Saturday, 21 May 2011

Is China a responsible stakeholder? Chatham House report review

Amitai Etzioni asks in the Chatham House-run International Affairs website, if China can be trusted as a "responsible stakeholder" in world politics.

You may remember that "stakeholder" was a term much used by Tony Blair and New Labour after economic guru Will Hutton began popularising the business term and applying it to their aspirations for a section of the population. Not all of them, mind. Just enough of them harbouring the delusion that they'd be granted an interest in society (rather than possessing an inbuilt interest on account of their being a member of society already) to ensure they'd vote for their benefactors.

Who can forget how responsible New Labour were in power: a veritable model of democracy, altruism and benevolence?

This was the same New Labour, not old Labour in opposition to Capital, that took Britain to war against the wishes of its people, including many of those would-be "stakeholders". The same government under which the poverty gap grew for the first time under Labour helmsmanship, a landslide victory notwithstanding.

Etzioni quotes American commentators:
China ‘is refusing to be a responsible stakeholder in the international political system, cultivating, as it has been, good relations with some of the world’s most odious regimes’, according to Robert Kaplan, writing in The Atlantic.

Which is rich considering America's interests in Saudi Arabia and almost the entire Middle East, along with every other commie-killing despot who ever took a Yankee dollar. In 2005, the Bush Jr administration echoed the fear that China would not be a responsible stakeholder even as they bombed Iraq. And Condoleeza Rice had America on paranoia standby when she declared China to be "not a status quo power", meaning the US could not be certain that its own interests would remain untouched by the new kid on the block.

Whether that kid would turn out to be an even bigger bully, or a cohort prepared to carve up the world along new lines suitable to the old masters, remains to be seen. However, some have argued that China is indeed a "status quo power" and plead for its induction into the international community (of business).

China itself has been eager to demonstrate that it is not a "revisionist" power seeking to upset the current geopolitical balance too much:
President Jiang Zemin stated that ‘China needs a long-lasting peaceful international environment for its development’, and in 1997 he initiated China’s ‘New Security Concept’, which stresses ‘mutual respect’ and ‘peaceful coexistence’. Since then, Chinese leaders such as Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao have declared that they are seeking a ‘peaceful rise’ and that they seek to focus on domestic development, not international expansion.

Why bother with armed conflict, a Western enthusiasm, when you can buy what you want?
Since then, Chinese leaders such as Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao have declared that they are seeking a ‘peaceful rise’ and that they seek to focus on domestic development, not international expansion. The concept was developed by Chinese scholar Zheng Bijian, who wrote in a Foreign Affairs article entitled ‘China’s “peaceful rise” to great power status’, ‘for the next few decades the Chinese nation will be preoccupied with securing a more decent life for its people … China’s emergence thus far has been driven by capital, technology, and resources acquired through peaceful means … China’s peaceful rise will further open its economy so that its population can serve as a growing market for the rest of the world … China’s development depends on world peace — a peace that its development will in turn reinforce.’

So far, so "responsible".

However, the John Milius school of Red Dawn politics rages that China is only pretending to be peaceful and that she'll reveal her full gory glory in true Fu Manchu fashion once all her plans and capabilities are in place. I saw Team America. I know how this one plays out.

Although Etzioni's piece is published on the (British) Chatham House website, it overlooks a vital state of affairs when it asks if China is a "good citizen of the international community". Hey, we Brits aren't citizens of anything, being subjects of the Royal Parasites. In seeking to distinguish between the behaviour expected from communitarian "stakeholders" and upstanding "citizens", it seems we are the Disappeared.

According to Etzioni, a stakeholding community member does everything a citizen does — paying taxes (unless you can afford the accountants), serving on juries (and paying for superinjunctions if you can afford it), submitting to the laws (unless you can afford not to).
A good community member — aside from being an upstanding citizen — also contributes to the common good by volunteering, making donations, heeding the informal norms of the community and helping to enforce them by exerting informal social controls over those who do not.

Hmm, did I see some sort of power wielded there?

In place of a global state, Etzioni sees "a non-trivial and growing body of established international laws and institutions which nations are expected to heed". He considers whether China is a good citizen or stakeholder.

