There are currently two different predictions about China’s future. One is the “collapse of China,” which holds that, if China continues on its current track, it will, sooner or later, head toward chaos. If China crashes, the world might follow. China’s collapse would certainly not be good for China, nor would it be good for any other country. However, if China continues to develop its economy based on “the advantage of having limited human rights,” it is actually exploiting its own people in order to support other countries’ overspending. What is so good about this “advantage?” If it is bad for the world, how can it be good for the Chinese people? I think it is only good for a few oligarchs.
Therefore, the rise of China and the “rise of the China model” are two different things. Some people believe that China’s rise will intimidate the world. We strongly oppose this “China threat” pronouncement. As Chinese, we certainly hope for a rich and prosperous China. Even for those who do not care for China, a potential “collapse of China” is surely a much worse threat to the world than the “rise of China” would be.
However, if the “rise of the China model” means that “the advantage of limited human rights” becomes widespread worldwide, the prediction of Mr. Zhang Wuchang (Steven N. S. Cheung) that “Europe will follow the U.S., and the U.S. will follow China” will become a reality. This is by no means good news; this is true even based on Chinese interests or nationalism. Quite frankly, those who take advantage of China’s “limited human rights” practice do not make themselves China’s friends. China was a student of the Soviet Union, but it later became its enemy. Vietnam once followed China but later became China’s bitter rival. The Khmer Rouge was once the humble student of Vietnam, but it later became Vietnam’s worst enemy.
If a “limited human rights” country has a cozy relationship with China’s government, we still cannot call it China’s friend. If being “China’s friend” means the country is friendly to Chinese citizens and the ethnic Chinese population, then the country is definitely not a “limited human rights” country. Some Westerners, while treating their own citizens with dignity, have treated us Chinese people badly. In the past, that meant that the Chinese people had to fight for justice. Despite the historical animosity, their practice of “treating their own citizens with dignity” is still something for us to learn. On the other hand, suppose the Westerners learned to “treat their own citizens badly.” Would they treat us any better?
For many years, China’s position in the world has been very peculiar. The countries we consider to be “friends” or even “brothers” treat our Chinese compatriots – ethnic Chinese people – badly. It seems the more “friendly” a country is toward China, the worse they treat Chinese compatriots! On the contrary, the countries we consider to be the enemy are very friendly toward their Chinese residents and their businesses. It appears that the more “hostile to China” the countries get, the better they treat the overseas Chinese. Take Southeast Asia as an example. This area is known for its anti-Chinese attitude. It includes Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Malaysia. They all have records of mistreating Chinese immigrants, except for Thailand, which is by far the friendliest toward the Chinese. However, before China’s economic reform, Thailand was China’s number one enemy in Southeast Asia. In contrast, the country we called “comrade and brother” (Vietnam) used brute force to strip the local Chinese of their wealth. This practice started years before China and Vietnam fought a war. However, compared to the Khmer Rouge, known as “Chairman Mao’s best students,” Vietnam is relatively lenient. The Khmer Rouge did not just strip the Chinese people of their property, they slaughtered and exterminated them. The Khmer Rouge not only killed the regular Chinese, they nearly wiped out all fellow Cambodian communists with Chinese backgrounds who had been trained by China. At the same time, the Chinese government treated the Khmer Rouge as its best friend. In order to defend it, China entered into a bloody war against its former “comrade and brother.”
Today, after three decades of reform and opening up, this strange “international status” has not ended. Among the industrialized countries, which one is the most open and friendly to Chinese immigrants and businessmen? It is none other than “the world’s chief evil” – the U.S.! The ethnic Chinese, despite their small population in the U.S., have joined mainstream society: they have become professors, scientists, government officials, and other elite members of the higher echelon. Where else in this world is this possible? Even in Western Europe, also democratic counties, this is not possible. Chinese immigrants in Europe have little opportunity to enter the mainstream. Most of them run small businesses such as restaurants. Of course, the Chinese in Europe are treated fairly well. Our news reports often cover demonstrations held by overseas Chinese. That kind of coverage is evidence of their social rights. In China’s “friend” Myanmar, no Chinese dare to demonstrate. They would feel lucky if they could live a normal life at home.
An alternative model: the rise of the Chinese people
How can such strange logic exist? I am not saying that the countries friendly to Chinese immigrants must necessarily be China’s best friend, but the countries that mistreat, slaughter, and even commit genocide against the Chinese people must be our enemies. They are surely not to be treated as “friendly countries.” This must be the case if the goal of China’s foreign policy is to achieve China’s “best future,” rather than to save “the emperor’s face.”
Only if China’s foreign policy is designed to facilitate the ruler’s business dealings with foreigners, rather than to benefit the people, would such strange logic make sense: as long as we make the emperor happy, we couldn’t care less whether the lowly people are mistreated; as long as we can make the emperor happy, slaughtering Chinese people means nothing; the emperor will still favor the perpetrators.
Looking at history, what kind of “rise” should we pursue? If we follow the above logic and succeed in China’s “rise,” we will manage to suppress the superior-human-rights countries that we dislike (they treat Chinese fairly). China’s limited human-rights friends (who mistreat Chinese people) will become rampant and popular. One day our friends will be all over the world, but will our Chinese compatriots have a place to live in the world?
Of course China should become strong and rise up, but it must follow a different model, not the current “model.” Although our GDP is growing rapidly (though we do not know how long such growth can continue), our per capita GDP level is still pretty low. So what if our per capita GDP ranked much higher and our military defeated our enemies? After Russia defeated Napoleon, Russian troops entered Paris, but soon the young elite Russian officers realized how the French lived with dignity, while the Russians had never treated their own people well. The victors began to envy the losers. After the Russian officers returned home, they soon became Decembrists who paved the way for Russia’s reform and freedom.
China is nowhere near becoming the “Russia that defeats France,” but China must change. To change is not that hard, either. We must learn from their freedom and welfare. There is no need to emphasize the necessity for political freedom; we also need more economic freedom; we must oppose business monopolies; we must reform the current policy that created an “advanced nation with backward people.”
 Caijing magazine, September 26, 2010