional Chinese notion of ‘all under the sun’, with the Chinese emperor at the centre and power radiating out from the Forbidden City to every corner of the earth”. As Mr Anderlini rightly concludes, what will this Chinese world order “look like for everyone who is not included in the great family of the Chinese race”.
This is a race-based Fascist world order. There is a close ideological connection between Communism and Fascism despite their different rhetoric, as the French historian François Furet argued in The Passing of an Illusion: The Idea of Communism in the Twentieth Century. Following the French Revolution, which empowered the bourgeoisie, creating both democracy and individualist capitalism, the most enduring passion of both ideologies has been hatred of the bourgeoisie, particularly of bourgeois democracy. It is not surprising therefore, that the Chinese Communists have mutated into race-based Fascism — one moreover they can claim to be in tune with their traditional political form. The question remains how should one deal with this threat to the US-based liberal world order?
First, recognise the threat. Surprisingly, President Donald Trump has done this unlike his predecessor. His “economic nationalism” is firmly focused on China.
He has refused to look upon the US-China
relationship as a card to play against the Russians, which has been the basis of US policy since Richard Nixon’s visit to Mao Zedong. Mr Trump rightly does not believe that Moscow poses the greatest geo-political threat to the US. Also, “his willingness to question the One-China
policy, to force China
to confess limited usefulness in reining in North Korea – thus giving America a free hand to go solo without wishing for China’s help – his adroit use of timing to apply force against Syria while aiming at China, and his skilled approach to neutralising China
through deals and carrots when dealing with North Korea, all seem to have brought a much-needed dose of gamesmanship to the Sino-US relationship.” (Miles Maochun Yu, “Challenges and Opportunities facing the Trump Administration’s China
, May 17, 2017, www.hoover.org
Mr Trump, however, faces the resistance of the entrenched “China
hands” in the bureaucracy, and the vested interests of Wall Street which, as my earlier columns
have emphasised, created “China
INC”. Their leader Goldman Sachs’ former employees are firmly entrenched in the Trump administration. The recent statement by Rex Tillerson that American policy toward China
would be guided by the principles of “non-confrontation, non-conflict, mutual respect, and win-win co-operation”, was the exact phrase China
uses to sum up its new model of Asia as an exclusive Chinese sphere of influence. It is profoundly against US geopolitical interests.
Mr Chang argues the US needs to call a spade a spade: China
is a “threat fast becoming an adversary” and not “a friend or partner”. It should impose costs on China
for hostile and unacceptable actions, like the laundering of money for North Korea by Chinese banks, and if found complicit cut them off from their dollar accounts in the US. It should also form and lead a coalition of those threatened in Asia by China, from India to South Korea, to contain China.
I would add two others that would signal China
could not bully those questioning its record on human rights. First, invite the Dalai Lama to the White House and endorse his demand for autonomy (not independence) for Tibet. Second, pressure China
to allow Liu Xiaobo’s widow to travel to the West to collect his Nobel Prize. As China’s leaders morph from Stalin
to Hitler, it is time for the US and other liberal democracies to confront China
and preserve the US-led liberal world order.
Deepak Lal is the James S. Coleman Professor Emeritus of International Development Studies at the University of California at Los Angeles, professor emeritus of political economy at University College London, and a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. He was a member of the Indian Foreign Service (1963-66) and has served as a consultant to the Indian Planning Commission, the World Bank, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, various UN agencies, South Korea, and Sri Lanka. From 1984 to 1987 he was research administrator at the World Bank. Lal is the author of a number of books, including The Poverty of Development Economics; The Hindu Equilibrium; Against Dirigisme; The Political Economy of Poverty, Equity and Growth; Unintended Consequences: The Impact of Factor Endowments, Culture, and Politics on Long-Run Economic Performance; and Reviving the Invisible Hand: The Case for Classical Liberalism in the 21st Century.
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