Why the World Needs to Stop Admiring the “Rise of China”

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Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.

Up until now, if you’re in tune with world affairs, you will have heard the phrase “the rise of China” spoken on numerous occasions. Explanations, answers and narratives are as diverse as the human population, but one thing that commonly occurs among many curious observers is a sense of “admiration” at the breakneck pace at which China has grown in the past decades, and not without good reason.

As Napoleon Bonaparte rightly predicted:

let China sleep, for when she awakes, she will shake the world

Napoleon is now firmly asleep but China has long awoken and has shaken the world’s boundaries beyond comprehension, hence the endless fascination and admiration attached to China’s astounding rise. For many years, I was very much fascinated with the re-emergence of China myself. I dug into its history, its economic reforms and its political structure in an avid search for answers. But, after travelling around the country and observing recent developments, as I will later explain in this article, I believe the rise of China from this point onwards needs to be met with more “caution and scepticism”.

Tiananmen Square And Forbidden City Entrance | Credit: Joe Hunt [CC By 2.0], via Flickr
The primary, and perhaps most compelling reason to raise an eyebrow at China’s newly-found power is its worsening record of Human Rights Abuses. The Chinese state has currently put over a million Uyghur Muslims in what they describe as “re-education camps” in Xinjiang. This is a regime to forcefully indoctrinate and brainwash a community with an ideology that ultimately commands loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party. The details are endless and equally horrifying, but the story doesn’t end here.

The Chinese State has a history of harsh repression of the Tibetans in Tibet, pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong, and a several thousand Human Rights lawyers in the Mainland. Recently, persecution of Christians has also geared up, as the faith has become increasingly popular over the years. Let’s also not forget the depth the Chinese State is willing to go to crush dissent, even if it means massacring thousands of students in Tiananmen Square with the People’s “Liberation” Army’s roaring tanks.

It’s evident that ‘freedom’ isn’t a well-received word by the ‘Chinese State’; many young students I spoke to in China echoed the same message, that despite China’s astronomic growth, it has taken a disturbing turn towards authoritarianism and repression of even the slightest signs of dissent within society. The more empowered the Chinese State finds itself in the world, the more it becomes lead-resistant to any form of criticism from both inside and outside its borders. In a world economy with sluggish growth and market routs, countries understandably fear the worst if they dare to disappoint the red dragon.

Xi Jinping | Credit: Narendra Modi [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
As hinted above, the averseness the Chinese government has shown to criticism has indirectly exported its censorship beyond its borders, in countries that should be models of free expression. China’s government is allegedly spying on Chinese students on American campuses, and policing their activities abroad through unidentifiable spies.  This also includes China’s support of authoritarian and undemocratic regimes in countries like Egypt, Myanmar and Maldives.

My travels in China last year with a tour of its companies, revealed another troubling reality, that China seems to have mastered some of the most draconian forms of technology the world has ever seen. Some of the most lucrative, emerging and “export-friendly” technologies include mass-surveillance technologies designed to spot and stifle dissent before it’s even exposed to the world. Authoritarian states around the world know who to rely on if they ever need a friend. The trends also seem to point towards a more assertive and aggressive Chinese State, led by an equally totalitarian emperor, namely, president-for-life Xi Jinping.

Once upon a time, the West embraced the rise of China as an unrivalled economic opportunity. A China that’s well-integrated into the global system was hoped that it would democratise and liberalise its political system accordingly. This hope has proven miserably shattered. As the Chinese leadership, today finds itself in the world with an unprecedented level of confidence and influence, the prospects for a declining West look bleak.

A new “Beijing consensus” seeks to destabilise the prevailing consensus of the world, with effects that still remain to be fully seen. The Western system of liberal democracy, despite its many flaws and broken promises, is undoubtedly losing its appeal. This process of decline will only worsen as China increases its foothold in the world. We haven’t gotten everything right, and I will never pretend that the West is any more superior, morally or culturally; that isn’t what this article is about.

But if there’s something I sincerely value in liberal democracies, it’s the freedom of opinion, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the many more fundamental freedoms and civil liberties that we have internalised as part of our political culture. This is the blessing of a democracy that never really goes away, the ability to challenge power, debate, and collectively design solutions for our challenges.

Does this mean China must be reviled on the world stage, or that we must mobilise our troops and prepare for limited war on China’s rim? Certainly not.

Destructive solutions will only put us into worse predicaments, as past experience has shown us. What’s more important is that we stick firmly to our values and ideals, stand our ground even if it means having to endure small economic costs, and lead the world by example, that will ensure to protect our standing in the world. In other words, it has never been a more critical time to defend liberal democracy, and the fundamental ideas that underpin it, (whilst we still can). A fitting response to contemporary developments in China will, therefore, be of increased “caution and scepticism”, as opposed to economic opportunism inherently driven by a sense of wonder and admiration at China’s economic boom.

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