Ringing out a troubled year for the US relations with China, President Trump made a welcome announcement on December 24 that he and President Xi Jinping would be Soon signing an interim trade deal, which means a ‘ceasefire’ of sorts in their needless ‘trade war’. Actually the ‘trade war’ masks a brewing conflict, perhaps a precursor to a New Cold War, which is largely fueled by the Washington military-industrial-complex’s inability to accept or cope with the peaceful rise of China and concurrent somewhat tectonic shift in the global balance of economic and political power, from the West to the East. They have already labeled the ‘Asia-Pacific region’ as ‘Indo-Pacific’ in a bid to lure in India as a counterweight to China, promoting and protecting American interests in the Asian continent. Hence, the war of words between Beijing and Washington continues, and recently, it was in the arena of human rights.
The Communist Party of China (CPC), through its information and publicity department, convened a global conference on the occasion of Human Rights Day on December 10. The South-South Human Rights conference in Beijing had a broad representative character, bringing together parliamentarians, scholars and experts from Pakistan to Palestine, Mauritius to Mongolia and Syria to Samoa. Despite the diversity of cultures, countries and continents, there was an air of camaraderie, based on shared experiences as developing countries facing similar problems and pressures.
The context of the conclave is the transformation taking place in the world which is reshaping global power politics. With the shifting dynamics of economic and political power and the United States and Europe perceived to be in relative decline, the 21st century is now largely viewed as the “Asian Century”.
A defining feature of this epoch is globalisation, with China fueling 30% of global growth and President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) undoubtedly the most significant developmental and diplomatic effort for globalisation in the 21st century.
Three features of the Beijing Human Rights Forum are noteworthy.
First, the participants took note of a huge, unprecedented achievement of China’s in promoting the right to a prosperous life and freedom from poverty for over 800 million of its citizens, who have been lifted out of poverty after the Reform and Opening Up policies began in the 1980s. This is the most fundamental of all rights that human beings can aspire to, building a better tomorrow for themselves and their progeny.
During his keynote speech, Chinese Communist Party Politburo member and information chief of CPC, Huang Kunming, announced that in 2020, the last remaining 6 million Chinese still living in poverty would be lifted out of that condition, making China a society whose citizens would have almost full freedom from poverty. He also stated that the BRI has generated 300,000 jobs since its launch 5 years back.
Second, the use of human rights as a political weapon by some countries of the West to push, pressure and demonise China and other countries whose interests may be at variance with those in the West. Politics, not principles, determine their approach to human rights, based on double standards. For example, they are silent on human rights in Palestine and Kashmir or the application of United Nations resolutions in both these instances, but jump at the opportunity to pressure China on Hong Kong and Xinjiang, even when they know these are internal matters of China. And as ‘The Afghanistan Papers’, published by The Washington Post on December 9 show, the United States misled it’s own people as well as global public opinion about Afghanistan, as it earlier did on the Iraq war in 2003. Passing resolutions on Hong Kong and Xinjiang are a violation of the principles of non-interference in internal affairs. It’s like other countries passing resolutions on treatment of African Americans, Latinos or children of immigrants, the so-called ‘dreamers’ in the United States.
Third, there is the key question of motives behind the anti-China campaign by the US, since earlier it was the ‘Trade war‘, or the issue Huawei 5 G, or Taiwan, or South China Sea or now Hong Kong and Xinjiang? Two important articles in major American publications, one recent and one from the past, are instructive to understand the mindset of the American security establishment.
Recently, an article by CNN anchor, Fareed Zakaria, in the influential ‘Foreign Affairs’ magazine on The New China Scare provides a relevant perspective, where the author feels the American Establishment is applying pressure on China, similar to that put decades earlier during the Cold War on the Soviet Union, with the unstated objective of inducing ‘regime change’. And, interestingly, the author goes on to add that during the Cold War, 1947-1989, the United States had staged 72 attempts at ‘regime change’ in various countries of the world!
The other article, published in November 1991, soon after the demise of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, appeared in The New York Times by Leslie Gelb, a former senior US State Department staffer, with actually the somewhat grand and arrogant title, Breaking China Apart.
The article was published in the aftermath of the triumphalism of the Soviet Union’s demise and defeat in the Afghan War, when the US had proclaimed its intention of building “A New World Order”. The article threatened to use the political card of ‘separatism’ against China if it was deemed necessary for US national security objectives!
So, when US Secretary of State Pompeo says that the US and its allies will try to “put China in its proper place”, this is a throwback to the Cold War mentality reflecting an imperial hubris.
Instead of learning to adjust to new realities or coexisting in harmony with China, the US military-industrial-complex seems to be in a quest for conjuring up an ‘enemy’ whom they can justify with bloated budgets to ‘contain and counter’.
The national security and economic interests of the United States would be better served if they listened to the wisdom of one of their own elder statesman, President Jimmy Carter. He recently narrated a telephonic conversation with President Trump who talked of “countering the China threat”, to which Carter retorted: “The problem is that for the last 40 years, the United States has constantly been at war overseas, sending soldiers and fighting futile wars, while China has been concentrating on its economic development, without fighting any war”!