EDITORIAL: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Dealing with the China challenge
, February 5, 2011
One hundred years ago, the democratic revolution led by Dr Sun Yat Sen overthrew the last Chinese dynasty, paving the way for the establishment of the Republic of China. The centenary of this event affords an occasion to look at how the rise of China will shape the 21st century.
China's rise was marked by an unprecedented summit in Washington last month between Hu Jintao, the Chinese president, and Barack Obama, which was the occasion for a joint statement which purported to set down the terms of co-operation between the two nations into the future.
The statement said, in part: "The United States and China [are] committed to work together to build a cooperative partnership based on mutual respect and mutual benefit in order to promote the common interests of both countries and to address the 21st century's opportunities and challenges. ...
"The two leaders recognise that the relationship between the United States and China is both vital and complex.
"The United States and China have set an example of positive and co-operative relations between countries, despite different political systems, historical and cultural backgrounds, and levels of economic development. The two sides agreed to work further to nurture and deepen bilateral strategic trust to enhance their relations.
"They reiterated the importance of deepening dialogue aimed at expanding practical cooperation and affirmed the need to work together to address areas of disagreement, expand common ground, and strengthen coordination on a range of issues." (Source: US State Department, January 19, 2011).
The joint statement reflected the growing influence of China, but papered over two vital issues: America's growing economic dependence on China, and China's growing political and economic role in the world.
Since communist China embarked on a program of economic development about 25 years ago - unleashing the creative potential of the Chinese people which had been suppressed during the Maoist era - she has emerged as a global economic power, becoming the world's largest manufacturing nation.
China has accumulated massive trade surpluses, which in turn have bankrolled an expansion of China's naval, military and air power, and diplomatic influence now felt globally.
The latest economic data confirms this: in 2010, China's economy grew between 9 and 10 per cent, while that of the United States grew by between one and two per cent.
All this has been achieved while China remains a communist dictatorship which routinely suppresses the human rights of its people.
Despite efforts to become more self-sufficient, China's economic rise has also made it more dependent on imports of basic raw materials, including coal, iron ore, alumina, oil and gas. China is therefore dependent on the expansion of global trade for its economic power, and will do nothing to jeopardise this.
China today represents a paradox: a rapidly emerging nation committed to global free trade, but run by a communist elite which is determined to maintain its own power internally, and committed to expanding its political power globally.
The issue facing Western nations such as Australia is how to respond to this challenge.
Many people in the West believe that China's increased prosperity and integration into the global economy will lead inevitably to political reform.
This delusion is not the preserve of left-liberals. President George W. Bush said in 2005: "As the people of China grow in prosperity, their demands for political freedom will grow as well. By meeting the legitimate demands of its citizens for freedom and openness, China's leaders can help their country grow into a modern, prosperous and confident nation."
The experience of the past 25 years shows that such faith in the goodwill of communist leaders is a Western fantasy.
We can learn how to respond to the China challenge by learning from history. Just over 20 years ago, the Soviet empire collapsed, freeing hundreds of millions of people in Russia and Eastern Europe from the tyranny of Soviet communism.
The collapse occurred because there were courageous people in these countries who were prepared to fight for their freedom in the teeth of persecution. They were backed up by the leaders of the Western democracies, particularly Ronald Reagan, the American President, and Margaret Thatcher, the British Prime Minister.
Today, there are millions of ordinary people in China who are struggling to free their nation from the dictatorship of the Communist Party.
We know some of them, including the recent winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Liu Xiaobo, and Gao Zhisheng; but the vast majority of human rights activists, Christians, Falun Gong practitioners, lawyers and internet bloggers, are unknown to us. Tens of millions have resigned from the Communist Party.
We must actively support these people. They alone can free China, and help it to have a truly free and civilised government, contributing to peace and prosperity.Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.