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THE FUTURE OF CHINA

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BEJING, Sep 22 2008 (IPS) - China has been making progress in building a vibrant, modern society, but inevitably it still has to cope with massive problems left by its turbulent past. Still, that progress is clearly remarkable by any standard. China has raised more people out of poverty than any nation has ever done, writes Maurice Strong, former Secretary General of the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment and the first Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) The constraints that the Chinese and foreigners living here continue to experience are minimal and for the most part understandable, given that no nation has suffered from societal breakdown, internal conflict and foreign intervention more than China has in the past century. It is a small wonder that the Chinese place such emphasis on the need for internal stability and security. Indeed, we must realize that even in our own societies the standards we exhort China to adopt are those we have only recently, and not yet fully, lived up to ourselves. The Chinese will be much more influenced by our example than by the uninformed and hypocritical content of so much of our criticism. Similarly, the attempt to shift the onus for increases in food, oil and commodity prices to China, as well as India and others now competing for these imports, will be counterproductive. The needs of the poor and the newly developing countries cannot be subordinated to the wasteful and indulgent appetites of the rich and their pre-emption of a disproportion of the world\’s resources.

China has been making progress in building a vibrant, modern society, but inevitably it still has to cope with massive problems left by its turbulent past. Still, that progress is clearly remarkable by any standard. China has raised more people out of poverty than any nation has ever done.

The constraints that the Chinese and foreigners living here continue to experience are minimal and for the most part understandable, given that no nation has suffered from societal breakdown, internal conflict and foreign intervention more than China has in the past century. It is a small wonder that the Chinese place such emphasis on the need for internal stability and security. Indeed, we must realize that even in our own societies the standards we exhort China to adopt are those we have only recently, and not yet fully, lived up to ourselves. The Chinese will be much more influenced by our example than by the uninformed and hypocritical content of so much of our criticism.

Hostile attitudes and policies aimed at undermining China’s progress and discrediting its policies and intentions can only be counterproductive, and contrary to our own interests. For there is not a single major world issue that can be resolved without China’s co-operation. It is not that we should forgo legitimate and constructive criticisms and differences, but that these be resolved by engagement with China as a full partner, rather than by the kind of entrenched hostility and bias we so often display.

Climate change is an issue that is especially relevant. China realizes that it will be one of the most vulnerable victims of climate change and is already taking serious measures domestically to avert these risks. But it cannot be expected to transform these into binding commitments that are not matched by firm and enforceable commitments by the countries, notably the United States, whose accumulated emissions of greenhouse gases have caused the irreversible damage already inflicted on the world. The attempt to shift the onus for climate change to China, India and other rapidly industrializing developing countries is neither fair nor workable.

Similarly, the attempt to shift the onus for increases in food, oil and commodity prices to China, as well as India and others now competing for these imports, will be counterproductive. The needs of the poor and the newly developing countries cannot be subordinated to the wasteful and indulgent appetites of the rich and their pre-emption of a disproportion of the world’s resources.

Co-operation and co-operative engagement, on a scale that is without precedent, are the only ways of resolving these matters, rather than allowing them to escalate into a new generation of conflict ­ a very real possibility. China’s role will be indispensable. It will be a willing and constructive participant in this process, but not a subservient one.

China’s commitment to internal security and stability and to regional and world peace must also be taken seriously. Unlike Japan, which has invaded and sought to dominate each of its neighbours, ceasing only when it was defeated in the Second World War, China’s territorial disputes with its neighbours have been confined to differences over their boundaries rather than attempts to occupy or annex them. It gives its own minorities a high degree of autonomy, including special rights such as exemption from the one-child policy, while rigorously resisting separatist tendencies, as most countries do.

Disturbances in Tibet were led by monks whose traditional privileges and control over the majority of the population has been severely curtailed, while the majority who live in poverty and serfdom are experiencing new opportunities as a result of the modernization of the Tibetan economy. To be sure, this process has been a difficult and even painful one for many, but both Chinese and Tibetans continue to learn and to accommodate the changes that will enable Tibet to retain its distinctive cultural and religious heritage while according its people new and growing opportunities for a better life. Even the Dalai Lama does not advocate or expect the independence of Tibet from China, and his differences are related to the degree and nature of the autonomy Tibet could be given within China.

The alternative, in all these issues and others, is an ominous and growing potential for conflict, at a time when what the world needs is a new and immensely increased degree of co-operation. This must be focused principally on those issues that affect the very survival of humankind, and must transcend the narrower and self-serving interests of individual nations.

Uninformed and ideologically biased critics of China should ask themselves why it is that the majority of Chinese today are better off and better satisfied than ever, why more overseas Chinese are returning to China, and why more foreigners are enjoying conditions of life here that make them want to stay, even if it involves changing their employment to do so. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

 
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