Why is the West so sure they know what's the best for China more than Chinese themselves?

Thanks for the question. In answer to “As an outsider, can you accept China don't want democracy as they value unity, prosperity & stability much more important? Why is the West so sure they know what's the best for China more than Chinese themselves? What the West really want from China?” I think it would be helpful to break the question into parts. So…

1. “As an outsider, can you accept China don't want democracy as they value unity, prosperity & stability much more important?” There are a number of challenges with this question. The first is the false dichotomy between “unity, prosperity, and stability” and “democracy.” The two are not mutually exclusive. To insist that they are seems a bit like propaganda to me. That is not to say that unity, prosperity, and stability can’t be achieved without democracy — or that they always exist in a democracy. It’s just not a mutually exclusive choice.

The second challenge with this question centers around what the people of China “want.” Hong Kong is now subject to China, and the people of Hong Kong overwhelmingly want democracy. Taiwan desires independence from China, and its people want to continue their democracy as well. The Tibet “government in exile” is democratic, and some proportion of people of Tibet would like to regain their independence from China. So to say that “China doesn’t want democracy” is actually not a complete or true statement.

2. “Why is the West so sure they know what's the best for China more than Chinese themselves?” This a little trickier to answer. I believe there are two primary issues in play. The first is that folks in Western developed nations are generally pretty arrogant about their way of life being superior to everyone else’s. This is cultural to a large degree, but it is also economic because of the West’s historic relative wealth and privilege, and its historic military strength.

The second issue centers around compassion and concern for other human beings. Now there will always be people who judge other cultures without really understanding them, and so their concerns may sometimes be misplaced. But in China’s case, there really are some very dire conditions for some segments of China’s population. The rural poor in China — certainly as compared to much wealthier city dwellers — have a comparatively rough time of it. This is true even for those who travel to cities for work, but must leave their families and children behind for months on end. From the outside looking in, the way the rural poor are treated looks a lot like the very sorts of capitalist oppression and exploitation Marx decried.

Religious and cultural minorities also have a tough time in China — especially those like the Uighurs who ended up in Xinjiang “re-education” camps. This treatment looks just as bad as the “ethnic cleansing” and degradation that has occurred throughout history in other parts of the world — for example, what happened to many Native American tribes in the U.S.A.

And of course many of the people of Tibet and Hong Kong feel very oppressed by China — and many people in Taiwan live in constant fear of oppression issuing from China.

Taken altogether, it is I think fair and reasonable for a caring and compassionate person to have concern for some segments of China’s population, and want to help or advocate for them in some way. Yes…this can seem a bit arrogant — especially when folks advocating may be pretty ignorant about China in most other respects — but I do think it honestly comes from a genuinely charitable mindset.

3. Then we come to “What the West really want from China?” That is probably the easiest part of the question to answer. There are really two very different expectations that many folks living in the West have regarding China. The first is that the Chinese people succeed and thrive — regardless of the political economy in which they live. For example, there is real worry that climate change will cause profound damage in China — especially it terms of its water supplies and its ability to grow food. And that is a very worrisome prospect, so there is hope that China will engineer a way out of this impending disaster. There is also a fair amount of awe and inspiration in seeing China progress in its Belt and Road Initiative — and I think many people have been rooting for China to succeed there.

The second expectation is that China not become more aggressive militarily, or attempt to expand its territory and maritime control, or become so dominant economically that it dictates trade policy across Asia and the rest of the globe. This is a very real fear — and unfortunately China has poured fuel on that fear in some of its expansionist behaviors and rhetoric of late (i.e. South China Sea, Taiwan, India’s Ladakh region, Hong Kong, Himalayas, etc.). To make things worse, conservatives in the West have tended to trump up the threat China poses to the West, which has only made things worse. Of course, countries like Japan and India have expressed much more concern and unease about China’s recent behaviors and rhetoric than anyone in the West has done.

4. Lastly, we need to talk about Xi. There is no escaping that he is behaving more and more like a dangerous authoritarian dictator. His creation of a cult-of-personality around himself; his removing anyone in opposition from power; his ending his own term limits in office; his increase of mass surveillance, censorship, and highly coordinated human rights violations; and so on. I think that history has taught us that such behaviors from a leader are incredibly toxic to the ultimate well-being of a nation and its citizens. Xi’s rule will not end well. In the West, we have our own failings in leadership, but can be very grateful that democracy has removed some of them (such as Donald Trump). If Chinese government offered another civic mechanism besides democracy to remove Xi from power, I wonder if the advocacy of democracy for the Chinese people would be as great as it is.

My 2 cents.


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