Since the landmark event in Tiananmen Square, China has experienced dazzling changes . However, the way those changes are perceived vary amongst those observing the changes.
The world may admire the economic progress of China - and I am happy to acknowledge the economic success of China. But I feel that we must pay close attention to the four pillars which will have to underpin the development of China:
- a well developed political system, and
- a robust and healthy internal and external economy, and
- an embedded social morality, and
- environmental sustainability.
The Western world has been focused on China’s economic development over the last three decades and has been blind to the other three pillars. While the Chinese government has skillfully taken advantage of the country’s massive purchasing power, the dark side of the new China has been very effectively concealed by that government. Well-informed activist concerns are being ignored by the West.
The social morality problem
The burgeoning Chinese economy gave birth to a large number of corrupt officials and billionaires - almost overnight. Their success was the result of an unscrupulous collaboration of power and interests. As many ordinary people who were in a position to grab at a little of the action, did so, there has been a general deterioration of social morality
The case of poisonous milk powder is only a tip of the iceberg of this moral crisis. Many kinds of food are toxic. Farmers don't dare to eat their own produce planted on contaminated soil. There is nothing in the system to prevent contaminated food from reaching the tables of families.
The Chinese official media the International Herald Leader, a newspaper that is affiliated to the Xinhua News Agency, reported about three weeks ago that suspicion and vigilance have become part of the Chinese people's way of life.
The people used to have faith in everything - the leaders, the revolution, the inevitable demise of capitalism and the glorious future of communism. Now they seem to put their trust in nothing. They don't believe what the local government says, what the media broadcasts - even the words of someone they know quite well. This mistrust is like a cancer threatening to crumble the very structure of society.
The environmental problem
It appears that of the top 10 most polluting power stations in the world, four are in China. The arable land of China is being polluted on a large scale. “Cancer villages” and “AIDS villages” are growing in number.
Overgrazing and deforestation for agricultural or mining have intensified the desertification of the pastureland. The areas affected by these disasters have expanded from northern China to eastern and northeastern China. Even Japan and Korea are affected by the sandstorms.
The political problem
There is no election of leaders, no independent jurisdiction, no freedom of speech and the press and no freedom of association. All powers are with the Chinese Communist Party.
About three weeks ago President Hu Jintao visited the US. Some US congressmen urged President Obama to raise the freedom issue. I believe that this kind of limited pressure will achieve very little as the core problem is not human rights, but the unchecked political power in the hands of one dictating party. It is naive to seek fundamental improvement in human rights without the necessary removal of the one-party dictatorship.
The self-immolation (cremation) of a youth in Tunisia sparked a huge wave of united action across the entire country, resulting in the stepping down of the president - which then impacted on Egypt. Countless acts of self-immolation have taken place in China. But there were no shows of united strength, no revolution. Why is that so? The barbarity and sophistication of the Chinese government is one reason - and the defeatist and resigned nature of the people is another. One thing I can be very sure of; the Chinese repressive rulers are very uncomfortable about what is happening in Tunisia and Egypt - whilst the oppressed ordinary people are inspired by it. It could be the wake-up call which reminds Chinese people that freedom and democracy can only be achieved by fighting for it - not waiting for it. Since Tiananmen in 1989, the Chinese Communist Party has become accustomed to mild criticism. It is fully aware that the West pays lip service to human rights and is not seriously committed to planning strategies and outcomes. It will not push for the political democratization that truly could improve the fundamental human rights situation.
When the West urged the Chinese Communist Party to initiate political reform, the Party simply rejected the request. Then the West stepped back and focused on human rights. After two decades both the West and the Chinese Communist Party are familiar with the tactics of each other - and both are happy to play this game.
China has had a repressive one-party political system for a long time. For the West which deals regularly with China, that may be just the China they want - while fostering an elaborate set of delusions based on the belief that commerce will lead inevitably to political change and democracy.
The Nobel Peace Prize Committee made an announcement on 8 October 2010 to award Liu Xiao Bo the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. The response of the Chinese government was to prevent people from mainland China from attending. Thuggish treatment was employed to harass domestic human rights activists. One such victim was Hua Ze, a film maker and human rights activist, who was kidnapped and put under house arrest for 55 days (until the ceremony in Norway was over).
But, this award will help towards China's future political reform. It is important to see the award as a new starting point of China's political change. Lech Walesa, Nelson Mandela and Kim Dae-jung, went through the path from prisoner to laureate and president of their nations. Will Liu Xiao Bo follow their footsteps? I cherish this expectation.
It is almost impossible to expect such a gargantuan country to change politically without foreign intervention. Without French support, George Washington could not have defeated Britain to win independence; Sun Yat-sen would not have led his anti-Manchuria revolution to success without the covert support from Japan, Vladimir Lenin would not have been able to set up the Soviet Union without the financial backing from the German emperor. For the same reason, Mao Zedong could not have won over the civil war against Chiang Kai-shek without support from Stalin.
The Chinese democratic movement desperately needs such support from the West. Only in this way, could the Chinese democratic movement hope to set up democracy in China.
President Ronald Reagan initiated a star wars program to bog down the rival's fragile economy. This eventually brought about the dissolving of Soviet Union and its Eastern European bloc. The West is gullible to assume that China could be so transformed from enemy to friend, not by a similar policy, but by its own economic growth.
President Bill Clinton did not use his clout to push autocratic China into a democracy. Instead he delinked the human rights issue from trade. This enabled China to emerge as a potential super power.
Now China skillfully consolidates its super power potential through peaceful economical development.
Except for its economic growth, China remains politically autocratic, morally downgraded, environmentally deteriorated and with a prevailing social crisis. But the West just turns a deaf ear and blind eye to it.
The movement pushing for an open and democratic China is in fact a "conscience" movement which has previously had little impact because lack of substantial backup and new blood. The 2010 Nobel Peace Prize is a catalyst which has greatly boosted the movement. But we must remain cool-headed, the material backup to fundamentally reform China is still distant. Without genuine understanding and support by the Western democratic governments headed by the US, the impact of the Nobel Peace Prize will fade away. To conclude I would like to quote some ancient Chinese sayings which remain as relevant as they were when I last shared them with an Australian audience:
Eat not food offered by a fierce tiger despite hunger. Sleep not in a robbed bed despite night. Drink not stolen spring water despite thirst. Rest not under a decaying tree despite heat. There is a well-known saying: There are neither everlasting friends nor everlasting enemies in the world. There are only friends with the same interest. With the enormous lure of money, the West has been silenced.