China’s economic growth over the past several years has excited many members of the international community, who see it as an alternative to the US’s and west’s leadership of the world order for the past two centuries. There has been a deep underlying distrust of the west, but it was brought to the fore by the Bush administration’s single-minded focus on the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and what to many, have seemed like trumped-up reasons for the invasion.
This, along with China’s dramatic economic growth, has opened up a great opportunity for China to offer an alternative vision of economic and social development. But China has fallen short with the recent fuss over the torch relay, and the actions of the fenqing (angry youth). In a very short period of time, a great deal of the goodwill China has earned has dissipated.
This situation has forced many supporters of the reform and opening-up of China into a lose-lose situation. If they support the Chinese position, they become seen as Chinese toadies, and if they criticize certain aspects of what has happened during the Olympic torch relay, they become dismissed by the Chinese, especially fenqing, as western toadies. Intelligent people should not be forced into making choices like this which are not real choices, and further polarize the two sides. People should be able to make constructive criticism without being forced to make bad choices and being pigeon-holed into one group or the other.
I, for one, believe that there is validity to the Chinese criticisms of the way China and the Chinese have been shown in the western media. There are biases; some are based on ignorance and some may be based on malice. But anger and heavy-handedness are not the right way to correct these perceptions; instead they validate the views and fears of China’s worst critics.
But this is not purely a public relations exercise. If China was a smaller and less influential country, maybe that would work. What China needs is to offer an alternative vision to the western model of development. This model must include dialogue, institutions and rules without a pre-conceived agenda which are pre-packaged for others, who must buy into it. Basically, a new framework needs to be created for Chinese engagement and dialogue on a global scale.
One of the criticisms of western hegemony is that it has offered a pre-packaged vision which in reality, offers pre-packaged western interests at its core. Joseph Stiglitz talked about this in his book Making Globalization Work.
So what is China’s vision? Is it just anger for western wrongdoing and the way it is depicted in the western-controlled media? How much goodwill will venting anger get China? There needs to be a better more thought-out way which offers more constructive results.
More people need to be included, and it should not just be government to government. It should be open where all can offer their views, and be listened to. Differing opinions should be debated and allowed to co-exist. Out of this, some kind of rationale for China’s rise has to come out, and this vision needs to be consistent with the rest of the world, as well as the Chinese people.
China is now a real power in every way. Real powers listen to and debate different views. If they don’t like certain views, they can offer a point by point rebuttal, or they can debate those views, but there is no need to get angry.
New times bring new challenges, and new challenges call for new thinking.