Wednesday November 30, 2022

Time for reflection

July 27, 2022

Western nations, especially the US and the UK, seem to be paranoid about the rising power of China. Leaders in the advanced capitalist world are of the view that the specter of an ascendant China is haunting the free world. From London to Washington, Beijing seems to have captured the attention of all European and Western leaders.

A few years back, leaders from mature democracies were expected to say something about China only during general elections. In the 2016 and 2020 US presidential elections, we saw how Donald Trump and Joe Biden introduced their plans to deal with China, which, according to them, was threatening the rules-based global order introduced by Western powers in the aftermath of the Second World War.

Both leaders accused Beijing of violating various principles of the free market economy and global norms and attempted to paint it as a political entity dominated by an authoritarian political party with no regard for human rights and democratic principles.

The two leaders promised to be tough on the authoritarian state. Other US politicians also resorted to anti-China rhetoric to attract the attention of various interest groups and lobbies that thrive on anti-China policies. During the last UK general elections, British politicians also talked about the rising power of China and the ways to deal with it.

One expected that this China-bashing would be over after the polls, but it seems that the world’s second-largest economy will continue to be featured in various debates inside Western parliaments, academic institutions and think tanks for decades to come. The recent leadership debate in the UK’s Conservative Party suggests that China has also made its way there.

The Covid pandemic has badly affected British society, especially the working class which has seen a decline in its earnings and a dip in savings. According to some estimates published by an organization called Shelter, the UK houses more than 274,000 homeless people, including 126,000 children. Shelter’s detailed analysis of official rough-sleeping and temporary-accommodation figures shows that one in every 206 people in England are currently without a home. Unemployment in the UK, which is one of the world’s richest countries, is around 3.7 percent, and poverty has also reached surprising levels.

Although overall poverty seemed to have fallen at the beginning of the pandemic due to a combination of falling median incomes and increased benefits, many critics believe that the decrease in benefits is likely to add to the woes of the people. Rising prices also lead to an increase in absolute poverty and material deprivation. The Resolution Foundation estimates that around 1.3 million British people, including 500,000 children will fall into absolute poverty by 2022/23. According to the statistics available at the House of Commons library, around one in six people in the UK are in relative low-income before housing costs (BHC), rising to around one in five once housing costs are accounted for. “More than one in five of the UK population (22 per cent) are in poverty – 14.5 million people. Of these, 8.1 million are working-age adults, 4.3 million are children and 2.1 million are pensioners. When we use the term poverty we are using the relative poverty rate (after housing costs) to measure poverty.”

The country’s health system also needs improvement with more than 110,192 posts lying vacant in England. According to a ‘Guardian’ report, one in 10 nursing positions and one in 17 doctors’ jobs are vacant. The shortages include 39,652 nurses and 8,158 doctors. The country has a 6.1million treatment backlog which will definitely be hampered by these shortages.

The housing situation is not rosy either. In a 2020 report, ‘BBC’ claimed that the UK built 1.2 million fewer homes than it should have. The calculations suggested it would take at least 15 years to close the demand-supply gap. Although the government claims it has delivered over 464,000 new affordable homes since 2010, including 114,000 social homes, critics feel that the country needs to do much more than it is doing to tackle the shortage of houses.

One expected Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss, the two politicians competing to become the next UK prime minister, to discuss these crucial issues, but instead of addressing the most pressing problems, they tried to show their anti-Chinese credentials to appease a few vested interests and lobbies that believe in raising tensions with China.

Sunak called for getting tough on China, reportedly proposing to close down all 30 Confucius institutes in the UK, build stronger diplomatic security alliances against China, use MI5 to help British businesses cooperate and examine the case for banning the Chinese acquisition of British firms, including strategically sensitive tech firms.

The US and the UK are not the only countries that are trying to create the bogey of Chinese power, but other Western countries and think tanks are also doing the same. Some Western analysts believe that Beijing is taking advantage of Ukraine’s situation, striking long-term business deals with Russia and importing oil and gas at discounted rates. They assert that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has benefited Beijing.

Some think tanks claim that tensions between Iran and Western powers have also given China an opportunity to make inroads inside the Islamic Republic, securing gas and oil at discounted rates, a step which is likely to boost the Chinese economy. In the past, Western academics and security experts complained that while the US and Western powers spent billions of dollars in Afghanistan, China turned out to be the main beneficiary in the region as it signed lucrative deals with Hamid Karzai and other Western-backed regimes that ruled Kabul.

Before criticizing China, shouldn’t the Western elite take a look at its own policies that later boomeranged on them? For instance, did China ask Nato to carry out its westward expansion creating panic in Moscow that equated such expansion with the encirclement of Russia? The West held out assurances to Mikhail Gorbachev that no such expansion would be carried out. Was it Beijing that advised George W Bush to attack Afghanistan and Iraq, wasting over $5 trillion dollars?

Even in the current Ukraine-Russia conflict, it is not China that exhorted Western powers to pump over $54 billion to fan the flames of the war. The Western ruling elite needs to realize that since 1945, European powers and the US have been involved in more than 200 military conflicts. Can they recall the number of wars China has fought since World War II? How many states has Beijing invaded since then?

Many believe that Beijing’s non-interventionist policy has been beneficial. Instead of squandering trillions of dollars in wars and conflicts, China chose to lift over 600 million Chinese out of poverty, diverting its resources to improve consumer-goods technology and investing in the regions where Western powers were reluctant to go. The West needs to understand that the solution of its difficulties lies in reflection, not in accusations.

The writer is a freelance journalist who can be reached at: