Some Western pundits have suggested that the “world” is increasingly resisting Beijing’s influence, perhaps because of a recent Pew Poll finding that growing numbers of Americans, as well as some citizens of Western and Asian countries, have a negative view of China.
However, the problem with this claim is that the “world” is more than just the US and a small number of its Western and Asian allies. Moreover, the Pew findings are not a surprise given the relentless subjective information on China that the Western (mainly US) media, politicians and pundits have been feeding its population for decades.
However, if those who viewed China negatively were asked if they have any credible evidence that the communist country has done what the media, politicians and pundits accused it of doing, the answer would probably be no. For instance, some respondents to the Pew Poll simply echoed former US president Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that the Covid-19 pandemic was manufactured and spread by China to the world.
Therefore, it could be argued that a large percentage of the US population harboring a negative view on China was not only misled but was, in fact, preconditioned to do so. The vast majority of Americans expressing anti-Chinese sentiments have probably never been to China or know anything about the country, believing everything the media, politicians and pundits have said or written about it.
To be sure, China is looking after its national interests first. In doing so, it cannot avoid conflicts with other countries, including the US and its allies.
For example, in pursuing technological advancements, China, like the US or any other country, has spent and will continue to spend considerable amounts of funds on research and development, to attract talent from every corner of the globe, and to buy foreign technology. And it would not be a surprise that some Chinese individuals or organizations did steal foreign secrets.
From this perspective, China is no worse than the US: The latter stole British and German technologies during its initial development stages, and gave generous scholarships to the world’s best and brightest to study or work at its universities and enterprises – the list goes on. Indeed, the US became what it is today in part because of foreign talent and the technologies that it stole from the UK and Germany.
Of course, no one is suggesting that two wrongs make a right, but accusing China of what the US and its allies have been doing for centuries is hypocritical and dangerous, potentially leading to economic and geopolitical risks.
Barring or restricting Chinese scholars who have made up almost a third of the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) experts studying and working in US universities, for example, has already put a dent in those institutions’ financial statements, undermining their ability to offer programs and research activities.
Backfiring effects also emerged in other US allies labeling China as the bad guy, bullying smaller nations in the South China Sea to justify “freedom of navigation and overflight operations” (FONOPs) in those waters.
Instead of being deterred from pursuing its claim of territories within the “nine dash line” established by the former Nationalist government, China developed and sent more advanced and lethal weapons to defend what it called its inheritance. Since the US and its allies are not willing to wage war against China, their FONOPs turned into a joke and made other countries in the region nervous.
One could indeed argue that the US, not China, is being isolated from the world. Trump’s attempt to revive the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (first proposed by former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe as the “diamond of democracies” comprising the US, Australia, Japan and India) to counter China’s rise in the South China Sea did not get off the talking stage, and for good reasons.
China is practically the economic lifeline to the Quad countries, being their major if not biggest trade partner. It has also called for dialogue to settle territorial disputes and offer joint development of the region’s resources.
With regard to claims of human-rights violations against ethnic minorities, the only “proof” are words of dissidents and photos of prisons depicting vocational schools. If one cares to examine the situation in Xinjiang, the Uighur population whom the West accused China of committing “genocide” against actually grew by more than 25% from 2010 to 2019, according to Chinese government statistics.
Those who have visited Xinjiang, including this author, found that freedom of worship is not suppressed. What’s more, Uighurs probably enjoy a better standard of living than native, black and non-white Hispanic Americans.
Against this backdrop, it is not surprising to find that many if not the majority of Asian, European, African and Latin American countries have little if any appetite to join the US and its allies to stifle China’s rise.
The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the China-EU Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) and the expansion of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to Africa, Latin America, Asia and Central and Eastern Europe are examples of how the US has failed to recruit them to counter China.
Most recently US President Joe Biden called for a quick meeting of the Quad heads of state, presumably to form an “Asian NATO” to push back China’s growing influence in the Asia-Pacific region if not beyond. However, Biden’s efforts could be in vain, because India has taken steps to improve relations, or at least not to escalate tensions, with China.
India and China, for example, pulled back troops along some parts of their border as a gesture of easing boundary disputes. The two countries also seem to understand that cooperation is far more beneficial than confrontation. A case in point is India’s easing of restrictions on Chinese investment in the country, a decision likely to boost Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make in India” policy in propelling the country to become an industrial power.
Japan, a staunch US ally, has appeared to walk a cautious line on its relations with Washington, valuing economic interests over geopolitical differences. Japan needs to revive its economy and end the Covid-19 pandemic, thus has neither the appetite nor resources to confront China unnecessarily.
Even European allies such as the UK, France and Germany, while sending warships in support of a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” are cautious in trying not to stoke tensions with the Dragon. France, for example, said its ships would not sail within China’s 12-mile exclusive economic zone and President Emmanuel Macron insisted the European Union is carrying out an independent foreign policy with respect to China.
Therefore, it is difficult to see how the “world” is isolating China, particularly as it is donating vaccines to more than 50 countries to address the pandemic; investing hundreds of billions of dollars in more than 80 countries that are participating in its BRI; being the biggest trade partner to some 125 countries; just to list a few of its globalist activities.
The US, on the other hand, is not sharing its vaccines with any country, including close allies and partners Canada and Mexico.
Since actions speak louder than words, Western pundits, politicians and media are delusional in saying the world is isolating China.
Ken Moak taught economic theory, public policy and globalization at university level for 33 years. He co-authored a book titled China’s Economic Rise and Its Global Impact in 2015. His second book, Developed Nations and the Economic Impact of Globalization, was published by Palgrave McMillan Springer.