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Where China Falls Short

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.




4 Responses to “Where China Falls Short”

  1. [...] CBC.ca – RSS Feeds wrote an interesting post today on Where China Falls ShortHere’s a quick excerpt…seen as Chinese toadies, and if they criticize certain aspects of what has happened during the Olympic torch relay, they become dismissed by… [...]

  2. max jones says:

    Thank you very much for your article, it is interesting, well written and reasonably well argued.

    And I agree with those aspects of the article highlighting the importance for China and for any other large country to listen to others, discuss differences point by point, and “not get angry”. But I disagree with your opening sentence and the premises that I think lie behind it:

    “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”

    I don’t know who the “international community” is whom you are referring to, nor to what extent and in what manner they have become “excited” by such a prospect. Typically “international community” is the term used to refer to those countries that the U.S. can manage to convince to follow it, or adopt its positions. (example: “the coalition of the willing”) I don’t think any other real and actual “international community” exists. The “international community” -if any exists- is (or should be) the United Nations General Assembly. (and certainly NOT the security council)

    I am an individual and not a country or a government. And I represent no-one except myself. I do not want China to become “a new alternative to the United States” Nor doI want the United States to continue to “lead the world”, particularly in the manner in which it has been doing it recently. I think countries and peoples would be much better off and better served if they had no “leaders” other than themselves.

    And if I had to choose any political or economic model to try to impose on anyone else (it is impossible anyway and each country will develop in keeping with its own historical conditions and legacies) I would prefer the Scandinavian social democratic model to either the U.S. so called “free market economics” and “democracy” (I have read Stiglitz too, and not only Stiglitz) or the Chinese “socialist market economy” model, both of which are not really what they claim to be.

    I also do not believe in a unipolar world or even in the evolution into a multi-polar world. I don’t think there need to be “poles” at all. And I don’t even like the United Nations very much because I think it is a “disunited nations” held hostage by the petty interests and the parochialism of its member states. Whereas it should be a “united peoples of the world”. (“nations” for a long time have been a very poor surrogate for “peoples”)

    I think the more power ends up in the hands of civil society and its very many organizations trying to do assorted good and worthwhile things, and out of the hands of governments and the private sector, the better this will be for common people. People are quite capable of organizing themselves into groups that work for the things they believe in and are increasingly learning to do so in the Internet age.

    They do not need to “fall in line” behind either the United States, China or any other big country or government. If the current Chinese government understood that and worked to try to genuinely improve international institutions so as to achieve something along the lines of what I have just said above, it will make a lot of friends.

    But if instead it hopes to simply “replace the United States” at center stage, I think it will neither succeed nor make any friends at all. And if it did manage to somehow succeed, the world would be no better than what it is today.

    We have urgent extremely serious problems. The rapid degradation of the natural and physical environement is the main one. Overpopulation is the second and is related to the first.

    Let’s seriously get to work on those instead of wasting our time thinking about who is number one today and who might become number one tomorrow. Most people couldn’t care less.

    regards to whomever wrote this article, or may be behind it,

    Max Jones

  3. Brian says:

    Certainly now is the best time for China to redefine the relationship between government and people. Down the road when the economy begins to mature and there is real pressure on the middle class to maintain their position, demands for change will rise, and the government could well be forced into some knee-jerk reactions.

  4. [...] This naturally puts the Chinese government on the defensive and more recently, some Chinese have become angry at the overseas criticism. [...]