Is there a “good” and a “bad”? – OpEd – Eurasia Review
A recent article by Michael Schuman https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2021-06-27/china-does-foreign-policy-its-own-way-whatever-western-leaders-like-to-pretendn raises some fundamental philosophical questions. His argument is that China will – by and large – determine its own fundamental direction, future and foreign policy – despite attempts by the West to change them. I agree. But for Schuman, this is a bad thing as the West will eventually have to recognize and accommodate some of China’s values and interests. It can happen. But if it did, it wouldn’t be the first time that the rise of a nation has challenged and changed the existing dominant international system and its dominant values. This is neither “good” nor “bad” but the natural evolution of human international governance.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and his entourage see themselves as the heirs and performers of Mao’s legacy – the creation of a China that can and has resisted the West. https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy/article/3137521/chinese-people-have-stood-beijing-says-it-has-no-fear-us-eu They appear determined to restore the respect and dignity of China as a nation – and most importantly of the Chinese people – in the world, starting with Asia.
If that is the intention – and there are many signs indicating it – they are doing a good job. In any event, as Schuman puts it, Xi “has no intention of allowing the United States and its allies to mess things up” by embedding their values into China’s political and economic systems. During the celebrations for the century of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party, Xi said, “The Chinese people will never allow foreign forces to intimidate, oppress or enslave us. Anyone harboring illusions while doing this will break their heads and spill blood on the Great Wall of steel built from the flesh and blood of 1.4 billion Chinese people. ” https://www.nytimes.com/live/2021/06/30/world/china-communist-party -anniversary? campaign_id = 60 & emc = edit_na_20210630 & instance_id = 0 & nl = breaking-news & ref = cta®i_id = 68914441 & segment_id = 62263 & user_b96cfb18f30 92263 & user_b96cfb1830f -pekin-will-not-be-intimidated-by-foreign-forces This rhetoric is clearly addressed to its national audience, and the principle of not being “intimidated” is now a promise embedded in the national psyche. As such, Xi has therefore made challenges alien to his foreign policy – in the South China Sea – and elsewhere even more dangerous.
Schuman fears that “Beijing wants autocracies to be seen as as legitimate as democracies” and that “this poses a threat to the very foundation of the current world system” based on “democracy”.
Again, this can be the case. But in the broader sense of “democracy” – a people’s form of government is their own choice – unless and until they have the will and capacity to change it – such as the colonial revolts against imperialism of 18e through the 20e centuries embodied in America’s successful campaign for independence from its colonial master.
Moreover, the global international system is not purely “democratic” and never was – and was not intended to be, except perhaps in the minds of hopeless idealists. Indeed, international democracy would give a supranational body the power to make binding decisions on issues that could affect them – something the United States has always resisted. Moreover, international issues, including those essential to peace and security, are not decided by one country, one voice. Nations are not equal in terms of hard and soft power to influence others. They never have been and never will be. This reality is evident in the “invention” and acceptance by all UN members of the structure of the UN Security Council with the “right” of the five permanent members – China, France, the Russian Federation, The United Kingdom, and United States, to veto any decision or action of the UN that is not in their interest. The Security Council, led by these five “exceptional” countries, has primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. All UN member states are required to abide by the decisions of the Council. This system superimposes a layer of autocracy on a mythical democratic system of a nation, a voice.
If there was a purely democratic system, issues such as the violation of human rights by a nation would be decided by the majority. But the concept of human rights is a Western invention that probably evolved from recognition and regret of its own complicity in slavery, torture, genocide and war crimes. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_rights While there is general agreement that the term covers a wide range of rights, there are value-based disagreements about the priorities within that range.
In 2019, 22 countries, including Australia, Germany and the United Kingdom, sent a joint letter to the United Nations Human Rights Council condemning China’s treatment of Muslims in Xinjiang. https://www.smh.com.au/world/north-america/how-to-win-friends-and-influence-nations-china-and-the-us-battle-it-out-20210622-p58313. html China responded by organizing a letter signed by 50 countries which criticized the previous letter and opposed the “politicization of human rights issues.” So if these were majority rules, the West would be in the minority.
Worse yet, the West’s attempt to arm “human rights” is a great hypocrisy. All the great powers have abused their citizens and some still have not recognized or redeemed having done so to the satisfaction of the abused. For the United States, this includes the treatment of its indigenous peoples and slavery.
The clash of “values” raises the fundamental question of the purpose of particular sets of “values”. Is it a system that prioritizes the provision of basic human well-being for the majority – or a system based on the abstract notion of “liberty” to improve one’s condition at the expense of others? It seems to me that Schuman’s prefers the goal of individual advancement at the expense of the majority rather than that of uplifting the basic human condition of the majority. In this sense, the rise of China and the acceptance of its values may indeed pose a threat to the very foundation of the current world system, just as the rise of America and its values of individual liberty and capitalism were a threat to the very foundation of the current world system. threat to the world colonial system and its human rights violations. Ironically, this imperial and colonial system was ruled by what is now called “the West”.
The China-West competition of values is not a case of democracy against autocracy as Schuman would like. The West has long supported autocracies that embody the antithesis of Western values - today in the Arab world embodied by Saudi Arabia, and in the past by brutal dictators in Asia – Park Chung-hee in South Korea , Marcos in the Philippines and Suharto in Indonesia. . What Schuman and others seem to be really afraid of is not the concept of autocracy. in itself but China’s demonstrated success due to its swift decision-making and implementation, the stability and continuity that its system of government provides.
Schuman and others make much of China’s aggressiveness in its international relations. For them, China “seems determined to do what it wants to do regardless of what others think. [and that is a] danger.” https://www.cnbc.com/2021/06/28/chinas-wolf-warrior-diplomacy-aggression-are-an-immense-danger-analyst.html But it also describes how other emerging nations, like America, have acted in challenging and changing the international order. It is neither “good” nor “bad” but the natural course of humanity and its chimerical search for a mythical “international order”.
Schuman is right about at least one thing. “President Xi Jinping pursues China’s national interests in a way that makes conflict with Western democracies almost inevitable.” The United States and its allies are doing the same. This is a “Huntingtonian culture shock inflamed by perceived historical grievances and nationalism https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clash_of_Civilizations and it is unlikely to end well.