A thoughtful friend asked why the Chinese building bases, infrastructure, etc. around the world is any different from what the British, Europeans and Americans have done as world leaders.
To answer, we ask about fundamental beliefs: “How valuable is human life in their thinking? My limited experience of Chinese culture told me that individuals were far less important than in America.
Gordon Chang’s book, “The Coming Collapse of China,” turned out to be written in 2001, predicting economic collapse within 10 years. China’s admission to the World Trade Organization changed all that. However, the book is still relevant in describing leadership. “The Communist Party has a destiny, and that is to lead the Chinese people for all time. There never has been any tolerance for other voices, and there is none today.”
The Party has been corrupt and unpopular. It refused to correct mistakes in agricultural policy that caused tens of millions of people to die of famine. Mao’s Cultural Revolution in 1966 sent young people on a destructive rampage against everything old; priceless treasures were lost in the attempt to change culture and thinking. In 1989, dissent was silenced by the state-sanctioned murder of thousands in Tiananmen Square. Cultures, particularly religious groups that oppose the Party, remain targets for elimination. Current Chinese leadership focuses on controlling people more than their well-being.
British, European and American leadership, by contrast, had its roots in Christianity, which puts a high value on each individual life. Jesus’s teachings, while never perfectly followed, resulted in better leadership. The British were guided by “noblesse oblige,” the ethic that advanced cultures should benefit primitive peoples that came under their wing. In their colonies they provided infrastructure (transportation, electrical and communications systems) and education (English, government, rule of law, etc.) which proved valuable as nations like India became independent. Americans provided developmental aid and opposed abusers of human rights.
In confronting evil, America has never been able to apply “turning the other cheek.” It seems impossible; yet wars begun for good reasons often end badly: Save Korea and Vietnam from being taken over by Communists; save the world from weapons of mass destruction: in Iraq (best intelligence said Saddam had them); in North Korea (Kim Jong-Un approaches capability). We bog down, resort to greater force, reduce countries to wastelands and become not saviors but the enemy. I fear something similar regarding sanctions. They’ve gotten the attention of abusive China, Kim Jong-Un and Iran. If they succeed in getting negotiated solutions, wonderful! Or will added pressure bring doubling down and finding ways around sanctions? In a prolonged and fruitless struggle who suffers? — the common people of the countries involved.
George H,W. Bush came close in applying force well when Saddam invaded Kuwait—swift military action expelling them from Kuwait and stopping there, no going on to Baghdad. When the Soviet Empire finally collapsed, Bush was careful not to gloat, rather working to ease into a more peaceful ongoing relationship. This is an example of standing for human rights yet treating enemies with consideration. President Trump’s administration twice corrected Syria, swift missiles sent to say poisoning people with gas was unacceptable and answering a woman’s plea to stop annihilation of a northern Syrian city. Trump said, “No, you’re not going to do that!” and they didn’t. Strength in just causes is respected in a world leader.
It is not easy to deal with the likes of the Ayatollah, Kim Jong-Un, President Xi or Vladimir Putin. Current contenders for the presidency say little about qualifying for that portion of the job. With two more hate-filled mass shootings and hate-filled reactions, we feel discouraged about our country’s character. PBS this week presents a documentary on Woodstock; the defining moment when young people deserted parental and religious constraints — with many following. We are reaping the results.
Verna Benham, who lives in Kerrville, worked for the U.S. Foreign Service, which took her across the globe, including to Argentina, Taiwan and Chile.