WORLD

DOES CHINA HAVE IT RIGHT?

MAURICE STRONG August 18 2008
WORLD

DOES CHINA HAVE IT RIGHT?

MAURICE STRONG August 18 2008

WORLD

DOES CHINA HAVE IT RIGHT?

Beijing is riding the wave of the future, argues a renowned internationalist

MAURICE STRONG

The China as portrayed in much of the Western media is far from the China that those of us who live here as foreigners, sharing in the excitement and the progress of this remarkable and dynamic country, find so com-

pellingly attractive. As one who has been coming to China for more than 40 years and who now spends most of his time here, I cannot help but contrast, with dismay, what see and experience here with the negative image to which so many in the West are exposed. Even the outpouring of sympathy at the tragic earthquake that caused such severe death and suffering in Sichuan province is accompanied by attempts by some to blame this on the Chinese government. Yet, no government could have responded so efficiently and expeditiously to a disaster of such immense proportions, and few if any are better prepared to do so.

True, the devastating impact of this earthquake and its aftermath reveal weaknesses and inadequacies in governance at the local level. China has been making progress in building a vibrant, modern society, but inevitably it still has to cope with massive problems left by its turbulent past. Still, that progress is clearly remarkable by any standard. China has raised more people out of poverty than any nation has ever done, and it is deeply committed to its objective of ensuring that

those who have been left behind are able to participate in the benefits of its dynamic economy.

The constraints that the Chinese and foreigners living here continue to experience are minimal and for the most part understandable, given that no nation has suffered from societal breakdown, internal conflict and foreign intervention more than China has in the past century. It is a small wonder that the Chinese place such emphasis on the need for internal stability and security. And both the Chinese and the foreigners who appreciate the benefits of this understand and are impressed by the advancements that continue to be made in the movement toward more democratic processes and respect for human rights.

Indeed, we must realize that even in our own societies the standards we exhort China to adopt are those we have only recently, and not yet fully, lived up to ourselves. The Chinese will be much more influenced by our example than by the

uninformed and hypocritical content of so

much of our criticism.

Societies progress at different speeds, and in different ways, toward incorporation into their political and social systems of the highest principles and values to which they aspire. China has made immense progress toward meeting the goals and objectives articulated by its leaders of producing a harmonious society guided by science that will meet the needs and aspirations of all its people and contribute to a more sustainable and equitable world society. Indeed, it is embarking on a distinctive and unprecedented pathway to a new model of development based on utilizing the methods of capitalism to achieve the goals of socialism—a socialist market economy. The entire world has a great stake in the success of China in making this transformation. Following the example of the traditional industrialized countries would not be sustainable for China, or for the world. To be sure, this is a monumental challenge that is still a work in progress. But it is in all of our interests that China be successful in doing so, and that we lend it our under-

THE CHINESE WILL BE MUCH MORE INFLUENCED BY OUR EXAMPLE THAN BY OUR CRITICISM

standing and support.

Hostile attitudes and policies aimed at undermining China’s progress and discrediting its policies and intentions can only be counterproductive, and contrary to our own interests. For there is not a single major world issue that can be resolved without China’s co-operation. It is not that we should forgo legitimate and constructive criticisms and differences, but that these be

resolved by engagement with China as a full partner, rather than by the kind of entrenched hostility and bias we so often display.

We should continue to facilitate China’s full participation in the policy and decisionmaking processes by which the future of all of us is being shaped. Climate change is an issue that is especially relevant. China realizes that it will be one of the most vulnerable victims of climate change and is already taking serious measures domestically to avert

these risks. But it cannot be expected to transform these into binding commitments that are not matched by firm and enforceable commitments by the countries, notably the United States, whose accumulated emissions of greenhouse gases have caused the irreversible damage already inflicted on the world. The attempt to shift the onus for climate change to China, India and other rapidly industrializing developing countries is neither fair nor workable.

