While part of the ‘developed world,’ China is very much a developing country. Yet it commands the world’s second-largest economy, whose rise is often hailed in sensationalist media as the beginning of the west’s long-idealized ‘decline.’ This yellow journalism is certainly not new to the western world. However, the advent of social media (and lessening of restrictions on the veracity of press) has allowed sensationalist media, in the form of both fake news and exaggerated news, to turn China into some vast, insurmountable giant in the minds of the American public.
Yet while undoubtedly true that China presents various risks to America’s position of global leadership, whether they be by aggressing America’s allies, the power of its industrializing economy and population, and their increasing impact on climate, China is so often politicized as another Soviet Union, whose advent upon the world stage will create a second cold war. Do not be mistaken; China has nowhere near the amount of global recognition and cooperation as the Soviet Union, less so the United States.
China, located in East Asia, is currently the most populous nation in the world. Just 50 years ago, it was a largely agrarian nation, viewed as a problematic Soviet satellite in the far east. Yet China’s rapid industrialization throughout the 80s and 90s has allowed the population giant to become the largest export nation in the world. For the past few decades, the press has touted China’s impending surpassing of the U.S. economy, with more radical media claiming such headlines as omens of doom for the western world. Yet, for many reasons, while China is still a U.S. competitor, there are few reasons to fear their military and economic growth as a threat to America’s national safety.
For one, China has very few allies. Though many nations work alongside China to develop their economies, most notably countries in Africa, few nations share the same partnerships with China compared to the United States’ allies. With its staunch supporters in Japan and the European Union, the U.S. has many military and economic ties abroad, which allow for enhanced cooperation on both fronts. China has a far lesser reach than the United States, and beyond border disputes with nearby countries, has no interest in projecting global force.
China’s main adversaries lie in Japan, India, and the Philippines, all nations protected by the United States. Recently, anti-Chinese sentiment regarding fears of China becoming a global superpower has risen in countries such as South Korea and Australia. Not to mention, more of the wider world has been outraged by the CCP’s treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang and the plight of Hong Kong.
The latter two, along with other notable Chinese suppressions of freedoms within its nation in areas such as Tibet and Inner Mongolia, are valid critiques of China. No nation is perfect, but there is no excuse for cultural genocide. Overall, the United Nations, spearheaded by the United States, should do far more to hold the Chinese government accountable.
Of China’s most aggressive stances, Taiwan’s recognition is the most provocative. During the Chinese civil war, when the Republic of China was forced onto the island of Taiwan, the tiny nation held China’s Security Council seat for the next 25 years, representing the interests of the mainland it did not control. Following the reversal of positions in 1971, mainland China has refused to cooperate with any nation that recognizes Taiwan. Conflicts regarding offshore islands have continued into the 21st century, with recent anti-Chinese sentiment in Japan spurring calls for increased Japanese military presence in Taiwan.
Contrary to popular belief, China also has frosty relations with Russia. This animosity is historical; despite both the Soviet and Chinese rivalries with the United States, both nations almost went to war in 1969 during a tense border conflict. Recently, Putin’s allegations of Chinese immigrants flooding Siberia as a form of ‘settler colonialism’ have raised anti-Chinese sentiment in Russia. Such xenophobic language has been frequently employed by Putin, including in a speech he gave in 2008 in the border town of Blagoveshchensk:
“If you do nothing to change the economic development of the region, your children will speak Chinese.”President Vladimir Putin of Russia (Blagoveshchensk, 2008)
While it is reasonable to believe Russia and China will cooperate in the future against American interests, one should not be mistaken in assuming the perceived friendliness of Russian-Chinese relations.
With so many enemies, all of China’s actions, both within its borders, in the South China Sea, and beyond are carefully scrutinized by the wider world. Yet despite this, there is an overarching fear of China in the United States, which is used by conservative political parties in America to swing votes in favor of hard-lining China. During the 2020 Presidential election, the state of Florida voted for President Trump. Such an outcome, though predictable, was largely due to Republican campaigns in Cuban districts such as Hialeah. Refugees from a communist nation, Cubans are one of many easy targets for conservatives who exacerbate fears of Chinese ‘communism’ seeping into the western world.
While there were many reasons to vote Democrat or Conservative during the election, fear of a ‘communist China’ should not have been one of them. Though calling itself a people’s republic, China is in many ways far more capitalist than the United States. With a stock market, monopolies, and widespread private ownership, China is far from the communist ideology many Americans perceive. Even socialism, a considerably less taboo term, is hard to prescribe to China with its abysmal factory wage culture.
However, the most significant contributor to anti-Chinese sentiments has been the COVID-19 pandemic. With government officials using terms like the “chinese flu” or “kung flu” at the start of the pandemic, xenophobia against Asians as a whole rose quickly, particularly towards Chinese people abroad. This form of racism and bias allowed conspiracy theories, such as the virus’ alleged creation in a Wuhan laboratory, to spread far easier despite overwhelming evidence on the contrary.
Ultimately, China will remain a U.S. competitor. Their many human rights abuses will be pursued and criticized, as will their aggression in the South China Sea and Kashmir. But U.S. citizens living in fear of an existential, unavoidable Chinese threat should take the time to avoid sensationalist media and ensure that no matter where they are, their critiques of the Chinese government do not target people of Chinese background, within or beyond China’s borders.
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