The China dream
There was a time when China, known as the Middle Kingdom, was the dominant superpower in the region. Its military was the most powerful in East Asia, and other states treated China with the utmost respect due a superior, often visiting its capital city bearing gifts and tributes.
In 1839, a “century of humiliation” at the hands of Western powers begun, bringing to an end the last of the 12 dynasties that had ruled China for centuries.
The First Opium War broke out when China attempted to suppress the opium trade from India that had become an addiction resulting in social and economic problems. The British Royal Navy laid waste Chinese ports forcing China to sign the Treaty of Nanking. The treaty also known as the first unequal treaty, opened up four more Chinese ports aside from Canton, to trade and residency. The treaty also granted extraterritorial rights to British citizens while the island of Hong Kong was ceded to Great Britain in perpetuity.
The Second Opium War in 1856 also resulted in the defeat of the Chinese at the hands of a combined Anglo-French force. It was ended by the Treaty of Tientsin that opened 11 more Chinese ports to trade and gave foreigners the right to travel to the interior of China. It granted freedom of movement to Christian missionaries and made the importation of opium legal. It was an era of unequal treaties that gradually weakened and ultimately toppled the ruling Qing dynasty.
In 1949, Mao Zedong and his communist forces defeated the nationalist army of Chiang Kai Shek, and established the People’s Republic of China.
Author Michael Pillsbury, a director of the Center on Chinese Strategy at the Hudson Institute, tells us in his book “The Hundred-year Marathon” that during Mao’s Long March in the 1930s to evade nationalist elements, he brought with him only one book, a manual on statecraft with lessons from history. It included stories and maxims dating as far back as 4,000 BC. One in particular attributed to Confucius read: “There cannot be two suns in the sky, nor two emperors on the earth.” In short, there was only room for one ruler at the top.
Since the time of Chairman Mao, leaders of the Communist Party of China (CPC) have set reclaiming the country’s rightful place as the No. 1 nation in the world as their ultimate goal, and in the process wiping out the humiliations suffered in the past.
Pillsbury relates how after Xi Jinping assumed office as general secretary of the CPC (prior to becoming president), he included in his maiden speech a phrase no Chinese leader had ever used in a public speech: “strong nation dream.” According to a front-page story in the Wall Street Journal, Xi referred to 2049 as the date the dream will be realized—100 years after Mao’s ascension in China and the founding of the communist state (1949-2049). Thus, the title of the book “The Hundred-year Marathon.” We are only 31 years away from 2049.
Chinese military analyst Col. Liu Mingfu in his book, “The China Dream,” describes the competition between China and the United States as more like a “track and field” event rather than a “shooting duel” or a “boxing match.” It will be a protracted marathon.
When asked about China displacing America as the No. 1 power in the world, Singapore’s late prime minister Lee Kuan Yew replied: “Why not? They have transformed a poor society by an economic miracle to become now the second-largest economy in the world—on track to become the world’s largest economy in the next 20 years … It is China’s intention to be the greatest power in the world. The policies of all governments toward China, especially neighboring countries [and this includes the Philippines] have already taken this into account. These governments are repositioning themselves because they know that there will be consequences if they thwart China when its core interests are at stake. China can impose economic sanctions simply by denying access to its market of 1.4 billion people whose
incomes and purchasing power are increasing.”
Last October, President Xi declared that “it was time for China to take center stage in the world.” He then announced his signature Belt and Road Initiative, a remaking of the ancient Silk Road, through an ambitious program building a network of highways, railways, ports and pipelines linking Asia via the Middle East to Europe, and south to Africa. In all, 900 projects are earmarked at a cost of $900 billion. The Belt and Road Initiative is aimed at reaching 65 countries with 70 percent of the world’s population.
All these activities strengthen China’s leadership credentials at a time when the United States is wavering on its international commitments, giving up its role on climate change, and threatening to scrap the Iran nuclear deal. Its leader tweets that he is a “very stable genius,” and insults the black nations of Africa and Haiti. I would not be surprised if one morning Trump tweets “why are we issuing so many tourist visas to countries like the Philippines? So many of them become, in their lingo, TNTs (hide and hide) and some are even terrorists that pose a danger to our security.”
In the eyes of a lot of observers, China has already won the marathon race between the two countries.
Ian Bremmer of Time writes that “China, not the United States, is the global economy’s single most powerful actor.” He points out that “China’s political and economic system is better equipped and perhaps, even more sustainable than the American model.” He admits that no one government will have the international influence to set the rules governing the global system, “but if you had to bet on one country that is best positioned today to extend its influence with partners and rivals alike, the smart money would probably be on China, not the United States.”
President Duterte must be commended for his pivot to China. We cannot rely on the United States; neither can its long-time allies, who have started to work out new directions to protect and secure their own interests.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.