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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

China-bashing is a blind man's game

May 7, 2008

By David Gosset
Asia Times
May 7, 2008

For the global village, China's renewal is a source of economic growth, a factor of stability and an invitation to explore new ideas. In fact, through countless material or intellectual Silk Roads, an unprecedented intensity of exchanges between China and the world is already taking the global system to another level. Businesses, governments' priorities and academic institutions have been transformed by this complex but promising process.

However, some fail to grasp the big picture, and for them, China's re-emergence generates anxiety. This explains partly why nervousness is a recurring element of the Sino-Western relationship. In the midst of a phase of tension, one has to draw the attention to what really matters and to show the ways which can lead to a more serene climate.

Recently, China and the overseas Chinese had to respond to various forms of attack. Those, mainly in the West, whose aim was to damage China's reputation and to disrupt the preparation of the Beijing Olympics are now largely discredited and relatively marginalized. They wanted to weaken China, they gave her an occasion to show her solidity, her resolve and sense of responsibility.

Unfortunately, they have created a situation where too much mistrust, resentment and confusion remain. This takes the energies away from what should be Washington, Brussels and Beijing's strategic goal: a cooperative and constructive Sino-Western relationship, keystone of the 21st century global order. Clarity, measure and purpose can help dissipate the clouds.

Negative comments on the Chinese world often reflect Western ignorance of a different context, its globally positive socio-economic transformation - including in Tibet and in Xinjiang - and, for some of its parts, its modernity. And, when a CNN commentator calls the Chinese "goons and thugs" and says that the products manufactured in China are "junk", or when the new mayor of London writes that "Chinese cultural influence is virtually nil, and unlikely to increase", ignorance becomes foolishness.

But the Western "China-bashing" is also highly counterproductive. Anti-Chinese rhetoric or behaviors can only generate anti-Western attitudes within China. While Beijing and the West need to join forces to solve the immediate environmental, political and economic problems threatening global equilibrium, irresponsible activists and politicians are taking the risk to ignite new sterile antagonisms. There would be no winner in such a confrontational configuration.

Western officials have also to realize that by their harsh, accusatory and unfair criticisms, they reinforce China's most conservative forces. The Chinese reformers working for the deepening of Deng Xiaoping's "Reform and Opening-up" need constructive and subtle international partners, not arrogant foreign demagogues manipulating issues for their own domestic and short-term political gains.

Moreover, and over the longer term, inaccurate reports or insulting remarks by Western commentators undermine the West's intellectual and moral credibility. It is the emulation between rich and nuanced analyses, and not new forms of opposition between dogmatic statements, which can enrich the debate.

What can be done to overcome the current difficulties facing the Sino-Western relationship? Several elements have to be considered. Some are recommendations that can have almost immediate effects, some are principles for the foundation of a cooperative future between China and the West.

Obviously, the Beijing Olympics are attracting the world's attention but one has to put this sporting event in its proper place. Despite all the excitement and passion about the 2008 Games, one should keep in mind that they are a very small chapter of what is arguably the most significant story of our time, China's renaissance. By putting the Games in perspective all the parties can more easily stay within the limits of reason, the main parameter of a strong Sino-Western relationship.

One can not expect China, the US and the European Union to agree on everything, and one should be ready to accept differences and even tensions between the three poles. If properly managed, tensions do not have to lead to conflicts, but can conduct to adjustments and improvement.

Some in Washington and Brussels have not yet fully realized that China is a mature and sophisticated sovereign entity able to discern and defend its best interests. Excessive paternalism or a mere superiority complex can even lead to the assumption that one can dictate its policies to China. During the 19th and the first half of the 20th century, a declining Chinese world yielded to foreign imperial ambitions. The leadership of the post-1949 China will not replay this episode of humiliation. In the 21st century, Brussels and Washington can formulate advice or suggestions on issues connected with the Chinese world, but certainly not unilaterally impose their views on China. Beijing and the West, as co-architects of the world order, have to learn to co-decide. Through dialogue and negotiation, they can reach this goal.

In March, riots in Tibet legitimately caused concern. Everything has to be done to avoid the repetition of such tragic events. However, problems in Tibet are China's internal affairs - the Dalai Lama is not asking for Tibet's independence. A constructive way to help Tibet's modernization would be for Western companies to invest in the autonomous region (Corporate Social Responsibility should not be only the object of academic discussions in business schools), and for Western institutions to conceive, in coordination with the Chinese authorities, genuine cooperation projects (modest but concrete actions are more effective than grandiloquent speeches and spectacular communication). But Chinese and Western efforts to bring development in Tibet will have to be articulated with the adaptation of a Buddhist society to the changes induced by socio-economic modernization.

Media have, among other things, the responsibility to introduce China's transformation to the Western world. Journalists have to be open to the Chinese world's significant developments. Often they fail to do that. The relatively limited coverage of the new dynamics between Beijing and Taipei is a good illustration of this incomplete reporting. On March 22, Ma Ying-Jeou was elected president of Taiwan. A rapprochement between Beijing and Taipei followed. On April 12, China’s President Hu Jintao met Taiwanese Vice President-elect Vincent Siew in Boao, on Hainan island. On April 29, Lien Chan, the ruling Kuomintang party's honorary chairman, met with Hu Jintao in Beijing. These encounters pave the way for the intensification of the economic links between Taiwan and the continent and boost Greater China's dynamism. Western populations deserve to be adequately informed on changes of this importance.

The current French administration did choose to lead the protest against what it framed as China's crackdown in Tibet. In March, Bernard Kouchner, the French Minister for Foreign Affairs, declared that the European Union should consider the idea of boycotting the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. It was a mistake. In general, this French government did not follow what Hubert Vedrine, former French Minister for Foreign Affairs, recommended in his Report for the French President on France and Globalization (September 2007). "More modesty on this point [human rights] would more conform with the reality and would not weaken our concrete efforts to support human rights."

In July, Paris will take over the rotating presidency of the European Union. This presidency has to serve the vision of a positive triangulation between Brussels, Washington and Beijing. In November 2007, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said to the Chinese news agency, Xinhua: "My ambition is to make 2008 a great Euro-Chinese year." This is a laudable project that has to be implemented.

China will, of course, greatly determine the quality of the Sino-Western relationship. Under current circumstances, Chinese society should remember that tranquil confidence is a very effective tool to neutralize all kind of provocative agitations. The Chinese people have also to know that there are large segments of the West that welcome China's renaissance and comprehend its contribution to the world.

In August, Beijing, and also Qingdao, Tianjin, Shanghai, Shenyang, Qinhuangdao and Hong Kong, will organize what could be one of the most successful Summer Games. They will manage to do so not because the Chinese people will be forced to stage a propagandistic display but because they will take great pride and pleasure in contributing to the success of a global event. Those who are still calling for the boycott of a part, or even the totality, of such an event are only making a demonstration of their ignorance or shortsightedness.

The Games of the 29th Olympiad, and in two years, the Shanghai World Expo, are two events that illustrate a more fundamental reality: China's renaissance offers to the world as much as the world brings to China. Sterile and bitter confrontation will not stop creative Sino-Western synergy.

David Gosset(Copyright 2008 David Gosset.) is director of the Academia Sinica Europaea at China Europe International Business School, Shanghai, and founder of the Euro-China Forum. In September 2008, the 7th Euro-China Forum will take place in Kiev, Ukraine. The opinions expressed in this article neither engage the Academia Sinica Europaea nor the Euro-China Forum.

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