Page 1 of 2 Is China drinking its own Kool-Aid?
By Peter Lee
This has been a strange and unsettling year for Chinese geopolitical
strategists. Like French generals, they seem intent on fighting the last war,
even as new challenges appear on their doorstep.
China recently issued a White Paper on "China's Peaceful Development". It
revisits the old tropes of the "Chinese way" of apolitical commitment to
economic development as the panacea for "win-win" peaceful world progress - and
the basis for welcoming China into the world geopolitical order as a key
participant, not a detested competitor.
Peace and development are the
two major issues of today's world. Peace, development and cooperation are part
of the irresistible global trend. The world today is moving towards
multipolarity and economic globalization is gaining momentum. There is a
growing call for change in the international system and the world is facing
more historical challenges. To share opportunities presented by development and
jointly ward off risks is the common desire of the people of the world.
Economic globalization has become an important trend in the evolution of
international relations. Countries of different systems and different types and
at various development stages are in a state of mutual dependence, with their
interests intertwined. The problem is not that China doesn't believe in - or
practice - these lofty aspirations. 
In fact, while the West
has cratered the world economy and blundered into a series of illegal and
semi-legal and ill-conceived military ventures that have brought untold
suffering to millions of people, the Chinese government has lifted hundreds of
millions out of poverty and hasn't fought a serious military engagement since
the disastrous Vietnam incursion in 1979.
The problem is that most of the nations that matter don't, or at least are
unwilling to accept a world order that rewards China for its achievements in
state capitalism with an important and respected voice in the affairs of the
Perhaps the key barometer is the anachronistic European Union arms embargo
At the same time that Greece and Italy are anxiously soliciting economic
support from Beijing - and nine years after the West ripped a gaping wound in
the Middle East with an illegal war against Iraq and a few brief months after
the West armed the anti-Gaddafi forces in defiance of its own UNSC resolution,
for that matter - the EU cannot bring itself to end the arms embargo inspired
by the Tiananmen massacre in 1989.
Sustaining the embargo against all odds in 2005 was one of the greatest
achievements of John Bolton, former US ambassador to the United Nations. In
retrospect, that may be viewed as a missed opportunity to reset the
relationship between China and the West on the basis of the desired Chinese
terms of mutual equality and respect.
Now, as China flies stealth fighters and launches aircraft carriers, the
efficacy and relevance of the EU arms embargo are even more diminished. But the
embargo persists as anxiety over China's rise grows and the West flounders
through its self-inflicted political and economic crises.
When it comes to China, geopolitics still runs on zero sum, not "win-win".
But there is more wrong with the Chinese model than its inability to get the
Western democracies to acknowledge the global validity of the Chinese economic
miracle. The Chinese model itself had its best years when the George W Bush
administration was blindly and brutally pursuing hegemony in the Middle East.
Developments in Taiwan, Myanmar, and, of all places, Zambia, send important
signals - and they are not merely warning signs of aggressive US rollback under
the Obama administration. In each of these countries, China has labored to
deliver the economic goods. But in each country, the political system is poised
to administer a rebuke.
In Taiwan, Beijing has assiduously attempted to pump up the Taiwanese economy
in order to boost the electoral prospects of mainland-friendly President Ma
Ying-jyeou. But the perception that China's economic might (and Chinese
President Hu Jintao's concern for his own legacy) stand behind Ma (and would
not stand behind the government of his challenger, independence-friendly Tsai
King-wen ) apparently has little weight in the electoral scales.
China is faced with the distinct possibility that Ma's party will lose the
presidency in January 2012, and Beijing will have to write off a considerable
amount of political and financial capital. 
Meanwhile, in order to demonstrate its sincere desire for rapprochement with
the West (and provide the US State Department sufficient political cover to
engage with the newly-minted civilian government despite the vociferous
complaints of the Free Burma lobby), Myanmar announced it would free some
political prisoners and also pulled the plug, at least for three years, on a
big, China-funded hydro project, the Myitsone Dam.
The announcement apparently took China by surprise; indeed, it was probably the
Myanmar government's intention to leave some egg on Beijing's face in order to
demonstrate its new distance from China.
Considering the fact that the project was highly dubious on environmental
grounds, was situated in the middle of a tribal war zone, and was supposed to
send all its power to China instead of the impoverished locality - and the fact
that the US State Department has been working indefatigably to engage with
Myanmar in order to wean it from China - it seems that the Chinese government
might have seen that one coming.
But it apparently didn't.
And in Zambia, China's efforts to boost the electoral fortunes of the allegedly
compliant and corrupt incumbent, Rupiah Banda, with a major inflow of economic
goodies came to naught as Beijing's b๊te noire, Michael Sata, came to
power on a populist, anti-China platform. Howard French, who knows the region
well, reported in the Atlantic:
China's presence is felt almost
everywhere in the country nowadays, from the big Bank of China billboard ads
that welcome visitors in Chinese and are among the first sights that any
passenger arriving at the Lusaka airport sees, to the city's markets, streets,
and shopping malls, where Chinese who were all but invisible just a few years
ago now abound. The most politically significant aspect of this presence,
though, is the high-profile projects that China rushed to complete in time for
the election. These include the newly delivered and fully equipped 159-bed
Lusaka General Hospital, and a striking 40,000 seat stadium in Ndola.
During my recent visit, the merits of the hospital were touted in exhausting
detail every evening one week on national television, and the stadium has
received similarly lavish attention.
Zambians ... have been told that China is good for them, notably by their
leaders of most of the last decade, and the least one can say in the wake of
their vote is that they haven't been altogether persuaded. 
concludes that the Chinese have done a good job of ingratiating themselves with
political incumbents, but not a good job of "winning hearts and minds" among
Sata won the election rather handily, leading to some over-the-top vaunting by
Paul Bonicelli, the Bush administration's man at USAID, in the pages of Foreign
Policy magazine. Bonicelli announced:
Zambians send a 20-year government
packing and warn the Chinese they could be next. But a larger and more
interesting issue is the fulfillment in Zambia, and in the person of the new
president, of the idea that Africa should not become prey to a new colonial
power, that of the Chinese.
Sata's election represents the working out of the predictions of some observers
that if the Chinese, in collusion with dictators and de facto presidents for
life, continued to unfairly exploit developing countries, there would be a
backlash redounding to the harm of both the incumbent governments as well as
the foreign interests.
Those of us who have worked in foreign assistance often heard how unwise we
were to let the Chinese provide visible support such as the building of
infrastructure and schools while we supported the intangibles of democracy, the
rule of law, fair labor practices and economic freedom. We averred that if we
did the right thing, the best thing, in time the fruit of our labor would be
the movement of developing states from the category of failed and dependent to
stable and flourishing. I trust that we are being proven right in Zambia and
that this example will spread.
It is too soon to predict that a backlash is building generally across the
globe against the Chinese exploiters and against aid practices that only
further dependency, but the ripples of the Zambian election - and what it could
mean for development policy - are likely to be felt beyond its borders.
Lest one think this was a matter of resource and economic nationalism, and not
pure revulsion at the antics of the detested Chinese presence, Bonicelli
Sata has no intention of closing Zambia for business; rather,
he simply is requiring that his country's labor laws and safety regulations be
respected by both foreign firms as well as the government itself.