Opinion | The world owes China an apology
The West has wronged China, grievously. I say this more in sorrow than in anger. The gulf of misunderstanding between the two seems unbridgeable.
The US and the UK are joined by Australia in an ostentatious diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic games, citing its human rights abuses in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.
To me, as someone who has lived on the mainland, this accusation is the height of irony. Today's China is a morally-driven society, full of energy and yearning for economic equality. If you listen to a mainland official and a Hong Kong official speak, the contrast in style and substance is stark. The former speaks of being at one with the people, of national reconstruction, of technological leaps, of selfless service to the people. The latter is adrift in petty talk and lethargically unmotivated. They yak instead of act. If they underperform, their six-figure monthly salary is punctually paid into their bank account. A princely pension awaits. On the mainland, they would have been turfed out. The number of mainland officials who have been unceremoniously removed for misdeeds or failures is staggeringly comforting. The Hong Kong "accountability" system is a joke. In mainland official circles, it is a do-or-die matter.
Chinese officials are paternalists, in that they see themselves as father figures who are entrusted with the welfare of the people. Hong Kong officials are risk-averse, notorious for inaction, as action carries its own risk. Their first instinct is self-preservation. On the mainland a powerful risk-and-reward system kicks in, and that has made all the difference.
There is something else. Mainland leaders think long-term. They hatch plans that cover five, ten or even a span of a hundred years. Hong Kong officials, and for that matter, leaders in the West, think in terms of ad hoc programs or election cycles. That is why China, without debilitating foreign wars, has leapfrogged other nations. The term "China speed" says it all.
Go to the mainland, and experience the world's first truly cashless society. Even beggars have their own QR codes. With no one carrying cash, the streets are free of thieves and robbers. It is 100% safe to go strolling in the park at midnight. This is unthinkable in Detroit or LA. It's your funeral if you do. There are no racist insults or attacks either. People's obsession is their children's education, not hating those who look different from them.
For a chronically poor country, this is about as close as the Chinese would get to living in an idyllic world. If you talk to Chinese citizens, they will tell you that they trust their government to do what is best. How can they not? Their government has wiped out poverty in nearly 130, 000 villages or for over 800 million people. If this sounds too good to be true, it is because this scale of poverty eradication has never been done in human history. The Chinese don't just talk the talk, but walk the talk. And yet, there is not a ripple of approval in the West.
Super-success has made China ultra-rational and far less ideological. Ideology is only a veneer. China is governed like a corporation, sending goods to Africa, not troops. It builds its Belt and Road infrastructure for trade and to circumvent US encirclement. If Confucius were alive today, he would be amazed to find his ideal realized after two and a half thousand years: The first nation that advocates universal prosperity and a common human destiny.
America's fear of China is not ideological. It demonizes China as a communist country to frighten its allies into an anti-China coalition, knowing that it is the only country capable of challenging American unilateralism. Even if China were to officially rename itself a Confucian country, American paranoia will persist. Vietnam is communist, but posing no threat to American global domination, is welcome into a marriage of convenience.
The world must now decide which system is better for the global order. China today is what America was during the Second World War—a do-good nation. Post-war, America has abused its superpower status to start wars and topple regimes it doesn't like. The adage that "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely" applies equally to nations as to individuals.
America's relentless encirclement of China has only produced one result: unite the Chinese people against a hostile West. The greater the hostility, the greater its internal unity.
China doesn't seek world domination, knowing it spells nothing but trouble. If there was a Nobel Prize for good government, China would win it hands down. The world is littered with failed states. Mexico, to name just one, lives in fear of its drug gangs, with the beautiful beaches of Acapulco patrolled by gun-toting soldiers. No wonder, two-thirds of British polled prefer socialism as a fairer system.
This doesn't mean that the Chinese system is without weakness. China's biggest strategic failure is its lack of soft power. It may wield enormous economic muscle, but it has a clunky and crude image. When it reacts angrily to American provocations, Westerners treat that anger as signs of aggression. China is losing the PR war big time. Style is substance.
In overwhelming numbers, Chinese students flock overseas to study science and technology. Few opt for the arts and humanities. China may boast an army of well-trained interpreters. In a nation with tens of thousands of engineers and scientists, there is not a single eloquent cross-cultural interpreter on the world stage.
The world is facing a choice between tribalist unilateralism or humane universalism, between rationality or extremism, between might and morality.
For once, I pray that God will be on the side of rationalists. We are only one prayer away from the dangerous buffoonery of man-child Donald Trump and Boris Johnson.