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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

The new China can also be an improved China

October 1, 2009

By Pravit Rojanaphruk
nationmultimedia - September 30, 2009

AS CHINA prepares to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of
the People's Republic on October 1, many people the world over have already
become accustomed to thinking of China as the new global superpower.

Some can't help but wonder, however, if China is ready to wow and inspire
the world beyond its phenomenal economic growth rate, beyond the lavish
hosting of international events such as last year's Olympics, and beyond its
impressive skyscrapers in megacities like Shanghai.

This is because there are other Chinas: China as a big environmental
polluter; China as a repressive and anti-democratic regime that severely
curbs freedom of expression both online and off-line; China accused of
cultural genocide in Tibet and Xinjiang; China which literally buys
influence by offering big loans and aid, in dubious ways, to countries with
dubious regimes.

The last point is highlighted with increasing alarm not just in third- and
fourth-world countries in Africa, but beyond. The New York Times published
an investigative report on a recent front page detailing how the Chinese
government has offered big low-interest loans to African countries like
Namibia in exchange for having Namibia in return buy $US55.3 million worth
of Chinese-made cargo scanners to deter smugglers. Chinese President Hu
Jintao's son was until recently allegedly running the state-controlled
company selected by China to provide the scanners.

"Now the scanners seem to illustrate something else: The aura of
"boosterism", secrecy and back-room deals that has clouded China's use of
tens of billions of dollars in foreign aid to court the developing world,"
the New York Times article of September 22 stated.

Huge amounts of natural resources in developing countries are being tapped
by China in environmentally damaging and unsustainable ways, to fuel China's
insatiable energy demands for economic growth.

Closer to home, let us not harbour any illusions as to how Burma's brutal
and repressive military regime could have survived economically if it were
not for China's massive trade and aid.

So is the face and behaviour of the new global superpower acceptable? Does
the world really need yet another evil empire?

After 60 years, people may still wonder if and when will the world will see
a new and inspiring China - a China that is not just economically big and
bad abroad while politically brutal at home, but one that is more altruistic
both at home and beyond.

This is not just for the good of the rest of the world but for China as
well. The way China engages with much of the developing world will likely
backfire and create a feeling of animosity towards the new middle kingdom.
China need not compete with America in a downward spiral that will leave the
rest of the world to choose between the lesser of two evils.

China can try to grow less spectacularly while building a more solid and
altruistic partnership with the developing world. It must not succumb to
merely being an agent of more political repression, abuse, corruption and
environmental exploitation in other countries - intentionally or not.

Soft diplomacy and soft power can be about a greener China promoting
alternative energy sources such as solar energy, something the Chinese
government is already on the right path with. China can also exercise its
wealth and power responsibly, constructively and in a sustainable fashion.

On the cultural level, this must include a more sensitive Chinese tourist
abroad who does not eat wild animals that are in danger of extinction, and
who is more sensitive to and appreciative of local cultures in host
societies.

China can also be a superpower that promotes healthy alternative medicine
and a healthy way of life.

Eventually, China will have to become more democratic and respectful of
human rights and liberty, even if not on the Westminster or Washington
model.

Without all these improvements China cannot hope to become an inspiring
superpower that the world respects. Instead it will risk plotting its own
demise as it accumulates resentment and more enemies.

No amount of spectacular and lavish events such as the Olympics, or the
sending of cute pandas or big loans will help otherwise. The world indeed
has a high stake in wanting to see a more benevolent and responsible China,
and it's time that Chinese and non-Chinese alike thought about the matter in
earnest.

As China celebrates the sixtieth anniversary of the republic, it can be
proud of many undoubtedly well-deserved achievements. On its sixtieth
birthday, I wish for a better China.

The Nation's Pravit Rojanaphruk is a Katherine Fanning fellow at the
Kettering Foundation in Dayton, Ohio.
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