Are China and the US Frenemies or BFF’s?
Watching the Tienanmen Square massacre unfold on television, it was hard not to hate China. I hated China, and it wasn’t until much later and a stint working in Foreign Affairs that I came to understand just how complicated China’s geopolitical situation is. I could never forgive China for what it did on that day in 1989, but I was willing to look past it and see what good could come from that horrible event.
In the not-so-distant past China was a country that struggled to feed its own people. An estimated 20 to 45 million Chinese died of starvation between 1958 and 1962. China’s population today is over 1.3 billion, more than four times the population of the United States. The challenges China faces in moving from a developing to a developed nation are unique and daunting, made even more difficult under the scrutiny of a globally connected modern world.
In his new book, The China Fallacy, author Donald Gross makes clear the challenges China faces today, and the delicate hand the United States must apply when dealing with China as it attempts to find a balance between things such as economic growth, nation building and individual freedoms. Throw in environmental protection, human rights issues, population control, energy starvation, Tibet and Taiwan and you start to see just how complicated the situation is.
To understand China is to hate it for what it does to its people and the planet, but also to admire it for how far it has come in a relatively short period of time.
As Gross succinctly writes,
“With so many reasons to fear, despise and worry about China, Americans nevertheless cannot help but admiring China’s accomplishments and being intrigued with this emerging power. Many watched the opening and closing ceremonies for the 2008 Olympic Games and came away deeply impressed by the brilliant spectacle. Most cannot help but admire and be inspired by China’s achievement of raising 400 million people out of poverty, virtually wiping out widespread illiteracy, developing a large middle class and creating a dynamic, consumer society.”
But, Gross continues:
“Americans shook their heads knowingly when television commentators dutifully noted that Chinese authorities sharply limited demonstrations and dissent in Beijing during the Olympics. They could not help but feel sympathy for Tibetans whose protests were violently suppressed only weeks earlier by the Chinese military.”
Gross’s book is not apologetic towards the Chinese and in no way excuses the atrocities the communist regime frequently commits against its own people. But Gross does provide the context we need to fully understand this still-maturing nation.
The challenge for the United States’ and China’s other major trading partners is to push as hard as they can on issues like human rights, the reproductive rights of women, religious freedom, democratic rule and environmental protection; but at the same time not push so hard that it creates a situation where China regresses and starts to shut back down.
In the end, when it comes to China, there is one thing most people can agree on and that is that the closed-off and mysterious China of the past is a much worse situation for its citizens and the world at large, than the one we are seeing today that is opening up, engaging and showing a willingness to play nice[r] within the global community.
Gross’s book is intriguing and informative and very readable for those (like me) who avoid wonky policy books at all costs. The China Fallacy is a must read for anyone interested in gaining a deeper understanding of China and looking for answers about why this paradoxical country does what it does.
[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]