China lobbied long and hard to host this summer’s Olympics, and thousands of Chinese literally danced in the streets when the decision was made to award Beijing the Games. This was to be a chance for Chinese to show the world just how far they and their country had come. But as the saying goes: One should be careful what one wishes for.
China is getting a great deal of international attention, but not the sort it bargained for. It is finding itself under intense international scrutiny for everything from its policy toward Tibet, human rights and product safety to the level of its currency, its policy in Sudan and global climate change. What was meant to be a moment of celebration has turned into one of criticism.
Indeed, it is likely that several prominent world leaders, including British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, will not attend the opening ceremonies. Leading US political figures have also voiced support for a boycott.
Of course, China merits criticism in many areas of its domestic and foreign policy. But snubbing China is misguided. It ignores what the country has accomplished and it risks consequences that are inconsistent with what the critics themselves want to see.
Some perspective is called for. Modern China is only some six decades old. Its economic growth has been and is truly astounding. Hundreds of millions of Chinese have been lifted out of poverty. Indeed, Chinese economic growth must be acknowledged as one of history’s great achievements in poverty reduction.
China is not simply wealthier; it is also a far more open place politically than it was during the Mao Zedong (毛澤東) era. Civil society is growing, with more than 300,000 non-governmental organizations. Official statistics shows that more than 85,000 public protests occurred in 2005 (and probably more each year since) over issues such as corruption, public health, the environment and land use. Even the recent earthquake in Sichuan Province revealed how Chinese politics are changing. Cameras were allowed in; senior officials were seen and heard.
There are also indications that China’s foreign policy is evolving. China has played a helpful role of late in encouraging North Korean cooperation with demands to limit its nuclear capabilities. In Sudan, China supported a UN Security Council resolution establishing an international operation and committed 315 engineers to the UN-African Union force.
None of this excuses or justifies the shortcomings in Chinese behavior at home or abroad, which are many and real. But reality is not one-dimensional. China is changing, in many ways for the better, and further change in the right direction is not likely to result from a policy of isolating or sanctioning China.
If we want China to become a full participant, a stakeholder, in the international system, we are more likely to achieve this outcome by integrating it into the world’s institutions. The Chinese need to see how they benefit from inclusion — and how they would suffer from not being one of the countries shaping and buttressing today’s international institutions.
We should seek the integration of Beijing as a matter of self-interest. In a globalized world, global challenges largely require global responses, which are impossible if a country of China’s size and population and wealth does not participate. Stopping the spread of nuclear weapons, promoting more efficient energy use, taking action on climate change and maintaining an open global economy — these and other tasks require Chinese participation, even cooperation, if globalization is not to overwhelm us all.