Surfing a tidal wave of claims that China is not pulling its weight, Etzioni cites a parsimonious foreign aid policy. After the Haiti earthquake in 2010, I remember foreign media reporting the rapid arrival of fully tooled-up Chinese rescue teams, complete with dog-handlers, on the stricken island before many Western nations, including Britain, could muster their forces. However, China was criticised for being stingy with their relief aid, donating only a miserly US$1.5 million, against US$350 million from America, but rising to US$60 million for the 2004 tsunami fund. He doesn't mention the pledges made by the G8/20 rich nations in a drunken bout of "my wallet's bigger than yours ... isn't it, Angela?" and then forgotten as the hangover wore off. What Etzioni doesn't clarify is the state of the African debt, once thought to be a never-ending problem, which China has alleviated through various deals (open to a slew of criticism), thereby mercifully saving us from Bono's never-ending career as messiah and right royal pain.

Of the list of examples of Chinese aggression throughout the past decades, I'd ask: where's the cut-off point? At what time can't you phone someone? Nine o'clock? Ten o'clock? Ten-fifteen if they don't have kids? Likewise, when's the cut-off point for bad behaviour? How come deliberate acts of aggression, such as the opium wars and sending gunboats up the Yangtze, don't count — but accidents such as the 2001 collision of a Chinese and an American plane do? Are we mentioning the deliberate downing of an Iranian airliner by the US in 1989?

It's hardly surprising that the Chinese get arsey about Japan, when the Rising Sun invaders held beheading contests of its citizens in the streets of Nanking and experimented on people, all within living memory. How should they respond to a nation that has now rewritten the history books to forgive itself? Remember "comfort women"? Shrines to fascist murderers?

How do the Western powers fare when comparing environmental destruction and global deaths resulting from climate change?

At least Etzioni throws a sop to fairness when he writes:
... China is properly criticized for doing little to stop genocides. However, while the US and its allies are credited for stopping the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, they failed to do so in Cambodia, Rwanda, the Congo and Sudan.

And he quotes Bill Gates as saying, " ... the trend is clear that China is becoming a more responsible stakeholder."

Who can blame China for maintaining a discreet distance from America's conflicts?
From China’s perspective, for example, it is in China’s interests for the US military to be mired in a war in Afghanistan (and before that in Iraq) and to be further occupied with a proliferating Iran, especially given statements by American military officials that define China’s military as a major threat to the US, implying that China is an adversary.

Would you rush to the aid of superpower generals eager to make you a target?

This blogpost is not a plea for ignoring China's faults. I'm angry at the way the wealth gap is soaring in China; the number of executions; the corruption; the clampdown on free expression and imprisonment of dissidents. But instead of raising issues of international concern in a way that leads to change and understanding, much of the report seems to present yet another skewed "look over there" job, whilst allowing the West to get away with much the same. After all, how much of the Haiti tragedy, in America's back yard, was due purely to natural forces, and how much — with continuing poverty, disease and corruption, before and since — was set in motion years ago? Presumably this was prior to the cut-off point, whose location only Amitai Etzioni and his friends can detect.

The latter part of the report does note areas where China is improving: slow but steady recognition of human rights, even if Ai Weiwei is still in prison, and despite double standards being applied to US allies such as Saudi Arabia.

I see Western capitalists on the wane looking enviously at the new Eastern capitalists and studying how to do the same. By all means criticise China's policies ... but all too often this looks like the skunk damning the pig for smelling bad.

UPDATE 22 May 2011: Henry Kissinger's book, On China, is out.
... my first question, which concerns the treatment of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, who, like Mr. Kissinger, is a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. "I have not read his writings," he answers. ... I press on. Does he denounce Mr. Liu's treatment? "My policy on this," he replies, "is to talk to them [Chinese leaders], but my personal view is not to denounce it publicly."

Ye-e-es. Just as well so few Westerners have read them. Lui Xiaobo's award of the Nobel Peace Prize is like Kissinger's in more ways than you'd think from reading interviews like this. The event that took the world "beyond parody".

1 comment:

Cornelius said...

Nicely done bringing out Western hypocrisy towards China. Yes, China is doing bad things to its inhabitants and clearing land for its own capitalists, but the United States got rid of aboriginals and used forced labour to do the same.