Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Orient Express

If you were to hear the Chinese ambassador to the UN speak you would not be alone to wonder which school of diplomacy he attended. He is very clear about presenting China's policies to the world. You even have to admire the man for at least having the gumption to say what he means when it comes to world politics and the last-minute "diplomacy" run by the US to keep all the fires in the world barely in check. In a recent interview which got wide coverage in print and AV media, he reiterates that China's military build up is for self-defense (!!!ok!!!) and tells the US to "shut up" and look to itself before pointing fingers. He also goes on to say that one inch of land is more important to the Chinese polity than the lives of all its people. Strong words.

Now, as far as military buildup being for self-defense, I do have trouble buying that argument when the same military is being used to forcibly keep Tibet a part of China, attacking India without provocation in 1962, suppressing popular demonstrations from its own public mercilessly, etc. However, if I look at the fact that the US has the world's largest military expenditure, which is also ostensibly for self-defense, but is used to wage war on other nations and people, then I have to say it is high time someone did tell the US off for being a hypocrite. Sadly, the only one who have the muscles and the guts to do this will probably be the other contenders for world hegemony. :( Oh woe to the rest of us.

China has been flexing its political muscles more and more as it has learnt to play the economic game that goes under the name of democracy but is really all about capitalism. Who cares about democracy as long as free market and consumerism rules? After all that is the medicine the west has been selling for awhile hasn't it? And now how are they to call China on it when they want its cheap products and even more importantly, they want access to its enormous market? Trapped in a mire of our own making.

As clearly stated by the ambassador, one inch of land is more important to China than all its people's lives put together. This is nationalism taken to an extreme and it certainly doesn't fit the line of self-defense and peaceful, economic rise well. It is Tibet today, Taiwan tomorrow (most nations don't recognize this island nation anymore anyway so who is going to shed a tear on its re-aborption into the motherland), disputed borders and islands in the ocean the day after... I am not saying that China's ambition is to take over the world (not militarily anyway, as of now). But I can see a day when China goes from manning its borders to keep the people in to patrolling it to keep the non-Chinese out. Movements that promote jingoistic nationalism are more likely to spawn feelings of superiority amongst its espousers and followers and xenophobia towards others. (You already see this in Tibet -the Han Chinese have overrun the peaceful, monastery-studded landscape.) All the makings of a hegemon? You decide.

On an aside, speaking of "Movements that promote jingoistic nationalism [which] are more likely to spawn feelings of superiority amongst its espousers and followers and xenophobia towards others" - the American and European push against immigrants and policies towards poorer nations of the world that are seen as not having much to offer is a lovely case in point- but we will leave that for another time.

While the US has been busy stoking and controlling fires around the world, China has been making some serious inroads into South America and Africa. Continents and nations that have largely been ignored by the west as not accounting for much on the political stage. Brazil for instance, has been crying for the WTO and the west to give it fair breaks so it can grow and feed its people. All it gets instead are selfish fights about subsidies. China enters stage when it realizes it has huge resource needs as well as a need to legitimize its position as a political heavy. It can do both by offering African and South American nations investment and technology without too many strings attached. So for instance, it allows regimes such as Mugabe's Zimbabwe and the Sudanese government to continue to tyrannize its own people as long as they provide China's energy needs in return for investments.

Of course, not all the governments it deals with are banana republics. This means that some of those investments are really going to pay off in a good way. For the first time, some nations are getting a serious player in world politics giving them attention and much-needed financial and technological assistance. The rest of the developed world should feel ashamed. They have been throwing pennies at these poorer nations everytime there was a "humanitarian" crisis without making a serious and sustained commitment to help. How will they now deal with the growing legitimacy that China will gain to these nations as a friend, a success, a country like their own that has been able to bring 400 million people out of poverty?

The sad thing is that China may be doing what it is doing for selfish reasons. But the sadder thing is that the "ethically" minded and democratic west did not do anything even for selfish reasons.

[All pictures taken from the BBC news website- thanks!]

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