Monday, June 08, 2009

Why China doesn't deserve the respect it craves

Two words: "North Korea."

Despite all of the good it's done economically for China, the Beijing government recognizes that it would likely not remain elected were it freely chosen by its population. This is why it bristles so strongly at any notion of "interference in internal affairs." It values stability (translation: status quo, with it in power) above all else, and thus it is unacceptable for other nations to so much as comment on how the Chinese regime runs its affairs.

Alas, China also wishes to be respected as a first rate power on the world stage, and this desire, unfortunately, runs headlong into their first goal to be left alone in their authoritarian ways. Nothing exemplifies this more than North Korea. Here is an outlaw nation, which flouts every standard of civilized behavior both within and beyond its borders, which abuses its population mercilessly and threatens other nations recklessly. It is a problem which must be dealt with. And it has one clear Achilles heel: it is utterly dependent upon China.

China thus has a dilemma. It can do the right thing on the world stage and show that it is a responsible member of the world community, not a threat to others, a nation whose power others should welcome rather than fear. In other words, it can wield its influence over North Korea - by carrot and by stick - to get that petulant brat of a nation to behave or face consequences.

Or China can take the cowardly and self-serving approach of "stability" and consistency with its own mantra of not meddling in any other country's internal affairs. After all, if it is OK to influence a country from the outside (no matter what manner of evil is happening within that country's borders), that opens China up to similar inspection from the outside. It's pretty obvious that if Hitler were to come to power today that China might make some weak statement of protest, but would utterly refuse to stop trade in Zyklon B. After all, cutting off trade would be meddling in the internal affairs of another country. If you think this is a harsh statement, consider that genocide is occuring in Sudan, and China is doing a brisk business there.

True leadership and maturity come when one does things that are not necessarily in one's own direct interest, when one puts the broader good ahead of one's own personal good.

China is being tested, and it's obvious which approach it is choosing. And as long as it does so, it proves that it has not matured to the point where it deserves respect in world affairs. It simply is not yet a constructive member of the world community.

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