Broad public ignorance of Chinese truths is an important means to achieving Ottawa’s desired ends, writes Shuvaloy Majumdar.
By Shuvaloy Majumdar, Oct. 27, 2017
Most of what Canadians read and hear about modern China occupies a narrow space between calculated dishonesty and aggressive deception.
A Chinese economy still overwhelmingly run through politicized structures is portrayed as a hub of free enterprise. A state ruled by a despotic clique is sold as a forward-thinking global leader. A regime bent on deploying technology to control its populace and wage cyber warfare abroad, is featured as a bastion of technological marvels. A country that holds little genuine affinity for Canada, beyond what will serve its own interests, is presented as a loyal, unambiguous friend.
That China is a different nation today than it was 40, 30, or even 10 years ago is undeniable. But the unqualified praise for the lessons Beijing belatedly learned since the 1980s must not be used to conceal how China remains captive to a deeply regressive governing ideology — a mixture of Communism, chauvinism, mercantilism, and colonialism.
Indeed, in many ways the defining story of the last few years has been the steady eclipse of Beijing’s much-vaunted agenda of “reform” by a resurgent and unapologetic pursuit of geopolitical self-interest explicitly at odds with that of its supposed Western partners.
China is a different nation today than it was 40, 30, or even 10 years ago
The rise of President Xi Jinping, an ultra-establishment hardliner, has been particularly revealing. His short reign has already made clear that the People’s Republic will be animated by solidified one-party rule, entrenchment of a neo-Communist command economy, and consolidation of a vast empire of interests abroad. Persistently troubling trends show no sign of slowing, including the increasing “weaponization” of Chinese commerce to elicit geopolitical submission, rigid alliances with rogue states, self-serving distortions of international law, and an aggressive defence of the so-called “Chinese model” of development unburdened by “foreign” notions of democracy and human rights.
With China’s industrialization, forays into globalization and technological innovation, the country’s economic interests have never been more globally engaged, and today they correlate directly to its more formidable military and strategic ambitions. China is no longer willing to hide its strength and bide its time, as the architect of its state capitalist model Deng Xiaoping had recommended long ago. Instead, President Xi is shifting China’s posture from strategic patience toward seizing the strategic advantage — by rapidly developing China’s digital, economic, political and military arteries around the world, with Beijing as the heart of a rising and reinvigorated Middle Kingdom.
The Trudeau government is not the first in Canadian history to view China’s strength and size with reckless excitement, but it is certainly the first to channel this enthusiasm into a policy goal as substantive as free trade. Free trade with China, which Ottawa pursues with a dogged determination they’ve been unable to muster for much else, is marketed as a panacea to alleviate virtually everything that ails modern Canada, from sluggish economic growth to traditional insecurities of “American dependence.”
The rise of President Xi Jinping, an ultra-establishment hardliner, has been particularly revealing.
In the pursuit of these dreams, much will be sacrificed. Whatever other criticisms one can offer, the government’s project cannot be dismissed as naive. The men and women staffing the senior levels of government fully grasp the realities of the Chinese regime and its motives. They pursue their project not from ignorance but in spite of this knowledge.
It is clear, however, that broad public ignorance of Chinese truths is an important means to achieving Ottawa’s desired ends. Only then can the tough questions be dodged and appropriate skepticism dismissed. Global Affairs Canada, partisan journalists, and taxpayer-funded think tanks thus produce a relentless deluge of spin, half-truths, and happy talk about our Chinese friends, while condemning even the mildest voices of concern as paranoid, “red baiting,” or even racist. The result is an intellectual atmosphere in which honest dialogue is chilled, constrained, and stagnant.
An honest guide is needed to the unflattering truths of a country whose reputation Canada’s present leaders insist on shielding as they tighten bilateral ties. China is a nation whose guiding spirit is not the thoughtful pragmatism of a promising superpower, but the calculated cynicism of an insecure state. Collectively, we should be reminded to see China as it actually is, and not as some may wish it to be.
Shuvaloy Majumdar is a Munk Senior Fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, which is publishing this week “The Dragon at the Door,” a series of essays on the realities of 21st century China.