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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

How China Sees the World

March 24, 2009

Indian Express
March 23, 2009

It is an ill wind that blows no one any good. For
many in China even the buffeting by the gale that
has hit the global economy has a bracing message.
The rise of China over the past three decades has
been astonishing. But it has lacked the one
feature it needed fully to satisfy the
ultranationalist fringe: an accompanying decline
of the West. Now capitalism is in a funk in its
heartlands. Europe and Japan, embroiled in the
deepest post-war recession, are barely worth
consideration as rivals. America, the superpower,
has passed its peak. Although in public China's
leaders eschew triumphalism, there is a sense in
Beijing that the reassertion of the Middle
Kingdom's global ascendancy is at hand.

China's prime minister, Wen Jiabao, no longer
sticks to the script that China is a humble
player in world affairs that wants to focus on
its own economic development. He talks of China
as a "great power" and worries about America's
profligate spending endangering his $1 trillion
nest egg there. Incautious remarks by the new
American treasury secretary about China
manipulating its currency were dismissed as
ridiculous; a duly penitent Hillary Clinton was
welcomed in Beijing, but as an equal. This month
saw an apparent attempt to engineer a low-level
naval confrontation with an American spy ship in
the South China Sea. Yet at least the Americans
get noticed. Europe, that speck on the horizon,
is ignored: an EU summit was cancelled and France
is still blacklisted because Nicolas Sarkozy dared to meet the Dalai Lama.

Already a big idea has spread far beyond China:
that geopolitics is now a bipolar affair, with
America and China the only two that matter. Thus
in London next month the real business will not
be the G20 meeting but the "G2" summit between
Presidents Barack Obama and Hu Jintao. This not
only worries the Europeans, who, having got rid
of George Bush's unipolar politics, have no wish
to see it replaced by a Pacific duopoly, and the
Japanese, who have long been paranoid about their
rivals in Asia. It also seems to be having an
effect in Washington, where Congress's
fascination with America's nearest rival risks acquiring a protectionist edge.

Reds under the bed

Before panic spreads, it is worth noting that
China's new assertiveness reflects weakness as
well as strength. This remains a poor country
facing, in Mr Wen's words, its most difficult
year of the new century. The latest wild guess at
how many jobs have already been lost-20m-hints at
the scale of the problem. The World Bank has cut
its forecast for China's growth this year to 6.5
per cent. That is robust compared with almost
anywhere else, but to many Chinese, used to
double-digit rates, it will feel like a
recession. Already there are tens of thousands of
protests each year: from those robbed of their
land for development; from laid-off workers; from
those suffering the side-effects of environmental
despoliation. Even if China magically achieves
its official 8 per cent target, the grievances will worsen.
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