The Current Discussion: In his recent PostGlobal blog post, "The Ugly Chinese," commentator John Pomfret says the world's perception of China isn't as rosy as it used to be. Do you see China as a threat? Why? Why not?
"For the past two centuries, American perceptions of China have oscillated between the poles of love and hate. In brighter moments China was seen as the land of Marco Polo and Pearl Buck, peopled with wise, industrious, and courageous folk. But regularly, almost cyclically, the pendulum swung back, and the cruel and violent China of the Mongol hordes, the Boxer Rebellion, and the 'human wave' attacks reasserted itself. The Chinese heroes of the anti-Japanese resistance became the totalitarian masses of the 1950s, the riotous young rebels of the 1960s, the public-spirited proletarians of the 1970s, and the poor but deserving folk of the 1980s. The Tiananmen massacre has once again tilted the balance, and the pendulum has swung to the other dark extreme."
When the book came out in 1991, China's image had hit rock bottom. For a while, it almost seemed the pendulum would never swing back to the other direction. Who would have thought Beijing could pull off the rebound that it did? And what an astonishing bounce back it was. A decade after the Tiananmen massacre, China joined the World Trade Organization, won the right to host the Olympics and became Wall Street’s darling. With the help from leading politicians, business executives, scholars and diplomats in the West, China has successfully implanted a rosy picture of its future in the world. Dubbed the "Soothing Scenario" by James Mann in his book The China Fantasy: How Our Leaders Explain Away Chinese Repression, it contends that the successful spread of capitalism will inevitably lead to the development of democratic institutions, free elections, an independent judiciary and a progressive human rights policy. China is destined to open up its political system, and trade is the key to unlocking the door.
The Soothing Scenario looked like it was all set to bloom this summer, when a supposedly peaceful-rising China was scheduled to have a coming-out party at the Olympics. Then, out of the blue, the plan was derailed. The Ugly Chinaman took the stage. The pendulum is once again swinging, and fast. It's really extraordinary for knee-jerk anti-American Europeans to view the Middle Kingdom as more dangerous than the Great Satan. In fact, it should have come as no surprise to anyone who sees through to the real nature of the regime, which has remained unchanged despite spectacular developments on the surface of Chinese society. The Chinese Communist Party is interested in only one thing: holding on to power. It has only two tools with which to do so: more lies and more repression.
After the Tiananmen massacre, the eminent China scholar Simon Ley’s assessment was, I believe, still valid for China today: "Unfortunately, its poison might outlast the beast itself. The legacy of such a regime can even be more evil than its rule. The collapse of the present government is ineluctable; what is to be feared is that, after 40 years of economic mismanagement, in the present circumstances of overpopulation and poverty, with a population brutalized by four decades of relentless political terror, worse horrors may follow." (After the Massacres The New York Review of Books, October 12, 1989)
Brainwashed by the regime and ignorant of the bloody history of the People's Republic since 1949, the new generation of angry youths smacks of the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution.
Michael A. Ledeen, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, points to a likely chilling future of China. In an article, "Beijing Embraces Classical Fascism" in the latest issue of the Far Eastern Economic Review, Mr. Ledeen argues that the heirs to Mao Tsetung and Deng Xiaoping act more like disciples of Mussolini and Hitler than communists. "Hitler's Germany and Mussolini's Italy were every bit as sensitive to any sign of foreign criticism as the Chinese today, both because victimhood is always part of the definition of such states, and because it's an essential technique of mass control," Mr. Ledeen writes. Like their European predecessors, the Chinese claim a major role in the world because of their history and culture, not just on the basis of their current power, or their scientific or cultural accomplishments. "It is only a matter of time before China will pursue confrontation with the West," predicts Mr. Ledeen. "A great Roman once said that if you want peace, prepare for war."
Beijing 2008 has always reminded me of Berlin 1936. I'm not the only one who feels that way. Some Jewish leaders in the U.S. are calling for the boycott of the Olympics. In a petition called "China Olympics Are Not Kosher", they say:
"We remember all too well that the road to Nazi genocide began in the 1930s, with Hitler's efforts to improve the public image of his evil regime. Nazi Germany sought to attract visitors to the 1936 Olympics in order to distract attention from its persecution of the Jews. Hitler's propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, called the 1936 games 'a victory for the German cause.' We dare not permit today's totalitarian regimes to achieve such victories."
I can only pray that the West will find another Churchill and Roosevelt.
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