When China was on one knee, it was imaginable that she’d stand up and act like us. The evidence keeps coming in, however, that that isn’t what will happen — that she’s got other things in mind. The good news for diplomats everywhere is that their skills will become increasingly important. Using cooperative means to avoid conflict and nurture joint actions globally will be seen to be in everyone’s interests. The bad news is that Western diplomats will not enjoy the sway they may have thought they had when China was less powerful.
Wikileaks and pundits reveal that Chinese officials, feeling the rise of their power in the world, are telling Western diplomats that it’s a new era and that they won’t sit still for human rights lectures anymore. The Globe and Mail, in a piece entitled “China turns chilly on human rights dialogue,” reports:
“That’s a new attitude,” said Brock University professor Charles Burton, a former Canadian diplomat who sat through many rights dialogue meetings. “Their past attitude would have been more like, ‘You have to understand that we’re a poor and underdeveloped country and we’re unable to achieve these high standards that you are calling for.’ Now they’re basically saying, ‘Lay off, or else.’
“The Wikileaks cables, however, show the West and China still oceans apart. When EU officials pressed Beijing counterparts on the rule of law, the Chinese responded by reiterating the old Three Supremes doctrines, that puts the will of the party and the people above the written law.” Click on: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/asia-pacific/china-turns-chilly-on-human-rights-dialogue/article1860772/
Clearly, as China grows stronger, so does her ability and inclination to be different.
Looking beyond other people’s human rights and turning the other cheek for other causes may prove to be necessary from time to time. The world cannot afford the luxury of another cold war. Nuclear proliferation, global trade interdependence, and climate change are three concerns large enough to force collaboration. Such diplomacy, however, may often be quite distasteful.
Nevertheless, other developments in China will likely be consoling and even funny.
Despite its swagger abroad, the Chinese government and the Communist Party are exhibiting increasing timidity at home. America’s east coast elites are not the only ones who are nervous about what the people think. Beijing has 1.4 billion of them to worry about.
For instance, the dominant fear of China’s leadership is now domestic price inflation, not expanding trade with a low-currency strategy. It is quite likely they will follow anti-inflation policies to placate consumers and will let the currency rise despite their ambitious export goals.
Despite their long-standing commitment to the World Health Organization to restrict tobacco advertising and use, they appear to be postponing action for another five years. This was reported by China Daily on January 4th in an article entitled “China fails pledge on indoor smoking ban” [www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2011-01/04/content_11794037.htm.] Smoking is China’s biggest health problem and the Chinese people’s most popular vice. In China, a country where government and its vision of the people’s interests come first, cigarettes are available everywhere and at a sixth of the price in the West.
As China grows stronger, its government may become less patient with the rest of the world and less sure of itself at home. This tension runs through Western history. It has driven periods of creativity, collaboration, and unimaginable violence. It looks like the 21st century won’t be one of the quiet ones.