It is sometimes puzzling why many people cannot see what is obvious before their very eyes and this extends to foreign relations.
If you listen to most economists these days they would say that the more international trade expands the better off we all are. They posit that certain nations make or produce certain things more ‘efficiently’ than others – that efficiency may stem from better raw supplies, better processes or lower wages among other factors – and it makes little sense for everyone to reinvent the wheel as it were.
As a result, some products we consume come from lands far away and arrive at our doorsteps through a complicated system of manufacturing, shipping and distribution. There are a lot of moving parts and any obstacle at any one point, say a labour strike or a pandemic, can throw a spanner in the whole shebang. Still we are told this system is better.
This is of course very different than what I remember growing up in Central Canada. My hometown of London had its own steel works, a car factory nearby and a host of other industries that made consumer items we all used. The notion that you would use something produced half a world away was not as prevalent.
My how things have changed!
‘Made in China’
Gone, for the most part, are the days I recall where if you read that something was ‘Made in China’ it was seen as a joke, a cheap thing of little value. Today the reality is quite the opposite. If you were to look around your home and check to see the provenance of just about everything you use on a daily basis I would bet dollars to donuts you’d see a label announcing ‘Made in China’ (at least the donuts are still made here…I think!). And it is not just the quantity that has increased: the quality is generally much better too.
Yes, China has become an international economic powerhouse. By some estimates, that nation’s economy will surpass the world’s leader in that department for decades, the US, by 2028. That is seven years from now. Wow!!
And it is not only in the sphere of what it makes and sells where the PRC is throwing its weight around. It is becoming aggressive internally, locally and internationally with its policies of the suppression of dissent (Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong are three examples) and geographic dominance (South China Sea and Sea of Japan claims come to mind).
This newfound arrogance and bullying is evident more and more. Any nation that dares to criticise anything China does anywhere is immediately met with threats, largely (so far) of an economic nature. Just ask Australia, which invited embargoes on a lot of what it sends to the PRC after it dared to take the Chinese government to task over truly heinous acts such as the ongoing genocide in Xinjiang Province as well as something as innocuous as asking for an inquiry into the COVID-19 outbreak (which happened in China in case you forgot).
Now, you would think that most likeminded nations of what we call the ‘West’, as well as anyone else that cares about things like, oh I dunno, human rights, would join forces to push back.
Well, you’d be wrong
I came across an op-ed piece in The Economist‘s The World in 2021 penned by Kishore Mahbubani from the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore that had me doing a double take. Mr. Mahbubani wrote that “History has turned a corner. The era of Western domination is ending” (where have we heard THAT before?). He goes on to heap praise on China, which he thinks will centre the ‘dawn of the Asian century’, by citing its ‘competent response’ to the coronavirus, its ‘quality of governance’, and its ‘robust public-policy measures’ to solve COVID (gee, I wonder if he is as impressed with the ‘robustness’ of China’s ‘public-policy measures’ in Xinjiang??
He goes on and on and concludes by actually stating that “Paradoxically, a China-led order could turn out to be a more “democratic” one. China does not want to export its model. It can live with a diverse, multi-polar world. “
No it can’t. If you want to read a more factual account of what China really is check out the weekly Chaguan column, also in The Economist, particularly this one entitled “China doubles down in Xinjiang“. Another good piece is by the National Post‘s Kelly McParland: “Who exactly is Beijing trying to fool?“
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Second largest economy
China has absolutely no interest in being a responsible international partner. It is interested only in furthering its influence and will do what it can to get its way. The fact that it is the planet’s second largest economy (and soon to be first as already noted) with by far the world’s largest army (with nukes too!) and engages in increasingly far-flung actions in areas such as the Arctic (not to mention the colossal Belt-Road Initiative whereby it builds infrastructure in poor countries that cannot afford it and takes possession when the bill comes due), should worry us. A lot. There is even a report that it has paid bounties in Afghanistan to terrorists to kill US soldiers.
And yet what people such as Mr. Mahbubani are doing is also of concern. He, and others such as former Canadian Ambassador to China John McCallum, are what the Soviets used to call during the Cold War ‘useful idiots’, individuals who would say or do anything to support communism despite clear indications of its brutality. I am not a conspiracy theorist so I don’t want to go down the road of who is in the pay of whom, but at a minimum these people who sing China’s praises are dolts.
So, repeat after me: China is not ‘our’ friend, whether by ‘our’ I mean both the West in general and any other nation for that matter. It is a nation bent on hegemonic aims, does not share any of ‘our’ values, has absolutely no respect for human rights and seems to think that the use of force is still an acceptable way to win minds and hearts.
Maybe this tactic continues to work. That does not mean we have to accept it lying down. It is time to call a spade a spade and push back.
And it is time for the useful idiots to take a cold, hard look at what they are supporting.