“In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of.” – Confucius
China is still a paradox for the Western developed nations even as it slowly sips capitalism, converting itself into the second world economic power. What China may not be willing to wholly swallow is the tint of democracy that inevitably goes with economic wealth and prosperity, as very recently demonstrated in relation to the Nobel Peace Award.
To understand China and its strategy on international relations, one must either have lived in Asia amongst Chinese for some time or try to find a palpable example of how these perseverant people draw up their goals and lay out their strategy.
If one has ever had a chance to play Chinese Checkers, he/she would easily comprehend what the past weeks of international actions by Chinese dignitaries in several fronts represent. Decidedly, China has had to put its foot forward to seek recovery of its wavering prestige after the absence of Liu Xiaobo at the Oslo Nobel Peace Awards ceremony last December 10, 2010.
On the checkers board, China has come to realise the order of priorities of the other international powers seated at the games table. Its growing economic power is no longer doubted and even Japan has admitted that its Asian neighbour has surpassed Nippon economic might if not replaced it as Asia’s primary industrial nation. If there is an Asian trait where China outshines is in perseverance towards established goals; and the present-day Chinese regime has understood that whilst not having to relinquish its communist ideals, capitalism offers it the best launching pad towards economic prosperity. Kissinger’s role in the Ping-Pong Diplomacy with then China’s Prime Minister Chou En-lai led to the Communist regime taking over the UN seat the Nationalist Chinese had occupied since the organisation’s constitution in 1945. Ever since the Nixon Administration acknowledged in 1972 the existence of a Communist government (People’s Republic of China) in Beijing in the now famous Shanghai Communiqué during President Nixon’s week-long state visit to China, the trail was set for the USA to formally break diplomatic relations with its natural ally, the Taiwan-based Republic of China and establish formal relations with the larger mainland Chinese government in 1979.
Once the supreme world leader, the United States of America, took that step, all other democratic nations have the go-signal to establish open trade relations with the PRC. A few of the so-called non-aligned had already recognised diplomatically and some others had submerged trade relations behind the USA’s back. Year 1979 marked the turning point to openly trade with the nation with the world’s largest (and still growing) population.
Precisely what seems to have attracted most other states, China’s immense population as a potential market, could very well be the Communist regime’s ‘Achilles’ heel’ as time goes by. True to say, China has imposed birth controls measures some time ago to put a stop to the exponential growth of its population, especially in the rural area. However, as time goes by, the tides may have changed, especially in the macro-urban area such as Beijing & Shanghai. The high cost of living in tentative consumer zones discourage Chinese couples to have off-springs, leading to the initial break of birth of toddlers who would later have to support the burden of aging generations.
If China would look into this problem now, it would be faced with the true dilemma of its accelerated blossoming into one of the world’s leading economies. The problem China has yet to face is that of unequal wealth between urban citizens and those Chinese residing in rural, industrial and mining zones. It is creating a serious breach in consumer habits as well as modes of living that could very well end in a cause of medium-term future conflict.
China is converging into a unique model with a strengthened economy based both on its cheap labour and consistent industrial development. However, in the process, it is retaining the worst part of its Communist heritage and adopting the less solvent portion of democratic developed nations’ growth model that of a global unsupervised market. In the short-term, this has permitted China to take an empowerment role in international economics to the point it possesses the world’s Nº 1 bank and PRC’s investments in other states’ bonds. It has acquired businesses and land both in Latin America and Africa, in a clear attempt to diversify risk.
It has however not considered that the true risk to its upcoming combo-type regime that fails to relinquish old ideological traits whilst it embraces economic habits of Western democracies lies in splitting up of its vast population and territory into nuclei where one or the other purist model may finally wish to prevail. China should comprehend that it would prove insufficient to have a leader educated in the UK to make 1.350 million (1.35 B for Americans) citizens toe the line towards a democratic regime.
Furthermore, it will take more than mere networking at conferences such as the recently-ended Davos World Economic Forum (where China’s delegation passed from 6 in 2001 to 66 in 2010) or the state visits by its premier and vice-premier to the USA and the stronger EU states to really convert China into a full-pledged democracy. Such time is both far and near, depending on which side of the fence one may see it from.
Revolutions are not writhe in a day, much less in a vast territory subdued during decades by the charm of Mao Tse Tung. Nevertheless, few would have expected the turmoil that now plagues Egypt but had its first spark in Tunisia. Global communications is changing social interaction habits for good.
China has played well its external economic moves on the checkers board; to the point that major other players sit agape in admiration whilst freedom is curtailed. What goes on within the walls of that other China is another story and few abroad are aware of the tensions that may be developing. How long before China either proves the solvency of its economic power or succumbs to its evident internal socio-economic disorganisation?
In the Year of the Metal Rabbit that has just started, China may well have to turn inwards in order to reach the true goals desired by its now open-eyed citizens immersed in the new pleasures of a semi-restrained global consumer economy.