Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Look at China, again

China: A global role model?

ND Batra
From The Statesman

President Hu Jintao of China is visiting the Indian subcontinent this week to bolster trade ties with India as well as re-establish balance of power between India and Pakistan by offering the latter, according to reports, nuclear energy deals.

China has been growing at the rate of more than 9 percent for the past two decades or so, and is expected to become an economic and military heavy weight in the coming decades. Since the authoritarian rule has not held back China from growing at a phenomenal rate, it is legitimate to ask: How could they do so much in such a short time without freedom and civil liberties?
Even Vietnam, growing at more than 8 percent, has begun to follow the Chinese model.

May be Francis Fukuyama should revise his thesis which he prematurely delivered soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union: “What we are witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or a passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”

Rather too soon, I am afraid, the end of communism brought about a sense of complacency, a grand illusion as if it were the final triumph of freedom. Of course that did not happen. It did not happen in Russia after the Soviet Union disintegrated; and it did not happen in China in spite of 1989 Tiananman Square pro-democracy protests; and in spite of rapid economic growth and broadening prosperity under state controlled national mercantilism. China has no doubt ceased to be an imminent threat since its economic growth has become increasingly tied up with search for energy and other raw materials, foreign direct investment, and exports, especially to the United States.

Today China, ironically, is the United States’ biggest foreign lender; and so, unsurprisingly, human rights have ceased to be an issue in the United States-China relations. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker-elect of the House of Representatives, has been a great critic of China’s violation of human rights and unfair trade practices. But now that Democrats control both the Senate and the House, it has to be seen how far Speaker Pelosi would let her grandmotherly compassionate idealism be compromised by international realities of Chinese economic clout.

Recently when China said it might diversify its foreign exchange holdings, lo and behold, dollar began to slip. The dollar regained its dignity only when China assured that it had no intention of diversifying its dollar holdings in the United States. China holds $1 trillion in foreign currency reserves (a substantial portion in the US) and it is growing $20 billion annually, thanks to its export driven economy and controlled currency value, which some call as currency manipulation.

Between the United Sates and Saudi Arabia and other seemingly pro-American Muslim-Arab countries in the region, where fundamentalism has been holding a long sway, human rights and freedom were seldom an issue. After the 2001 terrorists attacks, the United States bonded with Pakistan using financial and military ties to make it an ally against the Taliban and Al-Qaida terrorism. And to maintain its relations with Pakistan, the United States soft peddled the issue of even the black-marketing of nuclear technology by one of the world’s most notorious scientists, AQ Khan. Military rules the land, albeit partially. “Jihadis” flourish.

Pakistan is not a failed state, but it is in a state of failure. It cannot govern itself alone. The United States has not given up the realpolitik of cosying up with authoritarian regimes regardless of its messianic fervour of spreading freedom universally.

The rhetoric of freedom and liberty seems to be a posture of public diplomacy for winning the hearts and minds of the Arab-Muslim world, but it is not working. Bush earnestly believes that the United States would remain vulnerable to terrorism so long tyranny and hate ideology prevailed abroad and for which, according to him, there’s no other solution except to expand freedom.

“The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world,” said Bush long ago, at the beginning of his second term; and so much has changed since then. But an Arab/Muslim might say, look at China, where 1.3 billion people work day and night to churn out goods for the entire world without much fuss about freedom. Bush dare not tell China, democratise or else, because China is America’s major moneylender.
One day China would say: Dollar or us (Yuan).

With Iraq in mind, Bush has no doubt been steadfast in his rhetoric that the US “has accepted obligations that are difficult to fulfill, and would be dishonorable to abandon.” Earlier elections in Afghanistan and the Palestinian Authority raised some hope that eventually elections and sharing of power in Iraq too might bring about the beginning of law and order in Iraq, but it hasn’t happened. Freedom to vote is not enough because it does not mean the end of violence, poverty and unemployment, which provide a fertile ground for more terrorism.

Many countries, from South-East Asia to Africa, look up to China for aid and trade and as a working model, rather than the United States. That is the biggest challenge for the US diplomacy today, and may be for India too.

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