'Peaceful' China has a troubling soft spot for despots

Daily News Egypt
6 Min Read

China’s president, Hu Jintao, is currently touring Africa, seeking to secure dependable sources of natural resources, but also to promote China’s “peaceful rise. Such tours are designed to give notice that China is emerging on the world stage, as well as to make it look respectable as a major world power. But China’s quest for international respect is not well served by its embrace of rogue nations like Sudan, Venezuela, and Burma, much less by its secretive military build-up and its recent adventure in outer space. Indeed, when the Chinese military secretly and recklessly fired a land-based missile into outer space in mid-January and shattered one of China’s aging satellites, the government caused outrage from London to Tokyo to Washington. After several days of silence in the face of incontrovertible evidence of the launch, China’s leaders reluctantly admitted what China had done, but claimed that the “test was not directed at any country and does not constitute a threat to any country. Such denials are becoming unconvincing. In fact, this dangerous and irresponsible action is yet another key sign that China’s rise as a global power lacks any guarantee that it will be a peaceful nation once it grows strong. It flatly contradicts the repeated assurances of China’s leaders that the country’s rise will bring only “harmony and peace to the international community. Lurking behind China’s ambition in space is the spirit of the Cold War, which continues to permeate the inner circles of the Chinese military high command, whose main adversary remains, unmistakably, the United States. With the collapse of the Soviet Union’s communist regime, the US continues to enjoy a dominant role in space exploration for peaceful and scientific development. But since the 1980s, the US has been ambivalent about the ultimate military and civilian utility of its space efforts. This ambivalence has now been greatly reduced because of China’s recent action, which could precipitate a race to militarize and weaponize outer space. Should this happen, China would share a large part of the blame. China’s adventurism and its blithe assumption that it can deal with any international dictator it wishes and disturb the delicate military balance in outer space is emblematic of something sinister and dangerous. Partly because of the patronizing pampering afforded the Chinese by the developed world, and partly because of China’s relentless, but successful, manipulation of world opinion, China has long been treated as though it were “exceptional when it comes to its international behavior. As a result, in venues like the United Nations, China enjoys a degree of immunity from criticism for its egregious human rights abuses, as well as for its massive military build-up, one that is unparalleled in recent experience. Likewise, China’s relations with authoritarian regimes, or even its responsibility for preserving the global environment, are rarely mentioned. Indeed, China was not asked to bear anything like its rightful share of the burden in curbing carbon emissions under the Kyoto Protocol. Unsurprisingly, China’s pampered leadership now acts as if the country actually is exceptional and can get away with polluting outer space without rebuke. The destruction of the Chinese satellite produced roughly 300,000 pieces of debris, causing severe pollution and putting many other spacecraft in the Earth’s orbit in grave danger. We know this because the last and only time anybody “killed a satellite with a land-based missile was in 1985, when the US destroyed one of its own satellites, creating a slick of debris that took the American government 17 years to clean up. There is a danger, given China’s size, that this peculiar “Chinese exceptionalism could turn into something truly alarming: a global norm. That’s because China’s effort to make Internet giants like Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft kowtow to its domestic political restrictions, and its push in Africa and Latin America to create blocs of nations that pursue economic development while ignoring human rights and environmental conservation, is a poor model for the developing world. In fact, China’s courtship of resource-rich Third World tyrannies, and its recent step toward the weaponization of outer space undermines its carefully crafted new image as a paragon of “harmonious social development. So to continue to give China “exceptional treatment given the Chinese behavior that is visible today will undermine the country’s ability to become a nation capable of exercising responsible global leadership. Yu Maochun is a professor of East Asian and military history at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. The views expressed here are his own. THE DAILY STAR publishes this commentary in collaboration with Project Syndicate (www.project-syndicate.org).

Share This Article
Leave a comment