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Growing Pains
by Valerie Sartor
2008-02-26 09:30:27
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As China continues to enter the global arena many Western nations have questioned many of the country's policies and actions. Some countries consider China as a threat, a lone bully and/or an economic wildcard. To begin to understand the motives of this massive, diverse nation requires a quick overview of Chinese geography and history, along with a review basic Chinese foreign policy.

The first and foremost thing to note is that China's stance is essentially defensive. Geographically the country is located on the Asian continent and surrounded by what is perceived as potential foes. Unlike the USA, a country that until recently appeared invulnerable to attack by dint of location and allies, China is constantly worried, and rightly so, about border attacks and invasions, having been invaded numerous times throughout its long history: the Mongols, the Manchus, the Japanese have all entered and conquered. China is vast, with the second longest border in the world. Military leaders know that borders are historically easier to cross than defend. Fourteen countries share their borders with China, including India and Russia, two countries that have constantly disputed actual border placements. At sea China claims areas, both aquatic an terrestrial, that overlap with South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

Politically the Chinese people have been astute at defending themselves against outsiders. In terms of the geo-strategic situation China has taken advantage of strategic power – as a pivotal location between the USA and the former USSR, the country flip-flops alliances between them, always playing the weak link - a backward, needy, non-threatening agrarian powerless power. Time and time again the country has shifted alliances to suit internal needs. From 1949-1960 China aligned with the former Soviet Union; from 1961-1972 China declared 'revolutionary self-reliance'. After Nixon's historic visit in 1972 China veered toward alliances with the USA but from 1972-1989 swung back and forth between the former USSR and the USA, playing each country to her advantage.

After the collapse of the Cold War, with the Berlin Wall down and the USSR severing into separate, unstable nations Chinese foreign policy bit the bullet and made greater political and economic links with Japan. The nation also aligned itself more intimately with the US and other Western European nations, particularly Germany, and to some extent France and the UK, in the hopes of modernizing and generating great wealth. Indeed, joint ventures are flourishing among all these partners but note that each of these countries actually represents bitter pills to swallow in the minds of all Chinese people. These powers have previously invaded and later, after the reforms began, questioned China's territorial imperatives, both in the past and present.

Japan is particularly onerous. The Japanese invaded, occupied and dominated the mainland on two separate occasions: in the first Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895 Japan humiliated China in the Treaty of Shimonoseki. China was forced to recognize the independence of Korea and ceded Taiwan, the adjoining Pescadores, and the Liaotung Peninsula in Manchuria. Consequently, China lost control over the Korean peninsula, it’s most important client state at that time, and was forced to pay a large indemnity to Japan as well as grant unfair trading rights. Later the treaty was altered due to Russian fears of Japanese expansionism. Russia, France and Germany interceded and forced Japan to give the Liaotung Peninsula back to China. But this defeat spurred the Western powers to make further demands and encroachments on China as well.

The second Sino-Japanese War lasted from 1937-1945 and again the Japanese tried to take over the Chinese mainland, again invading and conquering Manchuria - northeast China. The Japanese atrocities during this war are still problematic and remembered with great bitterness. Disputes between the two nations regarding the Pescadores continue. Adding salt to the wound is the resentment and jealousy of Japan's steady, stable and outstanding economic success after World War II ended.

War and invasions did not make China desire close alliances. Today, China's basic foreign policy doctrine lists five principals, all of which clearly indicate the firm decision not to align with any other country. The first principal of mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity is based upon a desire for no more foreign invasions and occupations. Any Japanese and US interference, as well as strong political statements from other foreign powers, is deeply resented. Criticism of Taiwan and Tibet, two large and delicate issues, along with disputed islands and waterways, cause the Chinese government to lose patience.

The second principal of mutual non-aggression is based on the Chinese philosophy of war craft. Sun Tzu's classic The Art of War explains that the best way to fight and win lies in avoiding conflict, exploiting advantages created by stealth, acting quickly and employing hit-and-run attacks, bluffing and fakery. Chinese strategy is fundamentally defensive and passive-aggressive, just like the national character. This is why Chinese officials primly assert: we will never conduct a first strike using nuclear weapons while simultaneously stockpiling an incredible arsenal and selling nuclear components to Iran and Pakistan.

The third principal of non-interference in internal affairs derives from a long and powerful feudal history. Since time immemorial the emperor in China held absolute power. Hierarchy of power streamed downward, pyramid style, with the masses of peasants and farmers totally at the whim of their higher ups. When the communists came to power in 1949 Mao quickly became as revered and authoritarian as any dynastic ruler. After Mao died no leader has had the charisma or the political savvy to radiate this kind of national reverence but power was still kept tightly in the hands of a select few.

After opening to the west actions taken by this kind of autocratic post-imperial style (generated by history and a long, self-imposed isolation) cannot be ignored by the world. The Internet has opened up everyone's dirty underwear drawers; China is no exception. To enter the world stage and ask to be a world player China must collaborate with UN based peacekeepers, follow world-trading norms, cooperate to some extent with international human rights activities and global environmental accords, as well as cooperate on some level regarding arms control.

