“China the Ambivalent Superpower”
I am starting to get really irritated. I mean you would think that the nations of the world would at least try to be consistent. You would think that they would behave in a way that would allow their citizens to draw some feelings of pride or not about their nation’s progress. One might at least hope that they would follow some predictable behavior pattern that would allow outsiders; enemies and friends alike some sense of their long term goals.
Ok. I don’t expect ideologically divided democracies like the United States & Israel to be consistent. What with the constantly changing political fortunes of their primary ideological coalitions. Now that would be too much to ask. But I do think one could reasonably expect the more authoritarian states to maintain at least some semblance policy stability.
But, I get ahead of myself, you see this stuff might not matter to most people but every year I publish an annual East & Southeast Asia, a volume that follows recent historical & contemporary developments throughout the region from China to Indonesia – a volume that tries to make an effort to predict general trends.
And in recent years the annual update of my China chapter was really easy. I would write about how in the name of improving living standards and lifting its people from poverty China’s authorities had trashed not only Maoism but their physical environment. Describing in detail how they had filled their rivers with pollutants while darkening the skis with pulmonary disease causing clouds of smoke. An environmental disaster if there ever was one.
But while condemning these environment raping economic policies, I would as well write favorably about the People’s Republic’s long term effort to improve their human rights record. Indeed, I would claim China had made the most human rights progress of any other nation in the last generation.
Certainly a claim that was surprising to some. And in truth the claim was more based on how far they had come then what they had actually accomplished. But it was true the authorities really had improved people’s lives enormously, lessening the control of the state over individuals. Giving them infinitely more freedom to conduct their lives and express their thoughts
But over the last two years our occasionally schizoid Chinese leadership has some how thrown a gasket, playing topsy turvy games with all that momentum.
Amazingly they have finally started making an enormous effort to rethink industrial growth, emerging as the largest investor in green energy on the planet in 2009; in fact, taking the lead in the development of wind energy while closing down especially polluting coal plants and working to find a way to make coal clean enough to use actually use.
In short, they have been trying not to push us further into the already unfolding climate crisis. In fact, China really has been stepping up to the plate as a world leader in helping pull the world from the brink of environmental disaster.
Clearly a level of progress that was starting to turn China into a real world leader, a leader the world and her own citizens could really admire and feel proud of.
At least would have if China’s leadership has not, perhaps in a paranoid fear of loosing control also chosen to undermined their recent accomplishments by abandoning the path of greater freedoms for the Chinese people by their short sighted re-embrace of the tools of repression.
Clearly and obviously chosen with their quite obvious empowering of the security services ever more; arresting the internationally acclaimed artist Ai Weiwei. Making fools of themselves in their effort to undermine the world’s award of a Nobel Peace prize to the famous dissident Liu Xiaobio.
No, There is something very odd about Chinese leadership these days that really makes one question whether they are going to make the leap they were so clearly heading for; their emergence as a much admired leader of the world community.
And on a personal note, now I am going to have to completely rewrite the contemporary developments sections of my textbook, East & Southeast Asia
Thanks a lot Beijing.
Dr. Steven A. Leibo Is a Professor of International Politics & History at the Sage Colleges