China has been the cool new kid of the business and political world for the last couple of years. Its economy has been developing at a rate of knots (finally) which means it’s spending a whole lot of money that everyone else in the world would like a piece of. So everyone has been super nice to China lately.
Business is controlled by the government in China and the Western world expected Chinese leaders to play nice, ie like most Western democratic governments. Although it makes their jobs difficult sometimes, our governments generally accept that their populations are varied and opinionated and prone to criticising people in power. China’s does not.
This profound culture clash affects international business and diplomacy in ways that appear to be making China seem less like the cool kid and more like the kid you decided to be nice to because they have a pool and a PlayStation but who turned out to be a sociopathic bully.
The most recent disturbing news about China is that its government is currently considering banning Google completely rather than requiring it to censor the results of searches conducted within China. The call to ban Google began when the Chinese government discovered that the internet is uncensored in most of the rest of the world. It found this out when its head of propaganda, Li Changchun, googled himself from outside China and was appalled to find content critical of he and his government. That the government is considering banning Google isn’t surprising. What is extremely disturbing is the revelation that up until now, it has assumed that the internet is controlled in the rest of the world. Therein lies the root of the Chinese-Western culture clash. It’s profound enough to make me think that we won’t see its resolution in my lifetime.
The restrictions on search results that China required Google to put in place was complete a block of all search results mentioning the Tiananmen Square massacre, the Dalai Lama, Chinese human rights issues, and information about Chinese dissidents, as well as to lower the resolution of images available on Google Earth. When Li discovered that search results were only restricted within China, he apparently instigated official malicious hacks on Google that came up with information from the email accounts of political activists.
These restrictions are to support the Chinese method of governing which includes outlawing freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of movement, reproductive freedom, most religions and all political dissent. People can be imprisoned for voicing opinions different from the government-sanctioned ones or even for appearing to hold these opinions. Tibetans aren’t allowed to practice their denomination of Buddhism. People are arrested and tortured for following Falun Gong. The only legal Christian groups are those controlled by the ruling political party. The government decides what the news media reports. People are arrested for writing books that present views of the world that the government would prefer didn’t exist and believes its people need to be protected from.
As most people would be aware, this approach to government is not new for China.
Between 1958 and 1961 the Chinese Communist Party took measures to shove the country into a post-industrial world by forcing farmers to work collectively, outlawing private farming and persecuting anyone who tried to keep their own farm. They brought in food rationing. Ultimately the death toll of the campaign was somewhere between 36 and 45 million. No one knows more exact numbers like we do for, say, World War One because the government doesn’t believe itself to be accountable to its people and therefore never reported any.
Since being invited to join the UN in 1971, China has successfully blocked Taiwan from being part of the UN.
In 1989, the Chinese army shot protesters in Tiananmen Square in Beijing who had the nerve to demonstrate support for a politician who had died–a politician who tolerated dissent. Death toll estimates range from 400 to 3000, again because no details of Chinese Government cock up are released.
Reports surfaced that during China’s bid to host the 2000 Olympic Games, disabled people were beaten to death to get rid of them as they were unsightly. When Beijing lost to Australia, there were suggestions by Chinese officials that Beijing would boycott the 1996 Summer Olympics and US intelligence reported before the vote that should Beijing lose the bid, the Chinese government would resume underground nuclear testing, in violation of a worldwide moratorium on such testing.
Our very own home-grown China expert, Kevin Rudd, is well aware of the volatility of China’s leaders when they are challenged, having warned the US to be prepared to use force if China could not be ‘integrated into the international system’ of respecting citizens’ right to think and act for themselves.
Sure they have lots of cool stuff, but is this a playmate the rest of the world really wants?
The people who run China want complete control of the rest of the people who live there: how they live, how they do business and with whom, what news they hear, what information they can find out about their own country and who runs it, what they know about the rest of the world, where their money goes, how many children they can have, their spiritual beliefs, what they know about the history of their own country, what they think, what they say, and what they do. They think that all the world’s governments should do the same.
It’s beyond ridiculous to pander to Chinese restrictions or convince its leaders of the benefits of the Western way of doing things. Even Google has stopped trying. I say we follow its lead. Fuck China.