Thu, Apr 14, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Instability sure to grow in China

By Sushil Seth

China is on a roll. Not so much because it is a superpower or because it will become one soon. It is because Beijing has succeeded in mesmerizing a gullible world about its "success." Partly because a great many countries are not comfortable with the way the US is projecting and using its power. And they are keen to envision another power center to counter the US. China seems to fit the role with its growing economic and political power, although it is nowhere near the US.

China is still largely a third world economy. Its communist rulers are living on a vision of the past when it was a great civilization, the "Middle Kingdom." Its leaders are buoyed up by that vision, regarding China's humiliations during the colonial era (from the Opium Wars to the Japanese invasion) as simply an aberration needing correction.

The recent "Anti-Secession" Law against Taiwan is part of that corrective process to "reunify" the homeland. Japan is also a target for heaping humiliations and committing wartime crimes against China. Europe, though, is not targeted because it is keen to be co-opted. The US is a serious obstacle but it is too powerful to confront. But it might be contained diplomatically with some help from Europe.

As David Shambaugh has said, "Both China and Europe seek ways to constrain American power and hegemony, whether through the creation of a multipolar world or through multilateral institutional constraints on the US."

In the Asia-Pacific region, China is not only seen as a dominant power but also a benign one. According to the Jakarta Post, "It will not be long before China is well and truly the US' peer in global politics." It is a benign power because its "resolute pursuit of positive engagement rather than intimidation with Southeast Asian nations has allowed it to be embraced as an asset to mutual prosperity and regional stability."

And what about China's "Anti-Secession" Law to threaten Taiwan? The Jakarta Post is not worried, attributing it to the country's domestic political compulsions. It says: "? the nuances of domestic politics often require tough talk. As a civilian leader who is consolidating power, it was important for President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) to show a strong stance towards the issue of Taiwan. Within the intricate realm of domestic politics in China, Hu needed to show strong resolve. Hence the saber-rattling about the potential use of force should Taiwan declare its independence."

Even Australia, a staunch US ally, is increasingly mindful of China's sensitivities in view of its growing economic ties with the country. Beijing is dangling the prospect of a free-trade agreement with Australia, once Canberra recognizes it as a market economy. That shouldn't be a problem. Not only that, but Canberra is even willing to regard China as a democracy of sorts.

According to Australian Defense Minister Robert Hill, "China is, of course, not a democracy of our type [but] China does have forums that include appointed and elected representatives."

Canberra is so keen to please China that Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has reportedly banned Falun Gong supporters from protesting outside the Chinese embassy. On Taiwan, Australia seeks to maintain ambiguity of sorts regarding its commitment under the US alliance if it were attacked by China, though it is hard to see how Canberra will get out of it.

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