Seldom does a day pass without stories of China's rapid emergence both as an economic giant and a political power. Recently, with the approaching Beijing Olympics, it seems as though much of the discussion is more akin to an ongoing tirade, a continual verbal onslaught by western journalists and politicians. The kind of climate where it becomes not only acceptable, but necessary to include a large dose of finger wagging, posturing and snobby disdain is alarming.
While it is no longer acceptable to us terms such as 'Yellow Peril,' the verbal accusations as John Pomfret recently pointed out are steadily rising. When pundits such as CNN's Jack Cafferty describe the Chinese government as a "bunch of goons and thugs" and Chinese products as "junk" it becomes clear that it is the newly fashionable position is to lay in to China.
So, Hillary Clinton blamed China for the loss of manufacturing jobs declaring that she would take a firm stand and while some believe that the increased rhetoric is simply as a consequence of economic issues, where the US feels under pressure by China's impressive advances, it is shocking the extent to which on almost any subject, China is presented as an evil doing bad guy.
While China's progress certainly does leave the western elites feeling somewhat envious - as Vanity Fair's Kurt Andersen suggests, Beijing is the "Manhattan of the Twenty First Century" there is a nasty undercurrent to all of this that stinks of a new version of anti eastern sentiments, a sort of 'west is best' attitude that is loaded with double standards .
After all, the purveyors of Guantanamo and abuse meted out in Iraq and elsewhere should feel somewhat embarrassed about lecturing the Chinese about human rights. Similarly in Europe, where countries such as the UK have passed draconian legislation that represent a severe erosion of civil rights have no grounds to take the moral high ground. That does not prevent them from doing so however. Some argue that any pressure that can end up preventing human rights abuses or challenging censorship is worth while. The danger here however, is that we are creating a climate in which it is becoming popular to demonize an entire nation.
There has of course been significant criticism of China in the past however, the form it takes and the volume at which it plays out today is egregious. Whether it is the cost to the environment or concerns about censorship, issues to do with the safety of kids toys and international influence in Darfur or Tibet - or descriptions of Dickensian-style 'boot camps' harshly training young Chinese athletes, the message is clear: China is a danger and threat to the world.
At a time when many in the west find it increasingly difficult know what it represents, it can of course appear easier and more attractive to coalesce around the idea of some 'other' being a tad beyond the pale. While many have observed this trend and seen it for what it is - a dose of
'China bashing' - a few, such as Frank Ching in the China Post, put it down to vacuous 'posturing' during the US election season. As he quite rightly observes though, this approach will have an ongoing legacy and impact on American attitudes.
I have no sympathy for any autocratic regime that does not permit free speech and civil rights -- which ever country that happens to be in. It is about time however that we took a step back and considered why it has become just so popular and acceptable to stick the boot in to China. Surely it speaks volumes about our own attitudes towards development, ambition, striving for success and improvement, that when we encounter such sentiments elsewhere we are so apprehensive about it. In many ways, China has come to represent our most intensified fears, of runaway eco-destruction, rampant consumerism and unfettered expansion and we seem determined to continually project our concerns on to every discussion.
As it happens, we could be celebrating the potential for so many people in the world to be improving their lives and contributing towards us all moving forwards. The recent Pew Research Center study indicates that many in China are indeed upbeat about their direction -- while Americans are more downbeat and Europeans generally far from content. Bashing China will not help us feel better about ourselves -- and will only entrench an unhealthy outlook -- while doing absolutely nothing to aid any democratic developments in China. It is time we stopped with this pc-version of western moral superiority and conducted our discussions about China in a somewhat more balanced manner.
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