The country had seemed keen to be a good world citizen, but no longer. A repressive regime is tightening its gripby Paddy Ashdown / December 1, 2017 / Leave a comment
Peace in the Pacific, and the world, depends on two questions. How will the United States cope with decline? And how will China fulfil its potential as a super-power?
We live in a period of shifting power structures. These are turbulent and conflict-ridden times. The US remains the most powerful nation on earth, but the context in which it operates has changed fundamentally. We live now in a multi-power world, with China’s position as a mercantile super-power already established. The question is how will China behave?
Until recently, the signs had been hopeful. China had seemed keen to be a good world citizen. It has engaged constructively in multilateral institutions—look at the World Trade Organisation; look at the support for United Nations sanctions on North Korea; look at the engagement with international forces to tackle Somali pirates around the Horn of Africa; look at the involvement with UN peace keeping to which it has committed more troops than the United States and Europe combined.
Domestically too, until a few years ago, China seemed to be moving steadily away from the old dictatorial structures of Communism. The economic liberalisation of China’s markets has been awe-inspiring. Many of us had taken comfort in what we saw as the inevitable fact that economic reform must, over time, lead to political liberalisation too.
If these were our hopes they have now come up against a jolting reality.
Judging from the iconography of the recent People’s Congress in Beijing it is difficult not to conclude that what we are looking at is less the emergence of a new China, as the return of the old. A Red Emperor, a cult of personality, the leader’s “thought” constitutionally enshrined, centralised power, suppression of dissent. Under Mao Zedong, who had to build a unified state from ashes and a nation which was respected abroad after a century of humiliation, this behaviour was of course never remotely acceptable—though it was perhaps understandable. But the respect in which China is held is not in question today, nor is its unity and strength. To return to the ways of Mao sits uncomfortably with China’s ambition to be a modern state.