China: Friend Or Foe

China regularly captures the news headlines as its approach to government clashes with the West’s approach to democracy. Consequently, it is seen as a threat to the established way of doing things. But what is the truth?

Human rights

The Chinese government is often accused of stealing intellectual property and spying on businesses on an industrial scale. Its human rights record is repeatedly in the spotlight as echoes of Tiananmen Square linger, albeit information about such incidents is hidden from citizens. Chinese businesses cause concern for governments too as they buy companies, property and infrastructure in all parts of the world. Some criticism is linked to its emergence as a world superpower as it disrupts the old order of developed countries and they reluctantly accept China as a global player.

At first glance, China shares common values with the West when it comes to family, education and the rule of law. In fact, the current protests in Hong Kong demonstrate how unusual it is for such large numbers of people to undertake prolonged protest. But the lack of a democratic process undermines its government’s legitimacy, as citizens are poorly served, ill informed and horribly mistreated. Such incidents have of course happened in other countries but it doesn’t excuse China for repeating similar mistakes.

A feeling of hope

In previous years there was a feeling of hope and a desire to work with the Chinese government to build long-term strategic relationships. But hope is turning to despair as mistrust creates division with a host of friendly countries. China has also become more strident on the world stage and violently aggressive at home. It supresses dissents and stifles voices that challenge the dominance of the one party system, as the government deem any challenge unacceptable under its tenure. And its delivery of a globally ambitious Belt and Road Initiative seeks to consolidate its position as a world leader for future generations. The use of technology to spy on citizens is also seen as a sinister way to exercise power over those who question authority. The forced re-education of countless citizens who question the one party system also increases fear at home and abroad.

It’s complicated

Relationships with China are of course more complicated than the headlines suggest but there is a growing gap between its espoused and everyday values. And the unwillingness to reconcile these values causes problems when others consider what will happen in the future. China will of course continue to grow richer and stronger and more influential as it strengthens its place on the world stage. And it will do so in its own unique way, which it believes is more effective than the observed messiness of Western democracy.

So, China will always be an alarming mix of friend and foe as its interests lie in making friends but only to achieve what it believes to be its rightful place in the world.