French sinologist, former diplomat and scholar Lionel Vairon provides much food for thought on the relationship between China and the West in his latest book, "Threat of China." Its Chinese version was published this March.
Whether or not China is a threat depends on Western powers' perspective on this country's rise as an economic power.
The best way to know why someone is selling a particular idea is to find out how he or she benefits from doing so. And this is exactly what Vairon does in his analysis of why some Western politicians, particularly those in the United States, are so enthusiastic about portraying China as a long-term threat to the interests of the US or even the entire Western world.
They believe that China, with its one-party rule, Communist ideology and large size, is a potential long-term enemy and justification enough for the US to maintain the world's strongest military, he says.
Not only that, American dominance, the military alliance it continues to maintain with European countries, and its moralizing on human rights to cover up its own problems become meaningful only in the context of China's existence as a long-term threat, Vairon adds.
From a broader cultural perspective, China's rise does pose a challenge to the West's dominance of the past several hundred years. Western powers have taken it for granted that their culture is superior to those in the rest of the world.
"They just can't imagine how China with its one-party Communist rule can accomplish what it has in the past three decades," says Vairon.
Such cultural and ideological superiority explains the reasons for adopting a politically correct stance when it comes to criticisms of, and accusations against, China.
Vairon says two recent articles claimed China's political system had not changed since the "cultural revolution" (1966-76). Such an accusation of, say, French politics would certainly cause trouble but it is all right when it comes to China although it is totally groundless. This is because it has become politically correct to target China.
China's political system has changed a great deal. Chinese people enjoy much greater freedom than they did three decades ago. It is the significant progress in social democracy that has made possible the economic miracle of the past three decades.
It is tricky to always associate freedom with democracy, which are not the same thing, according to Vairon. "When we talk about freedom, we're not talking about parliamentary democracy. We're talking about freedom of speech or the freedom of movement," he says. In today's China, anyone can start from scratch and work his way up to become a millionaire. That was unimaginable three decades ago.
It is difficult for Western powers, such as some European countries or the US, to accept the fact that Western domination must give in to a multi-polarized world. But this is what is happening and can never be reversed, according to Vairon.
When it becomes impossible to turn a blind eye to the rise of China, some Western politicians choose to constantly accuse China no matter what it does. Biased reporting of China by some Western journalists has contributed to the politicians' verbal attacks as they pick up on only what can be used as ammunition. These journalists know very little about China and their fragments of information can leave Western readers with a very wrong impression of China.
Vairon says China must find a proper way to communicate its ideas to the West. This is where China needs to catch up with the US. The fact that Hollywood films are shown all over the world, including developing countries such as China, speaks volumes of the strong soft power of the US.
Confucianist socialism is the term Vairon uses in his book to describe China's social system. Thanks to the inclusiveness of its culture, which has assimilated many different cultures throughout its long history, China will continue to absorb what it needs from Western culture for its economic development and social progress. With such a culture, Vairon believes, China's peaceful rise cannot be reversed.
(China Daily May 19, 2009)