But China, alternately wooed and threatened by superpowers, does not have the same ideas about international political and economic boundaries due to her unique history. Chinese diplomats furiously demand privacy and autonomy when participating in world affairs because a small group of leaders can still devise policy behind closed doors. No lobbies, no empowered legislature, no public interest groups can alter the course of what the Communist Party will do internally and externally. The media is openly censored and state controlled; foreign media is greatly circumscribed. Leaders are accountable to no one and if special interest groups exist, they thrive in Mafia-like secrecy and serve to grease political palms, buying favors for emerging, domestic big business at the cost of the environment and the general welfare of the masses.

Not surprisingly, outsiders viewing foreign policy coming from China see it as fickle, capricious, defensive and self-seeking. Chinese diplomats remain poker-faced but they do not want any other country interfering with or criticizing any of their affairs; they feel no need to publicly explain their motives, policies and actions. If outsiders comment, especially negatively, Chinese leaders are insulted and indignant.

Which brings up the last two principals - four: equality and mutual benefit, and five: peaceful coexistence. Although the country has opened to the west for over thirty years now most Chinese still appear obsessed with keeping their culture and economy pure from foreign influence. Foreign businesses have very little power although now, with reforms, on paper the law seems to be fairly equitable. But unfortunately joint ventures are discovering over time that business dealings in China are not often profitable or rational and will only work if the Chinese make out the best in the deal. Peaceful coexistence on Chinese terms translates as: stay out of our affairs and we will put up a façade of democracy and cooperation toward yours.

The Tian An Mun massacre, other human rights violations, and all sorts of environmental disasters: these are not for foreign eyes; if you want to do business with us then you must accept us as we are, the Chinese state huffily. For the Chinese diplomats and business executives face is crucial, but it often is not offered to Western guests. Perhaps the Chinese feel that the barbarians – Westerners - being frank and direct and naïf and really don't require much face, after all. Although they host foreign diplomats lavishly, filming their legendary galas and friendly diplomatic meetings, insiders know that this will be later doctored and distorted in the CPC’s favor. Everything is edited and done to benefit Chinese national interest: joining the WTO, while continuing massive international technological pirating while holding the RMB to artificial standards. Or refusing to play by international trading rules yet crying thief if Japan swipes a TV show without paying for the copyright.

Fear drives people, communities, and nations. China fears exploitation from other superpowers. Chinese bureaucrats cry: “We are so poor” and their diplomats play weak – yet there are more millionaires residing in Beijing than any other city in the world! And China's military buildup, like everything else of consequence, is constantly undercounted by official sources. Secrecy is part of diplomacy; secret deals, hidden alliances, all under the guise of a helpless, hapless country seeking to modernize and emulate their ‘advanced western brothers’. Indeed, the country is poor, with a per capita of 500USD a year but the corresponding cost of living, housing, medical and food costs are also enormously low and heavily subsidized by the government, with most Chinese having the purchasing parity of the middle class. In general Chinese people are healthier, better educated and able to buy plentiful foods and consumer goods. Yet ironically, China receives more World Bank funds than any other nation in the world and now has more UN peacekeepers on duty than any other nation as well. Nevertheless China demands that the USA and Europe take responsibility for her pollution problems because the Western world is more "advanced".

Every culture reflects continuity and change. Here in Beijing the Spring Festival has just passed. The country is still feeling festive, despite freak, disastrous snowstorms in Central China. The Olympics are coming and the show is every Chinese person's pride; who cares if Spielberg bowed out? China is definitely on the fast track toward transitioning to be a great superpower. Insiders here proudly say that they want China to be THE world's superpower. They are tired of feeling poor, invaded and victimized. The national need for face and recognition drives many polices forward that seem erratic, superficial, foolish and dangerous to the long-term economy and the world.

Will China finally become the strongest nation on the planet? Can anyone really predict the outcome? All scholars know for sure is that the search for wealth and power is as old as mankind. Sadly, the history of rising world economic powers is not known to be a peaceful process. Rome and Athens went through bloody upheavals. The Hapsburg Empire and the Netherlands had conflicts in the 16th century. France had problems in the 17th century; England in the 18th. Germany waged two awful wars in the 19th and two more in the 20th centuries; Japan and the USSR engaged many western countries in war during the 20th century, and finally, the USA cannot seem to keep herself out of a war at any time in the last fifty years. China’s moralist tone and skill at balance of power politics has kept the peace so far. Whether the country can continue to grow peacefully while simultaneously making greater demands on the world's resources, will be worth living to experience.

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Emanuel Paparella2008-02-26 12:52:49
Given that the Marxist ideology is a Western one based on the analysis of economic and military power (how to get it, how to retain it) are we to be surprised that the paradigms are the same. Are we to expect different results from the same rationale? If truth be told, the will to power is the ultimate crude ideology of the 20th century in the West mitigated somewhat only by responsibility and democracy. Where democracy does not exist the ultimate results will unfortunately be much worse. We are in for jolly times in the West as we re-arrange the chairs on the Titanic...

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