Looks like China is going to be held responsible if things go bad in Zimbabwe. You have to maintain a sense of humor about these things if you won’t want to go completely crazy or burn out. There are people out there who see (honestly) the current Chinese government as the source of all evil in the world, and are likely to believe and report anything bad they can find. And there is a lot of bad stuff because China is a huge country, and even more bad stuff if you let down your standards of evidence.
So once you resign yourself that China is going to be portrayed as the “bad guy” it then becomes amusing how the story is shaped so that China becomes evil. If things go bad in Zimbabwe, then I’m expecting the editorial from Howard French talking about how China was responsible for Mugabe staying in power, ignoring the ten thousand other factors that go into Zimbabwean politics.
The big problem with this view of the world, is that it really doesn’t improve it. What inevitably happens when you focus on trivial factors that don’t make any difference is that you get into the politics of symbol. The argument becomes that whatever guns China sends really doesn’t may the difference, but that China needs to “send a message” at which point everything starts becoming things about sending messages rather than getting anything accomplished.
The problem is that if you don’t look at consequences and just look at motives, you might end up with a situation which is worse than if you had done nothing.
Also, there is a hidden message in attaching strings which is that Western countries are basically saying that they know how to run African countries better than the Africans do, and that is just not true. Westerners like to think of themselves as wise teachers, but people in the West know little about what it takes to develop a country because no one really knows what it takes to develop a country. Ignorance is not a problem. It’s ignorance of ignorance that is dangerous.
If you deal with someone from a point of view of self-interest, there is an implied amount of respect. I’m working with you for my self-interest, you have to look out for yourself, and I trust that you can handle your own affairs better than I can.
China’s intentions in Africa are largely selfish, and there is a refreshing amount of honesty in that. The other interesting thing is sometimes the selfish thing turns out to be the right thing to do, whereas the altruistic thing turns out to be the wrong thing to do.
The problem with pretending that your interests are other than what they are is that it just makes things more complex. The trouble with altruism is that altruism has its limits. To raise Africa to first world standards of living is going to take tens of trillions of dollars of investment and at least a century. That sort of investment is not going to come via altruism.
The other problem with trying to run someone else’s life and politics is that you get sick of it and leave long before anything useful happens. The story of African development is going to be one that lasts at least a hundred years, and it is going to be one that is largely written by the Africans. If you are an outsider, you have the option of packing up and going home once you find out how difficult things are going to be. If someplace is your home, you don’t have that option, and you are going to be intent on making it better because you don’t have any other choice.
I disagree with just about everything in that article.
This article suffers from what I call the “golden age syndrome.” From time to time, you get these articles about how human rights in China is declining from the previous year, but that would imply that there was a “golden age” in the past when Chinese human rights were wonderful, and it’s hard to see when that was. Similarly, the idea that Hu Jintao’s policies are *more* confrontational to the United States than Jiang Zemin’s implies that there was a golden age in the 1990’s when US-China relations were wonderful, and I must have missed that. Those were the years of “China can say no”, the third Taiwan Straits crisis, the Belgrade embassy bombing, and the Hainan spy plane incident.
Hu Jintao’s policy toward the United States is noticably less confrontational than the era under Jiang Zemin. Gone are the days in which just about every other editorial in the People’s Daily was a complaint about US interference in Chinese affairs or the rabid dog editorials on Taiwan.
Also, China and the United States are cooperating on issues such as North Korea and Iran in ways that were unlikely a decade ago. Yes, China is making friends with Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America, but these actions are taken primarily to create markets and resources for Chinese economic development, and displacing the United States is not an objective. There’s absolutely nothing that China is doing that discourages the United States from investing in Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America, and the fact that no one in Washington noticed Africa before Hu Jintao visited there is not the fault of Beijing.
The weapons that are coming out now (the anti-satellite weapon and the J-10) have been in development for years. The threat of using force to resolve the Taiwan issue if independence is declared and the goal of deter the United States from intervening in the Taiwan straits in case of a crisis is also not a new objective. The fact that the PLA is being much less secretive about its miliary buildup and spending is partly due to US pressure to be more transparent about its goals and spending
There is a medieval concept known as “corruption of blood.” If you were convicted of the crime of treason in medieval England, your property would be seized by the king which would punish your children and relatives. This idea of corruption of blood is explicitly banned by the US Constitution.
Yet Sebastian Mallaby is complaining that China is doing business in Sudan, and the argument against this I’d argue is similar to arguments for corruption of blood. If you want to punish genocide, I think you ought to punish the people that commit genocide. Punishing an entire nation by withholding economic trade seems to be morally problematic, and at the same time, I don’t think it is going to do anything useful in the end
Also Mallaby complains that Chinese aid to Sudan is undermining Western concepts of developmental aid. I think he is correct, but let me ask him to name *one* country that has become prosperous through Western concepts of aid. I can’t think of any. Every country I can think of that has become reasonably prosperous had done so through trade and not developmental aid. Talking about Western concepts of aid, as if they are correct is laughable given what we have seen in Iraq or even Burma. It also has a very condescending notion of world affairs, as if the West is intelligent, and the opinions of the rest of the world really don’t matter.
There are some difficult issues with respect to Sudan, and I don’t want to make light of what is happening in Darfur. I don’t think it is a bad thing to question the morality and effectiveness of any foreign policy, I do think it is a bad thing to automatically assume the correctness of any policy, rather than to recognize that things are complex. If you want to come up with an argument that says that China ought not to invest in China, you really need to come up with something stronger than it undermines Western policy. So what? The fact that it undermines Western policy is not going to convince China, nor would I argue should it convince someone else.
You can really come up with a more effective argument that would probably get the Chinese government to rethink their actions in Sudan if you draw a historical analogy with the US oil and steel embargo of the Japanese in the 1930’s for actions in China.