Most of us don’t like bullies. We all have memories of them from our childhood, when we were most vulnerable to their thuggery in the school playground, or locations outside school where they would accost and terrorise other kids.
To be a bully, one has to be totally self-centred and commensurately dismissive of the feelings and rights of others. Bullies seek psychological and material gratification through intimidation and violence. Popular wisdom has it that they are cowards at heart, and accordingly ensure that their quarry is comparatively powerless by virtue of physical prowess or being outnumbered.
Bullying is a reality on the international stage too, where the big and powerful coerce weaker countries into making concessions to their own detriment. The price of noncompliance – economic or military action against them – leaves them little choice.
Bullies on the international stage tend to be bullies at home as well. There are invariably those among their own populace who support the thugs that run the place, but woe betide anyone who does not and is thereby seen as a threat by that nefarious ruling clique. This creates a culture of fear and so most people will docilely toe the line.
History tells us that appeasing international bullies, while it may yield short-term benefits in the form of a temporary lessening of tensions, tends to feed into the self-aggrandising delusions of the gangs calling the shots. They become ever more convinced that they are invincible, and are spurred into committing ever more outrageous acts against other, and their own, people. Eventually, appeasement leads to blows.
The pack that runs the ‘People’s Republic’ (ho, ho) of China is a case in point, and one that is becoming more dangerous by the day to its own people and to everyone else. The new imperialist masters of the PRC are becoming increasingly blasé about thumbing their noses at international law and protocol, as evidenced by the annexation of the entire South China Sea – recall that they said they would not participate in any proceedings and would ignore any ruling of the International Court of Arbitration on the issue even before the court heard the case brought by the plaintiffs (knowing full well which way it would go).
Build some artificial islands and use them to claim territorial sovereignty – in direct contravention of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea – and then cement your claim by turning those ‘islands’ into military bases and threatening anyone who ‘violates’ the space you have illicitly claimed.
On the human rights front – hardly a strength of any ‘socialist’ regime at the best of times – they are adopting the iron fist approach to dissent in ever more blatant fashion. Over the past couple of years, they have built monstrous concentration camps in which hundreds of thousands of Uighurs, a Muslim minority people, are held for ‘re-education’.
The BBC uncovered massive gulags that have sprung up in a remarkably short time. The Beijing government calls them ‘vocational education centres’ – wouldn’t allow the reporters anywhere near them, though, hence the satellite pictures. Below: one of those ‘vocational education’ classes – participation purely voluntary, of course.
Recall also the crackdown on Falun Gong. The PRC being an explicitly atheist State, the religious are frowned upon. There is only one god allowed in China, and that is the Communist Party – look out any contenders!
Anyone seen as a threat to the primacy of the mob at the top – lawyers and journalists who comment on human rights in particular – is likely to be charged with subversion and appear before a kangaroo court that will put that person away for a long time (assuming he survives at all). How long are we in the West going to sit back and watch all this happening without kicking up a fuss? We’re happy enough to get stuck into regimes who do this kind of thing elsewhere, like in the Middle East. What sort of hypocrites are we?
Dissent in Paradise: a student protestor in Shanghai is bundled away by ‘police’ thugs.
Ah, but of course they have us over a barrel. Globalisation has benefitted the new emperors in Beijing immensely (see my earlier article ‘Protectionism – putting own people first’, Breaking Views 4 July 2018), creating dependency (and trade imbalances) on their manufactured products while our own workers go on the dole. The tentacles of this malign regime are rapidly spreading throughout the developing world, exposing us to the threat of Beijing gaining a stranglehold over international supply routes that bring us essential raw materials. Then there is what a BBC reporter referred to as the ‘North Korea card’ that Beijing hasn’t used yet – his word. Add to all that the prospect of the Chinese State’s intelligence apparatus infiltrating the world’s information technology systems – an issue that has been receiving a lot of attention of late.
The irony of the situation is that the Beijing government is of debatable legitimacy. The internationally recognised government of the Republic of China, the Kuomintang, were driven off the mainland into exile by a communist insurrection (legend has it that they boarded the boats to the accompaniment of a band playing ‘When the saints come marching in’). For decades, the legislative chamber in Taipei was largely empty – taken up by mainland seats that could not be filled. In my opinion, the government in Taipei has a stronger claim to being the government of all of China than does the one in Beijing.
Still, we must be realistic, I suppose. There will not be a reunification of China under the flag of the ROC and so I suggest we look again at Taiwan’s claim to independence. It would not be an act of secession because Taiwan was never part of the People’s Republic of China, and you can’t break away from what you were never a part of. On the contrary, it was the PRC that broke away from the ROC.
I’m not suggesting starting a war with the PRC. Bullies can be brought into line by means other than engaging in fisticuffs with them. Once it is made clear to them that the game is up and that further provocations will result in actions that will be injurious to them, their self-interest usually drives them to pull their horns in.
Their Achilles’ Heel is that juggernaut economy, relying as it does on mostly extraterritorial demand and consumption. As I have argued earlier, protectionist measures would go a long way towards spiking their guns in this respect. Donald Trump seems to understand this and is playing a cool hand in the trade negotiations – good on him . We also need to help developing countries see what the real Beijing agenda is – some already seem to be cottoning on to the fact that Chinese motives underlying ‘aid’ and ‘cooperation’ projects are anything but altruistic.
We in the West need to stand up for our beliefs with regard to the international rule of law and human rights. We need to more actively support the countries that border the annexed South China Sea and have had their rights under international law over adjoining waters violated. We need to be openly sympathetic towards Taiwan in its desire to not become the next victim of Chinese expansionism through annexation. We need to do some determined table-thumping at the highest levels about those concentration camps and about human rights advocates who have been persecuted by Beijing.
We need to get our act together or we will be paying a very high price for our inaction not so many years down the track. The good news is that, despite a recent show at bridge-building, the leadership in Moscow is as distrustful of Beijing as many of us are – maybe more so. Russia is a potent potential ally against the Beijing imperialists and Western geopolitical strategists would be well advised to bear that in mind before slinging more mud in Putin’s direction.
Barend Vlaardingerbroek BA, BSc, BEdSt, PGDipLaws, MAppSc, PhD is an associate professor of education at the American University of Beirut and is a regular commentator on social and political issues. Feedback welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org