In his recent PolicyMic piece, columnist Jonathan Dowdall argues that we should focus on China’s domestic and foreign policy problems as the most relevant issues on the debate. While these issues are important in their own right, they are not consequential to the superpower debate, because America’s similar internal and external problems did not prevent it from exercising a dominant position on the global stage.
Dowdall engages what I dismissed as irrelevant -- that human rights and Beijing’s abrasive foreign policy should be firstly considered. His position is easily countered by a brief survey of America’s own destructive foreign policy and its own human rights record. I will make a brief mention of the history of blacks in America, the war in Iraq, draw a socio-economic parallel with the collapse of the USSR and demonstrate the irrelevance of Dowdall’s claims on Iran and North Korea.
America does not have the moral high ground to lecture China on human rights or democracy. In the case of the blacks in the United States, slavery, segregation and unequal rights are synonymous with their existence in this country. Their continuing marginalization relative to the average socio-economic conditions in America is a legacy of that history. So, let us avoid talking about human rights in the context of China – this same issue in the form of slavery and racism define most of the short history of America.
Dowdall makes reference to China’s obtrusive foreign policy. The counter argument is a reference to the war in Iraq and the hundreds of thousands of casualties it has caused. Similarly, cultural atrocities occurred under America’s watch in the form of the looting of the Iraqi National Museum and the targeted assassinations of Iraqi intellectuals and public figures.
Domestic and foreign policy problems are inherent in both America and China, and it is not practical to look at those when talking about China’s rise. Dowdall talks about a Cold War between the two states. This is hard to imagine, since America provides a market for Chinese goods and Beijing is effectively Washington’s banker. Couple that with the drastic government cuts Americans are going to have to put up with in the coming decade; before its dissolution, the USSR suffered a similar downturn brought on by too much spending on an unsustainable economic model. However, even in this new context, the deepening interdependence between China and America cannot be dismissed.
Dowdall points out Iran and North Korea as two examples of an obstinate Chinese foreign policy. First, China offers an alternative for Iran to develop political and economic relations, since it cannot talk normally with America. One look in the history books might also enlighten the American double standard – the Shah was put in place after a coup d’état against the elected Mossadeq government in 1953. It is a consecutive affirmation that self-government is effectively the biggest obstruction for American foreign policy.
North Korea is China’s buffer against American influence in the Pacific – this is the sole reason Beijing tolerates the shenanigans of Pyongyang. At the same time, uniting the Koreas is not a problem because like East and West Germany, the divide is unsustainable in the long term, but it serves the immediate balance of interests.
Dowdall and I agree in that it is not relevant to ask whether China will be on par with America. China does not need to be as capable to be more powerful. Washington will need to become accustomed to its diminished role and understand that some regions of the world are going to follow their own fate rather than comply with American interests. Leading that wave of the new multipolar order is precisely China.
Photo Source: Mike Bell