The Dangers on the Path of Being a Large Power

Posted: February 8, 2012 in Oriental Morning Post
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A new article in today’s 东方早报 (Oriental Morning Post), a daily paper in China that I write a semi-regular column for. This was intended to come out last week talking a bit about China’s growing problems with citizens abroad and the dangerous places they are, and was meant to be pegged to the kidnapping the workers in Sudan, but it took a bit longer than expected. Consequently, there is no mention of the Syrian veto, which I might have added some comment on. Maybe a short piece later this week on that topic. But in the meantime, I have pasted the English I submitted below, and the Mandarin version below that. The title of this post is the title they ended up going with.

Why Do They Hate Us?

This has been a busy week for Chinese concerns abroad. In Egypt a group of 25 men were kidnapped and then released as part of a local dispute, while in Norway a court case was concluded in which the plotters had, amongst other targets, discussed aiming at the Chinese Embassy in Oslo, and in Sudan a group of 29 Sinohydro employees languish in custody under the “protection” of rebels. Chinese citizens and interests seem to increasingly be coming under target abroad, an unavoidable reality that offers China a moment to finally come out from its shell and become an active player in global affairs.

None of the scenarios listed above is particularly new. We have seen numerous Chinese workers and citizens toiling in foreign lands get into trouble before now. One need only look back last year to the over 30,000 Chinese workers who had to be evacuated from the chaos in Libya, and the thousands of others rescued from Egypt and Tunisia. In part this is the result of the fact that Chinese workers are increasingly finding themselves going to more dangerous parts of the world to dig for resources or build infrastructure and in part it is because there are simply so many Chinese workers now being sent all around the world. But in addition, it is because people now realize that snatching Chinese citizens is something that will guarantee getting attention.

This is the darker side of becoming a global power. Becoming the world’s second largest nation by GDP is something to be proud of, but it is also going to attract a certain amount of unwanted attention. This comes from people who are angry and feel they are missing out, people who are looking for a quick buck and see that China is now flush with money (and therefore see Chinese workers as rich pickings), but also people who have causes that they want global attention for. It used to be that if you wanted to get headlines for your cause, you had to snatch a group of westerners (look at the unknown numbers of Europeans being held by al Qaeda linked groups and criminal networks in North Africa) – nowadays, it is clear that Chinese workers will guarantee you the same sort of attention.

In something of a self-propagating cycle, this increased attention comes in part as a result of increased Chinese government efforts to go in and save citizens that have gotten into trouble in dark corners of the globe. Since the workers were snatched in Sudan the story has been front-page news in China, forcing pressure on the Chinese government to go and do something about it. Teams have been dispatched by Beijing while news outlets churn out news and Weibo is full of people discussing the fate of the group and evaluating the government’s response. All of which is having the effect of bringing attention to the group in Sudan who had kidnapped the Sinohydro workers, which is exactly what they wanted.

The Chinese officials that have been sent out to resolve this issue will find themselves being involved in a local conversation that China has been part of for a while. For selfish reasons of investment protection, China has long played a constructive role in trying to bring resolution to Sudan’s problems, and these previously nurtured contacts will no doubt help bring this latest situation to a close. And this reality highlights the very shifting nature of China’s role in the world and the long cherished “non interference principle.” Clearly the time has not come for China to start to gallop around the world asserting itself, but the time is happening that China is being forced to play a role in world affairs if only to protect its increasingly broad and diverse interests.

China is now seen as a global power. This reality has two results that come with it: a domestic audience who increasingly feel as though their government should be doing more to advance and protect their interests in the world, and a certain amount of antagonism globally, as China becomes part of the “resented face of globalization” as one American academic put it a couple of years ago. All of which requires China to be actively engaged in international affairs to ensure that their interests and people can be protected globally.

None of this is to call for China to start actively interfering in others affairs, but clearly a deeper understanding and engagement of the world is important. Rapid response teams need to be developed that are attuned to local issues that can be deployed to help citizens in distress and local embassies need to ensure that they have a good sense of how many citizens are actually in their area. One problem to have emerged from the Arab Spring last year was a sense that Chinese ministries had no clear idea of how many citizens were actually working in some of these countries – getting a grasp on this is important in figuring out how to prepare. In addition, China needs to build on its already positive forward posture taken with the anti-piracy missions off Somalia and its activity in peacekeeping operations globally to establish a more cooperative approach to its involvement in international missions to address global problems. China clearly benefits from aspects of the security umbrella that the United States and other western powers project, contributing more to these efforts is something that would be in everyone’s interests.

But there is a deeper psychological aspect to this question. Not the argument that China should do more in the world (the debate that China is a “global free-rider is an old one), but the fact that Chinese citizens are now starting to find themselves edging around the incomprehensible global dilemma “why do they hate us?” In the wake of September 11, 2001, American’s woke up to this and realized that there were people in the world who deeply resented the path their nation was taking. This was a shock to a country that had always viewed its role in international affairs as essentially benign and positive. And in China now we are starting to see the contours of this same debate. As China ascends, no matter how hard it tries to remain a benign force, it will find itself taking sides and those on the other side will resent China as a result. This will have a knock-on effect that can be very hard to predict, but will leave some Chinese citizens wondering what it is they have done to deserve this. Unfortunately, this is a reality of the world that we live in where there are winners and losers and those on the bottom will use any means they can to get at those at the top.

潘睿凡 2012-02-08 03:24
潘睿凡  国际激进主义研究  中心研究员









但这个问题也另外有着深刻的心理因素。且不提“在世界上发挥更多的作用”这类话题(“中国在全球搭顺风车”,这已经是老生常谈),而现在的实际情况就是,中国人发现他们正逐渐陷入这样一种难以理解的窘境——“他们为什么不喜欢我们?” 回头看看2001年的美国,到9月11日那天他们才恍然发现,原来这世上竟有人是如此地憎恨其“美式道路”。这令一个一直自豪于自己善意积极之国际角色的国家大为震惊。而在中国,我们已经依稀看到了相似的问题轮廓。随着中国的崛起,无论它怎样努力地保持低姿态,它还是会发现,总有人站在其对立面。这将引发哪些间接后果,也许现在还难以预料,但这肯定会让一些中国人心生疑惑——我们哪里做错了?而这个世界的残酷现实就是:这世上,有人输、有人赢,那些最底下的人势必会用尽一切手段来找你的麻烦。(白澜 译)

  1. That’s very interesting, thanks for sharing the article! I write on Sino-African/current affairs too on Saturdays on my blog, I would love to hear your comments if you pass by!

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