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Friday, September 24, 2021

China and Imperialism

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Graham Perry
Experienced Arbitration Lawyer | China & Chinese Business Affairs | Public Speaker/Lecturer.

The West likes to misrepresent China because China’s socialist success challenges the future of capitalism in the advanced economies. China shows that there is “another way”. The West has been here before when the USSR showed signs of long term success after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. The West was alarmed that a change in government in Moscow could be repeated in Berlin, Paris, London and Washington. In the event the USSR was unable to sustain its challenge and the threat from Moscow fell away as the Soviet regime stumbled into failure and dissolution in 1991.

China is different. It is showing signs of permanence. Seventy-one years after Mao Tse-tung announced the establishment of the Peoples Republic of China, the previously decimated Sick Man of Asia has stood up and put its Century of Humiliation behind it as it sets out on the path of National Rejuvenation and rising prosperity. 

This is a challenge to the West. This is not how it was meant to be. China was either meant to lurch into chaos racked by internal division or mutate into capitalism and the adoption of Western standards of democracy and governance. China is eschewing both options. It is moving forward under the same Communist Party that led the Revolution to its success in 1949. Its people have “never had it so good” as they enjoy the longest unbroken period of improving living standards.

The West cannot stand back and applaud China on its achievements lest China’s example begins to find favour with people in the West – struggling as they are with Covid 19, a fall in living standards and a significant increase in unemployment.

The Western leaders do not approve of China partly because of its success and partly because of its rejection of Western norms of government and democracy. So China is misrepresented – persistently and extravagantly. They claim that; the country is full of labour camps; China’s policy towards the Uyghurs is dominated by racist prejudices; China’s actions in Hong Kong are authoritarian and without concern for people’s rights; China’s steps in the S China Sea are expansionist and imperialist. And it is with this last allegation –that China is an aspiring imperialist power – that I want to focus.

Imperialism arises when one country extends its power by acquiring territory or by gaining political and economic power over other countries. The goal of Imperialism is to effect a change in the status quo to the advantage of the imperialist power and to the detriment of the subject country. Imperialism is about domination and control whereby the imperialist power achieves domination by economic or political or military means for the benefit of its own people. In the past European colonial powers – Spain, Portugal, Britain, Germany and others – benefited from military strength that brought more territory and more raw materials under their control. China has its own experience of Imperialism – most notably in the Opium Wars, and the destruction of the Summer Palace in 1860

The West insists that China is the modern imperialist power. They cite Tibet, Taiwan, Hong Kong and land disputes in the South China Sea to convince the world that China should be shunned and rejected. There are two key points to make; China is unshakeable where territorial integrity is the issue. What belongs to China belongs to China and on this China is resolute and unflinching. But this is not Imperialism. This is not imposing China on a local population, acquiring their land and governing the territory for China’s benefit. On the contrary, China is solely defending its own boundaries and frontiers. No Chinese aircraft carriers sail up and down the West Pacific between San Francisco and Los Angeles. No Chinese troops are located outside China. No Chinese military aircraft fly over any other country. It might be noted, by comparison, that the US has 52 military bases surrounding China. Who is threatening whom? – you might enquire.

The second main thrust of the West’s allegation that China is an Imperialist power focuses on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). China has taken a radical step forward and entered into BRI agreements with 130 countries. The agreements focus on the construction of ports, airports, railways, highways and other infrastructure investment designed to assist the recipient countries to improve their economies. China calls it a “win-win” policy which recognises that both China, providing the funds, and the recipient country, receiving the funds, benefit if the recipient country is able to improve their well being by constructing much needed infrastructure. Now the West intentionally misrepresents China’s intentions. They say that this is debt-trap imperialism – merely a ruse to lull the recipient country into significant financial overreach resulting in China taking ownership of the overseas development – imperialism by another name, the West asserts. The more overreach by the recipients the more Chinese ownership of assets in foreign countries results.

The West intentionally misrepresents BRI. It is an enormous and far-sighted initiative. Its purpose is to create prosperity and stability in the recipient country and thereby add to the sum of human progress. The recipient country becomes more stable and prosperous and China benefits as the well-being of nations is levelled up and the world is made more secure.  Things will go wrong – as with Covid 19 – and receiving countries will struggle to repay the loans from China and these will be re-negotiated. But this will not lead to China’s acquisition of assets and the stationing of the PLA in Chinese military bases located in the recipient country. 

There are risks for China in this undertaking – they have invested trillions of dollars in 130 countries in the belief that time will eventually bring about the realisation of the “win-win” concept – good for both sides. There will be ups and downs – and BRI funds may find their way into the wrong hands in the recipient country.  It happens. 

But the misrepresentation is something different – it is part of the unravelling of historical development as it occurs. History is always on the move. The politics of today is the history of tomorrow. BRI is a hugely significant undertaking and its repercussions will be felt for decades ahead as recipient countries raise prosperity levels.  It will impact upon the geo-political structure of the world. The West is worried. Misrepresentation is to be expected. It shows that China is doing the right thing.

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