Can China change the world?

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz - The Philippine Star

The Group of 7 is a group of seven countries considered among the richest in the world; and they share a heritage of being liberal democracies with an adherence to human rights. These nations are Canada, United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy and Japan. The heads of these counties meet annually in order to unify their positions on global affairs.

During the Trump years, this group was disunited as Trump pushed for inclusion of Russia, which the European countries considered as a dangerous adversary. In fact, Trump threatened to boycott the meetings and even left one meeting earlier than scheduled.

The recently concluded G-7 summit meeting in Cornwall, England was very different with Trump gone and Joe Biden as the new American president. In their joint statement after the conference, it was clear that their attention was now focused on China. They called for further investigation as to the source of the coronavirus pandemic which started in China. They also homed in on China’s human rights record, especially the persecution of the Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang province of China and the brutal crackdown on its political opponents in Hong Kong.

The G-7 stance has been brought about by the increased aggressiveness of China’s foreign policy and its increasing use of force to get what it wants. This is evident in China’s actions in the South China Sea, West Philippine Sea and along its border with India.

There is also increasing fear that China is actively pursuing its policy of spreading its authoritarian model as the ideal model of government. The European Council president, Charles Michel, said at the end of the summit: “The G7 ends today. We spent three days trying to align the positions of the world’s biggest democracies. We see the liberal democracies and open societies face pressure from authoritarian regimes. This challenge has prompted us to join forces during the G7 not only to be able to respond under pressure or attack but also to spread our values of freedom, rule of law and respect for human rights.”

It is quite clear that China and its bid to be a superpower was at the center of discussion among the G7 leaders. The nations of Southeast Asia must find a way of dealing with an aggressive China while maintaining their sovereignty. A Vietnamese leader once said: “Every Vietnamese leader must get along with China, every Vietnamese leader must stand up to China and if you can’t do both at the same time, you don’t deserve to be a leader.” This is an ideal situation which is becoming more difficult to attain. In the era before Xi Jinping or before 2012, China was still relatively less aggressive in dealing with other countries. In the days of Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping, China still saw its role as the leader of the Third World. Since 2012, those days are gone.

Bilahari Kausikan, former permanent secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Singapore, recently wrote: “Economic ties are not to be lightly disregarded, but no ASEAN member structures its relations with China solely on the basis of trade and investments. Nationalism remains a potent political force.”

Recent events in the Philippines have shown the power of nationalism. When the Chinese sent hundreds of ships to virtually take the Julian Felipe Reef, I am sure they were hoping that the close ties between the Chinese and Philippine governments would minimize opposition to their actions. Instead there was a public outcry against this invasion. The opposition was coming from the public and almost all the political sides. Even government officials publicly condemned these Chinese actions.

In the face of this united stand against China’s aggressiveness, the next question is how will the Chinese Communist Party leaders respond? China must decide on whether it wants to engage with the world or go its separate way. The United States is actively building alliances to counter China’s expansion. China must decide whether it will build its own alliances or simply another “Great Wall” around China.

Professor Rana Mitter of Oxford University recently wrote: “Achieving even that kind of partial hegemony of Chinese leaders continue to ruffle the feathers of their counterparts elsewhere. Beijing’s initial response to the COVID-19 outbreak suggested that under pressure, China’s authoritarian tendencies trump its desire to engage with the world. Various countries, notably Australia, proposed that there should be an international inquiry into the origins of the virus. Rather than welcome that idea, as a nimble power would have done, China immediately boycotted barley sales from Australia.

When the British government hinted that it might reverse its decision to allow Huawei into the United Kingdom’s 5G network, Chinese diplomats threatened ‘consequences,’ sending a clear signal that investments from China were not simply a commercial transaction but also a political one – and bringing about the ban they did not want.”

Chinese recent behavior in the world of international diplomacy has been both aggressive and cantankerous. The result is that critics of the Chinese Communist Party find it easier to highlight what they consider as untrustworthy behavior of China, including militarization of the South China Sea, invasion of the Julian Felipe Reef, persecution of the Muslim Uyghurs and the pro-democracy activist in Hong Kong.

I share the view of many geopolitical observers that the biggest obstacle China will face is not the hostility of the United States and the G7 nations, but its growing desire to export its authoritarian model as the ideal government model. China will find that it is going to be almost impossible to remake the world according to the Xi Jinping model.

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Create superheroes at Young Writers’ Hangout on June 19 with May Tobias Papa, 2-3 p.m. For adults: Writing from One’s Roots by Kristian Sendon Cordero, June 26, 2-3:30 p.m. Writefest2021, an annual 6-session workshop returns on July 12-23. Contact writethingsph@gmail.com. 0945.2273216

Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com

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