The world is scared of the impact of China’s economic troubles today. It should worry more about future actions of an economically strong and militarily powerful country with the dictatorial governance that has no respect for the liberal-democratic framework of the West
Human beings have a proclivity to overemphasise the current times and the immediate future, pushing even significant long-term problems into the background. Who wants to worry about the uncertain changes in climate years down the line, when we have apparently more pressing concerns staring us in the face now? That apart, we also get titillated by certain kinds of events. Indrani Mukherjee saga obviously captures more TV bites than a serious discussion of geopolitical situation in the Middle East. We obviously prefer to take a peep into a celebrity’s bedroom rather than go deep into the intricate psychology shaping the minds of young terrorists.
Ignoring such trends can come back to haunt us later. China has become an economically strong and militarily powerful country. It also suffers from a perceived feeling of historical injustice and persecution. The two together with the dictatorial governance of China are a recipe for disaster.
“Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” There is no instance in history of a single individual wielding as much power as the head of the Chinese Communist party, Xi Jinping, does today. While the US continues to be much stronger and more influential globally, the US President does not enjoy absolute authority in his own country. Far from it, as we have witnessed repeatedly in recent years, where various policies and decisions of President Obama, have either been undone by the Congress or are lying in cold storage. The US constitution is based on the principle of checks and balances and consequently ensures that such power is not misused. The US President must incorporate the views of others in policymaking and implementation.
What China and more specifically Xi, are not only capable of doing but have shown inclinations towards, portends extremely chilling scenario. China has a dictatorial governance system, with Xi assuming disproportionate power that brooks no dissent. Senior bureaucrats, defence officials and corporate executives simply disappear if they incur Xi Jinping’s wrath, as we have seen frequently in the recent past. The State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television (SARFT) in China regulates all Internet content in that country. The press is completely muzzled, Facebook, Google and Twitter are banned or partially allowed, individual freedom is non-existent and any form of dissent is curbed forcefully. Inconvenient journalists are picked up at night from their homes in hundreds and imprisoned without any charge. Heck, you cannot even decide how many children you will have. For three decades, China enforced a policy that allowed couples to have only one child. Now, it has selectively permitted two children per couple. Would we be wrong in presuming that the Chinese government, over the last 30 years, has been responsible for killing crores of human beings even before they were born? It is shameful that lack of freedom and such extensive human rights violations are not issues with the global community.
Sign of things to come are already visible. China has usurped islands in South Sea that are disputed by its neighbours. Many countries in the region including the Philippines and Vietnam are already feeling uneasy. Philippines has taken China to the International Criminal Court but China flatly refuses to respond. Coming after a similar dispute with Japan, there seems very little scope for peaceful resolution of disputes, in accordance with international laws. China has repeatedly used its wealth to seek influence with unsavoury regimes. It continues to favour Assad in Syria and is the only country to support and maintain relations with the North Korean regime. The way it has treated some of the multinationals is shameful. There is no remedy since a fair system of justice is non-existent in that country. It shirks its own responsibility on most issues that concern the international community such as the current fight against religious fanaticism. It shies away from fighting the ISIS. It has no respect for the liberal-democratic international institutional framework that exists today.
It is, therefore, a surprise that the world ignores these realities while continuing to interact and do business with China. People have a tendency to question democratic governments when they are perceived to be following wrong policies. But China seems to be immune from such criticism, which at best is highly muted. Multinational companies are ready to do business in China irrespective of the restrictions placed and the favouritism shown to local companies. Chinese yuan is now a part of the special drawing rights (SDR) despite the fact there is no free trade in yuan and its value is actually determined by the People's Bank of China (PBOC). The way British government fawned over the Chinese during Xi’s recent visit was a sickening spectacle, coming from a country that can justifiably claim to be the bastion of democratic traditions.
Money obviously talks and talks loudly. A country that produces 13% of the global output and is among the fastest-growing in the world is too big to ignore or criticize. The economies of many countries are dependent on China and the recent downtrend in that country has already adversely impacted these countries. If the global community continues to turn a blind eye to Chinese indiscretions, we will ultimately have to pay a very heavy price when China would be too powerful to brook any serious opposition.
(Sunil Mahajan, a financial consultant and teacher, has over three decades experience in the corporate sector, consultancy and academics.)