In addition to “The west doesn’t understand China,” the second refrain you’ll hear when it comes to defending some of the Party’s more draconian policies is that “China is a big country with a large population.” For example, a comment on an old post:
“China insists on having solution that is suitable for the conditions in China, and I bet the shape the hospitals are in is one of these solutions – right for China.
When anyone complaints about anything wrong with China, the size of the population will always come up as the trump card – no other country has as large population as China, and therefore China’s problems are always unique. And I suspect that these hospitals are part of the solution to this most difficult and serious problem of China: Large population.”
While China’s population has historically been large, there was massive growth during Mao Zedong’s rule (even after tens of millions died due to decisions made at the time), which has made China the most populous country in the world. China is also the 3rd largest country (including disputed areas), or roughly the same size as the US. However this too is partially by choice since Inner Mongolia, Tibet and Xinjiang make up more than 50% of China’s area, and were each independent at times during the 20th century.
To be completely clear, I’m not trying to divide China, simply highlighting that these hurdles China is facing are the result of past political decisions.
These two factors taken together make China different from every other country, and allows the Party to promote the idea of Chinese exceptionalism. I think that on a whole this is not a very convincing argument, after all, the US manages democracy over an equal area, and India over a similarly sized population. However, it is an effective way to disrupt conversations about the real problems in China.
I for one don’t understand how the size of China’s population excuses human rights abuses committed in the name of maintaining stability. If socialism with Chinese characteristics really was the best system for China’s large population, why does the government need to respond so harshly to criticisms of it? Is China really so crowded that there is no room for nuanced policy?
My final gripe is the claim that the West wants to undermine China’s rise (something I mentioned briefly yesterday, but deserves further examination). This argument supposes that (1) “the west” really acts a single entity with a cohesive set of ideas and goals, that (2) “the west” wants to stop China from growing so badly that they are actively trying to hinder it, and that (3) “the west” would in someway benefit from China’s demise.
Firstly as most readers probably recognize, “the west” is not actually that cohesive of a unit. Attitudes towards religion, politics, economics, and dozens of other issues vary dramatically within each of these countries, let alone between them. The only thing that is generally agreed on in “the west” is that citizens should have a voice in their gov’t, and that human rights (as agreed upon by the UN) should be enjoyed by all people.
Secondly, how exactly would “the west” execute this plan to slow China’s rise? The argument (esp. during the start of the Arab spring) was that “the west” wanted to spur protests in China that would lead to chaos and lost economic productivity. Or earlier this week our office intern demanded to know why the US wanted to split up China by selling weapons to Taiwan (province). I told her plainly that we had been selling weapons to Taiwan for 60 years, but they had yet to launch a war against China. “If we thought Taiwan would actually try to separate, we wouldn’t sell to them,” I said, “we’re just trying to make money, but China is much more valuable to our economy.”
Which brings us to the third point, how does “the west” benefit from an economically weak China? As reports about China’s possibly faltering economy come out, there is a growing concern about a double dip recession (not that this would be China’s fault). This has made it clear to Europe (and the US) that it will have to look for buyers of debt somewhere else if China slows. China’s economic power is helping to maintain the quality of life enjoyed in “the west”, so there is no interest in stopping its growth.
Update: My wonderful wife noticed I had cut off a key point. That while the west is interested in an economically strong China, there is not necessarily the same interest in a politically strong China. I think that there is some truth in that part of the argument, but that the West is already starting to accept that it can’t have it’s cake and eat it too. This was particularly clear in recent climate change discussions, where China led a group of developing nations to oppose certain restrictions. I would argue that China is already politically strong, and that many of China’s allies are uninterested in the moral arguments made against China in some western news sources.
Now that that’s out of my system, we’ll be moving on to another topic tomorrow.