China’s participation in the post-Kyoto agreements now being negotiated is necessary and will be forthcoming only on the basis of a fair sharing of responsibilities and

obligations in which those who have contributed most to the problem of climate change must take the lead. Similarly, the attempt to shift the onus for increases in food, oil and commodity prices to China, as well as India and others now competing for these imports, will be counterproductive. The needs of the poor and the newly developing countries cannot be subordinated to the wasteful and indulgent appetites of the rich

and their pre-emption of a disproportion of the world’s resources.

Co-operation and co-operative engagement, on a scale that is without precedent, are the only ways of resolving these matters, rather than allowing them to escalate into a new generation of conflict—a very real possibility. China’s role will be indispensable. It will be a willing and constructive participant in this process, but not a subservient one. The decisions taken by the G8 and other orga-

nizations that reflect the geopolitical alignments of the past cannot be expected to dictate the positions of China and other newly developing countries that not only represent a majority of the world’s people, but the largest share of its GNP and its continued economic growth. The countries that since the Second World War have dominated the institutions and dictated the terms of international co-operation must accommodate the reality that they are now a minority—a still influential one, but one that must make room for the new majority.

China’s commitment to internal security and stability and to regional and world peace must also be taken seriously. Unlike Japan, which has invaded and sought to dominate each of its neighbours, ceasing only when it was defeated in the Second World War, China’s territorial disputes with its neighbours have been confined to differences over their boundaries rather than attempts to occupy or annex them. It gives its own minorities a high degree of autonomy, including special rights such as exemption from the one-child policy, while rigorously resisting separatist tendencies, as most countries do.

Recent disturbances in Tibet were led by monks whose traditional privileges and control over the majority of the population has been severely curtailed, while the majority who live in poverty and serfdom are experiencing new opportunities as a result of the modernization of the Tibetan economy. To be sure, this process has been a difficult and even painful one for many, but both Chinese and Tibetans continue to learn and to accommodate the changes that will enable Tibet to retain its distinctive cultural and religious heritage while according its people new and growing opportunities for a better life. Even the Dalai Lama does not advocate

or expect the independence of Tibet from China, and his differences are related to the degree and nature of the autonomy Tibet could be given within China. Recent events that underscore continuing problems should not obscure the immense progress that has already been made.

Taiwan is the other main example of China’s unshakable commitment to retaining the integrity of its territory while accommodating the important differences that

exist between the two societies, as Beijing did with Hong Kong. China will continue to defend its own frontiers and territories while respecting the sovereignty of its neighbours and resolving differences with them peacefully. As for other frontier issues, like disputes with Japan over islands claimed by both, China is endeavouring to resolve them through peaceful negotiations.

WHATTHE WORLD NEEDS ISANEWAND IMMENSELY INCREASED DEGREE OF CO-OPERATION

The alternative, in all these issues and others, is an ominous and growing potential for conflict, at a time when what the world needs is a new and immensely increased degree of co-operation. This must be focused principally on those issues that affect the very survival of humankind, and must transcend the narrower and self-serving interests of individual nations. This requires a radical strengthening of the international agreements and institutions to foster extensive

co-operation, particularly a revitalized United Nations and its agencies.

China must be, and is, truly prepared to play a constructive and leading role in this process. It is in no one’s interest to continue to subject China to the uninformed, prejudiced and hostile attacks that can only serve to nourish its own nationalistic and unilateral tendencies. But China will not and cannot be expected to be subservient to the decisions and influences of the small number of more developed nations that continue to assert dominance in international policy, decision-making and institutions, which they have enjoyed for so long.

Uninformed and ideologically biased critics of China should ask themselves why it is that the majority of Chinese today are better off and better satisfied than ever, why more overseas Chinese are return-

ing to China, and why more foreigners are enjoying conditions of life here that make them want to stay, even if it involves changing their employment to do so. Indeed, I am one of the many who enjoy and appreciate being in China, and being caught up in the excitement of the remarkable dynamism of the unprecedented transition that this great nation is experiencing. Indeed, I feel privileged to participate in it. The re-emergence of China as a world leader is one of the most important events of this period of history, and one that will have a profound and decisive impact on the future of the entire human community. This is the China we know and want the entire world to know. The Beijing Olympics, which will focus the world spotlight on the new China, will provide a unique opportunity for the world to view China as its people and friends do. M