China and the world

I am involved in an on line debate about the post-COVID world. This is my first post in response to some comments by another participant about the need to confront and contain China:-

As a European, I feel very uncomfortable with Trump’s USA as the sole hegemon in the world, and see China as a useful and necessary countervailing power. There are many aspects of Chinese society that are deplorable, particularly the treatment of minority communities, but they have not threatened peace and security of foreign nations in anything like the continuous and aggressive way that the USA has since at least the end of WW2.

In economic policy too, it is the US which is basing it’s trade policy on an ignorant mercantilism that risks impoverishing us all. In contrast, the rapid growth of the Chinese economy pre-COVID 19 has been the major engine of continuing improvements in world GDP. Although aspects of the statist approach are uncongenial, dealing with threats such as global warming and CO|VID 19 will certainly require a bigger state role than we are accustomed to in the West, and we are more likely to find solutions in Chinese experience than in the capitalist economies that have yet to find any organisational models for harnessing private enterprise to pursue societal goals. On the contrary, the state has been suborned to create perpetual war to boost the profits of the arms industry, while privatised health suppliers and big pharma have produced the most expensive, unequal, and therefore ineffective health services in any developed country.

It seems to me that China isn’t really a threat to the West, though it is a competitor. China as a unified state has a history going back thousands of years, throughout which it has shown no interest in geographical expansion. It pursues what it perceives to be it’s own interests, as do we all, but has usually done so through peaceful means where that is feasible, particularly in the post-Mao era. The economic policies it pursues do pose some problems to those wishing to develop trade and investment relationships, but the way to resolve those differences is through the rules based international system that the USA seems so intent on tearing up. The US under Trump is a bigger threat to mutually beneficial economic relationships, relying on naked power to bully it’s partners in ways that impoverish both sides.

Throughout most of it’s history, the UN respected the useful principle of not interfering in the internal affairs of other states. That attracted criticism for not confronting gross human rights abuses committed by states against their own citizens. However, the terrible consequences of attempts at regime change in the Middle East and Latin America might lead us to conclude that non-interference was a wise policy -with exceptions perhaps in extreme cases such as the Rwanda genocide. Our current set of alliances make it clear that there is no moral or ethical principle governing which countries we befriend and which we characterise as terrorist states – I find the US use of non-judicial murder by drone, and the  actions of our allies in Yemen and the Gaza strip just as repugnant as anything that China or Iran are accused of.

This leads me to the view that we should try again to revive the use of rule-based systems to address international disputes, which is more likely to suggest cooperating with China to restrain the US through non-military action. We need to deal with the world as it is. By all means speak out against injustice wherever it occurs, and seek to promote and protect human rights by exposing abuses, but we need to accept that external actors rarely improve the situation by using lethal force. Trade, investment, diplomacy, and cultural and sporting exchange are the strongest weapons we have. An overly aggressive approach to China (or to other states perceived as problematic) is more likely to reinforce the position of those within those states who oppose cooperation.