“We do not expect diverse countries to share the same cultures, traditions or systems of government. But we expect all nations to uphold two core sovereign duties: to respect the interests of their own people and the rights of every other sovereign nation.” Speech by President Donald Trump, September 2017.
All of the above seems reasonable to us, but anathema to the Chinese, and I’ve been trying to trace why. Some understanding came from Gordon G. Chang, who has written a book with the intriguing title, “The Coming Collapse of China,” which I must order. He talks of a concept called “tianxia,” which was repudiated in the 20th century but seems to be making a comeback. It means “Mandate of Heaven” or “All Under Heaven,” and it gave authority to the Emperors of China, as leaders of the world’s superior nation, to rule all lesser nations.
Sovereignty of many nations of the world has been the order of things for three centuries but, for more than 10 years, Chang has noticed President Xi dropping audacious hints that China is the world’s only sovereign state. Competing for world dominance, Xi disparages the U.S. as a nation in decline which will ultimately cede to China. “In reality, America is trying to preserve more than its role in the international system — trying to preserve the system itself, which Xi is working to overthrow,” wrote Chang recently.
Did anyone see such implications in the theme of China’s 2008 Summer Olympics, “One World, One Dream”? “Xi Jinping Thought” will transcend Western ideas of international relations, and all under Heaven will be united as one family, a global imperial vision. Others will be “lesser entities to be influenced, controlled or subjugated by force, ruse, money, favor or fear,” in the words of Fei-Ling Wang, author of “The China Order: Centralia, World Empire and the Nature of Chinese Power.”
Any independent community is a threat to this vision. The Uighers in Xinjiang Province have an ancient and resilient culture, the first of nomadic Turkic people to live in cities, developing written language, literature and science. Many have been imprisoned and tortured, but an estimated 10 million Uighers are too many for genocide. Instead, China seeks way to systematically stamp out the culture.
China’s Cultural Revolution attempted to wipe out all religions. Falun Gong, an ancient Chinese tradition of slow-moving meditation exercises practiced by an estimated 70 million people, continued a while — by stressing its physical exercise rather than its spiritual teachings: truthfulness from Taoism, compassion from Buddhism and tolerance from Confucianism. (I observed morning practitioners in Taiwan.) Mainland China cracked down in 1999, pronouncing it “an evil cult,” imprisoned 10,000 people, tortured them (for transformation), used them along with other prisoners as sources for organ transplants.
Regarding “respecting the interests of their own people,” the all-important State comes first. Anyone regarded as threats, beware! Recently, China aired coverage of Hong Kong protests in the Mainland, a change designed to arouse anger against the demonstrators, possibly forecasting a crackdown. China has warned the U.S. about “playing with fire” selling arms to Taiwan and has sanctioned the firms involved.
China definitely claims sovereignty of Hong Kong, Taiwan and the East and South China seas. Their fishing fleet has fought other nations, gaining territory. Recently, China secretly signed a 30-year lease with automatic renewal for a Cambodian naval base partly constructed by the U.S. Nearby they are constructing an airport capable of handling the largest military aircraft. Combining this with the creation of seven heavily fortified islands, three of which have airstrips, they have a force that will make defense of Taiwan difficult.
China has always regarded freedom as a threat, not an essential ingredient they might imitate, which has made Hong Kong and Taiwan more than twice as prosperous as Mainland China. Chinese who have returned from studies of economics in the United States (called “sea turtles”) try to get them to free up the economy. State Capitalism, everything controlled by central government, is never as creative or effective as private enterprise. It makes huge mistakes — like cities full of empty apartment buildings lacking tenants to afford them. Leftists in our country need to learn that lesson, too.
Freedom is a difficult concept, because it requires huge trust in the people. For many decades, it worked well for America, with generally accepted values of integrity and responsibility. When government betrayed that trust, the whole country gradually moved to serious distrust and contempt of opposing ideas and parties. Unless that changes, President Xi’s prediction of our nation’s demise may be on target.
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.