TNow here is an abundance of analysis and commentary from around the world on how countries should respond to the challenges posed by China. East Asian countries are concerned about China’s aggressive military movements in theSouth china sea, across the Taiwan Strait and the Sea of Japan. India is concerned about Chinese movementsHimalayan border, across the subcontinent and into the Indian Ocean. Western Europe is going through tough times with China’s backingcounterpartsin central and eastern Europe.
The United States, for its part, hasrecognizedthat China presents a multidimensional strategic challenge to its status as a global superpower that manifests itself in global trade, technology, cyber-geography and geography. What is consistent with all of these perceptions of the nature of China’s challenges is that they concern competing interests. Territorial ambition, economic domination, technological supremacy and the desire for hegemony are all classic manifestations of realpolitical confrontations resulting from a struggle for more power.
It would be a strategic error of historic proportions to limit the understanding of China’s rise as a mere conflict of interest. He is more than that. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) poses the most serious threat to date to the idea that the individual shares freedom of thought and that this freedom must be protected by national governments, if not by the international community. It is a threat that affects the international system, national governments, markets, civil society, and indeed every individual on the planet. Why? Because thought control is the penultimate mechanism the CPC relies on to stay in power, the ultimate being violence.
Also read: India waving SFF and Tibet cards will not scare China. I can’t pull the levers that you don’t have
Attractiveness of the Chinese authoritarian model
It is a familiar argument that the CCP projects the legitimacy of its power as stemming from its success in achieving political stability and economic prosperity. The legitimacy story is true, but only part of the story. What is less articulate, but no less palpable, is that the maintenance of power of the CPCs rests on its ability to control what the Chinese people say, do and especially think. This is why the checks and balances remained in place even after Deng Xiaopings1978 reforms, why the great firewall ofcensorshiphas been around since Internet access became available in China, why PakistaniPrimeMinisterImran Khandoes not haveinformation about the persecution of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, why Chinese universities had tochangetheir mission statements and why the exception that was Hong Kong needed to be standardized.
Why should this concern the rest of the world? Because the CPC demands the same from other countries in power. As the Australians will testify, Beijing uses a number of instruments to constrain what is acceptable thought, speech and action. On campuses around the world, frank discussion of modern Chinese history often invites protests from Chinese student groups, wealthy ethno-Chinese donors, and the local Chinese Embassy. The media in many Southeast Asian countries are oftenunder pressureof their own governments so as not to offend Beijing.
If China succeeds in carving out a sinosphere in cyberspace, where its standards of citizen surveillance and censorship prevail, it would have exported its methods with its equipment to many countries around the world. The Chinese model will tempt power-hungry authoritarian types and oligarchic business elites around the world. The only loser in all of this is individual freedom.
Also read: Arab Gulf States Should Know China Can Only Be A Temporary Friend
You don’t have to be the enemy of China
Analysts of the realistic tradition in international relations think, asHans Morgenthau, that ideologies are often pretexts and false fronts behind which hides the element of power, inherent in all politics. In a recentwritinginForeign Affairs, Ellbridge Colby and Robert Kaplan argue that ideology is not at the root of the US-China issue, even though elements of China’s Marxist-Leninist elite believe so, and that the The truth is that the United States can live with a China ruled by the CPC as long as it respects the interests of the United States and those of its allies and partners.
Just because Chinese ideology does not fit into the same framework as Soviet-style communism or al-Qaeda-style Islamism does not mean that there is not. Explicitly, China has always articulated and practiced socialism with Chinese characteristics and the Chinese supremacy of Xi Jinpings, China Dream. Implicitly, this is what Stein Ringen calls the controlocracy the world faces.
So even if your country has no territorial or trade dispute with China, you will not be allowed to host Tibetan religious leaders, your cinemas banned from playing certain films, your officials punished for visiting Taiwan, or your journalists. under threat of arrest for writing about Hong Kong. You will be asked to think coherently with what the men in Beijing would prefer. As these men get more powerful, the list of their favorite things might grow longer. And your government will be obliged to restrict your freedom on their behalf.
It is therefore not enough to challenge China in the field of territorial, economic and technological interests. People and governments around the world who value freedom of thought must recognize that it is also necessary to fight against Chinese controlocracy.
The author is the director of the Takshashila Institution, an independent center for research and education in public policy. Opinions are personal.
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