Why are so many of us—and not just in the West, but out here in Asia as well—are having so much trouble coming to terms with the idea of a strong China?
Let me enumerate some myths and facts about China.
Has China ever invaded another country?
Browsing Chinese history, there were so many empires and kingdoms conquering each other and countries borders moving miles to the North and miles to the East. Conquerors like Genghis Khan (a Mongol), Alexander The Great, Napoleon, Julius Caesar, British and Spanish monarchies easily come to mind. So it’s quite disingenuous to apply the modern-day perspective on war to historical events.
China gives the impression that she has never invaded any other country, and yet every powerful nation finds the need to flex its muscles now and then. Remember the Great Wall?
China during the Qing Dynasty occasionally invaded and absorbed many (Chinese) territories that were not yet countries at that time but tribes and smaller states.
Has China ever invaded another country? No, not Japan or Mongolia. China invaded China. Technically that’s not another country, but those who lost might disagree. Initially, when the People’s Republic of China was founded, it did not control most of the western and southern parts of mainland China, and ever since, the Republic of China has been back and forth over Taiwan. Its real intention is to take over this sovereign territory since it is not possible that there can be more than one legitimate government of China. Considering the agreement and reaffirmation of the Republic of China in 1992, on such historical ground, it can be argued that any invasion of Taiwan cannot be considered an occupation per se.
Invasion of South Korea and North Korea in 1950?
It was not an invasion, but an intervention. It occurred when the UN armies got too close for comfort to the Chinese border (something the US has always denied) when there were various talks with the US forces to keep occupying Manchuria. Remember Gen. Douglas MacArthur who wanted to conquer China as well?
On pollution and environmental disasters:
We hear Western concerns over China’s violations against the environment. Yet we forget who INVENTED the pollutants —coal, electricity, railroads, oil drills and refineries, toxic wastes on rivers, oil spills, internal combustion engines and nuclear power plants. They all point to “Industrial America” and the rest of the Western world. Is it not true that China’s pollution started when the West started building and transferring huge manufacturing plants in the heart of mainland China?
Recall that at the end of 2012, there were 1,308 coal-fired power generating units spread across 557 power plant sites in the US with a total capacity to generate 310 gigawatts of electricity. That year, 10.2 gigawatts of coal-fired capacity were retired, or 3.2 percent of the country’s 2011 capacity.
But wait, there’s more:
Nuclear Power in the USA:
• The US is the world’s largest producer of nuclear power, accounting for more than 30 percent of worldwide nuclear generation of electricity.
• The country’s 99 nuclear reactors produced 805 billion kWh in 2016, almost 20 percent of total electrical output. There are two reactors under construction.
• Following a 30-year period, in which few new reactors were built, it is expected that two more new units will come online soon after 2020, these resulting from 16 license applications made since mid-2007 to build 24 new nuclear reactors.
* * *
We fear the economic might of China. Yet we fail to see that the new wealth for China’s 1.3 billion people means 1.3 billion more people who can buy stuff from the rest of the world, creating jobs from American research labs to Japanese industrial zones to Brazilian mines. A global economy no longer solely dependent on US consumers for growth is potentially more stable and prosperous.
Many don’t acknowledge China’s positive role in the world economy at all. Instead, they focus on the competition China has created, especially for the developed world, or the jobs many believe China has “stolen.” However, even those who realize, or even directly benefit from, China’s advance still can’t, but feel uneasy about that advance.
But why is that? Why do we fear a rising China in a way we don’t a rising India?
Or why is an economically powerful China less acceptable than, for example, a stronger Europe?
There are few countries in the world that have benefited more from China’s rapid economic growth than Australia. The boom in exports Australia has enjoyed due to surging Chinese demand, especially for raw materials, is a key reason—perhaps the determining factor—why the country avoided a recession after the 2008 financial crisis.
Americans are queasy that the Chinese own so much US debt. The Japanese own just about as much, but that doesn’t seem to bother anybody.
The world smirked when China’s Anbang Insurance Group bought the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York for $1.95 billion in 2014. In recent years, Americans got all jittery about a Chinese attempt to buy oil firm Unocal.
Where were they when Sony acquired Columbia Pictures and Australian born Rupert Murdoch bought 20th Century Fox? Where were they when the Japanese took control of Rockefeller Center and Pebble Beach?
That may be part of the story today with China as well. But the issues are far more complex than that. In the West, Europeans and Americans have dominated the world scene for so many centuries that they are uncomfortable with the notion of someone else claiming the throne of global hegemony.
The reasons many fear China today are very similar. China, too, uses a competing economic model —“state capitalism”—that challenges the economic ideology of the West. The reason maybe is the political ideology behind China’s economic ascent that completely counters Western ideals about democracy and human rights. China is not just competing with the US in world markets, but offering up an entirely different economic and political system, one that at times seems better at creating growth and jobs, even as it restricts much-cherished civil liberties. China is succeeding based on ideas that Americans despise.
When the US took over global leadership from a waning British Empire, the world had a pretty good idea what to expect—that overall, the US would continue to hold to ideas of free enterprise and democracy. Now an equally important shift is taking place—the rise of the East—but it’s not so clear what it all means for the direction of global civilization.
So maybe, that’s what we fear most of all. The UNCERTAINTY of a fundamentally changing world and NOT China per se.
The last thing China wants is conflict to distract from all that money-making. From stabilizing the Middle East, to neutralizing Islamist radicalism or countering nuclear proliferation, China and the West have shared interests. Beijing hates being lectured, but approached sensitively, China could become a vital partner for protecting peace and stability.
Better strong than weak
Hillary’s husband Bill once contended that a prosperous China is less of a threat than one that is weak and poor. In economic terms, if the new US trade policies are implemented, the fast-growing wages in China’s vast manufacturing sector will rapidly erode China’s low-cost advantage. By some estimates, it could soon be cheaper to make stuff in the US. If China’s growth were to grind to a halt, sparking social unrest among its 1.3 billion people, the world might really have SOMETHING TO FEAR.
Good work, good deeds and good faith to all.