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Look squarely at China

12:51, February 01, 2010

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By Li Hongmei People’s Daily Online

If asked how to view the U.S. as the world’s dominant power, the answer must be as clear as daylight. But if the same question were hurled at China, the answers to be collected would be poles apart. It is not the difference that the U.S. remains the No 1 economy, while China grows up to be the world’s second economic power, but the difference felt by the audience when seeing the same role played by the different actors. Isn’t it that “a thousand performers would produce a thousand Hamlets”, as runs the popular saying ?

Three decades ago, there was nothing holding people in suspense, as the then Hamlet was exclusively played by the unchallengeable actor, the U.S. But today’s Hamlet is a role shared by many actors from different cultural backgrounds. Needless to say, different Hamlets meet the tastes of their respective audience, and the audience from one culture can never completely savor the performance staged by the actor from the culture beyond.

China is also included in the emerging actors who are at times cast in the leading role. Whether or not the Hamlet played by China is welcome totally depends on the particular audience in the specific context. Perhaps, it is not only the cultural gap blocking the communication, but more of the stereotype and the preconditioning bias, assuming that China can never play the leading role. Otherwise, it would be an indigestible fact.

Like it or not, China has already come out on top just in time when the super power U.S. are prepared for its downside possibilities. That explains why, in the bygone 2009, China’s rise was listed as the most oft-quoted phrase of the year, and also the most contentious issue, which can allegedly push America to recalibrate its internal and external policies. The emergence of some unfriendly, or even hostile, views imposed upon China reflects a fact that China’s image is still seen through the distorting mirror. What is the true landscape of today’s China ?

The last decade of 20th century provides China with the needed momentum to give a boost to its comprehensive national strength.

First, China’s GDP growth has been in excess of 9 percent on average since 1990s, and sees a steady rise even in the global economic chill at the time. Although its export-driven economy is somewhat choked by the sweeping slowdown, the economic vitality is not sapped, the recovery is therefore in all likelihood and the growth will continue as expected. Besides, China also is becoming a growing supplier of capital in Southeast Asia, as well as in the United States, Latin America, and elsewhere. China’s more assertive role on the world stage and, its unconditional aid for years in a row to the needed countries, have greatly enhanced its economic leverage over the developing world. Undoubtedly, China is a vocal representative for the developing countries on international occasions.

Nothing is more absurd than the outcome which allows the extremes of praise and abuse coexist, when China is portrayed as both a savior and a bargain hunter. An article carried in News Week even compares China to a traveler waiting only for a free ride, and there are also the descriptions of the kind saying China is always seeking expediency from others’ emergency. China’s economic aid with no stings attached is taken as a means to gaining access to cheap energy and raw materials. The medium- and small-sized Chinese enterprises, instead of being accepted as a solution to the high unemployment amid the locals, are normally looked on as the life-and-death competitor to challenge and even impair the local businesses. Some even go out of their way to boycott the Chinese businesses and products just out of local protectionism, and label the Chinese aid as “colonization in the disguised form.”

But it is pointless to belabor the obvious and unassailable contributions China has made so far in these countries.

Second, China’s military modernization is always a thorn in flesh to the muscle-flexing military powers and their ambitious followers. Be that as it may, the progress to date is catching the global attention in space program, downsizing but professionalization of forces, and the shift toward naval, air, and missile capabilities. China’s military modernization has thus far contributed a lot to the international peace-keeping mission and also greatly beefed up the national confidence. But some still cast doubt on China’s progress scored in its national defensive system saying China is extending its military capabilities far beyond safeguarding the national security.

But the fact is that China has never sent any of its combat troops to the foreign soil, and will never do. Never would hegemony find its way in China’s political landscape. Actually speaking, what China has consistently pursued is nothing but the sovereign equality of all nations, and the mutual respect on an equal footing, regardless of size, strength and system.

Intellectually, it is evidently seen that ever-growing numbers of foreign students throughout Asia and even all across the world are currently studying in China. And, China’s own students are also achieving as much internationally. Starting from 1980s, the programs aimed at enhancing cultural exchanges and person-to-person contacts to bridge China and the world have steadily advanced in both quantity and quality. The Chinese society and people are therefore growing to be more mature and more tolerant with the country’s quickened pace to go global.

In a nutshell, China’s rise in its comprehensive national strength is always viewed as a mixed blessing by the conventional powers, and the point has been driven home by Akihisa Nagashima, Parliamentary Vice-Minister of Japan Ministry of Defense, when he remarked recently that it is a dilemma in deciding how to deal with China, as China is different from the Soviet Union for the duration of the Cold War, which could be sanctioned from time to time by blockade and the like. But China is a market that cannot be ignored,” this partially showcasing the dual nature of the Western powers’ China policy.

Hence, how to view China is not only a matter of the perspective, but more of the attitude. It would not seem that China likes to be looked up as a giant or a super power, nor looked down upon by being intentionally dwarfed or even demonized. Just look China in the eye through the lens of fairness and justice, you would possibly get a sweeping and true profile of China.

The articles in this column represent the author's views only. They do not represent opinions of People's Daily or People's Daily Online.

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About this column

Li Hongmei, editor and columnist of PD Online.


Li HongLi Hong

After 19 years working for China Daily and its website, Li Hong moved to english.people.com.cn in March 2009.

Li has been a reporter and column writer, mainly on China's economy and politics.

He was graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University, and once studied in University of Hawaii and the Poynter Institute in Florida.

Gavin Jon MowatGavin Jon Mowat

Gavin Jon Mowat, editor and columnist for People's Daily Online.

As a graduate from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, UK, Gavin came to Beijing 2 years ago to study Chinese.

Enjoying the culture and traditions of the orient so much, Gavin has since left his home in Scotland and is now living and working in China.

Gavin uses his background in writing to share his experiences of China with you at People's Daily Online.