Monday, 8 August 2011

China's rebukes to US hide the historical truth

China's second rebuke to the US in almost as many days provides a stinging challenge to America's national pride and it won't be forgotten. What has been forgotten by politicians in the US capitol and in Beijing is that it was a Democrat president, Bill Clinton, who serially favoured granting Most Favored Nation status to China. That took place back in 2000, which led to China's acceptance in the WTO a year later. Access to foreign markets then led to a shift in global trading patterns. At the time Clinton was pushing for China's acceptance by the world it was said jobs would be created in the US. What happened instead was the hollowing-out of the US industrial heartland. Both jobs and manufacturing capacity migrated to China. The resulting surge in employment in China has led to its massive current-account surplus. Clinton's decision to engage more fully with China - putting off improvements in human rights in the Middle Kingdom - gave China the strength to buy US treasury bonds. This, in turn, has led to China's rebukes.

But China has always used history liberally. Historical truth is not important, says Loretta Napoleoni in Rogue Economics: Capitalism's New Reality (2008), for Chinese leaders are mainly intent on restoring the greatness of historical China, not forming a consistent image for the use of a politically-aware contemporary electorate.
By undermining regionalism and recycling history, the Cultural Revolution ensured the uniform development of society across all of the nation's spaces. But to do this, individualism could not impinge on the collective and homogenized Chinese identity that focused, above all, on the common cause. Maoism became the common ground of the new society.
History has become nothing more than a cultural resource, shaped according to the needs of a particular group, and is the social glue of a postmodern tribalism that is defined by the territory of the tribe.
In the context of China's controversial love affair with globalization, tribalism keeps the influence of foreign cultures at bay.
Napoleoni calls China a "market-state" where "politics is nothing more than an accessory to business and economic opportunism". So China's rebukes to the US must be seen in this rather sinister light. But the audience is not only an external one. The rebukes also constitute a form of internal PR, designed to diminish the stature of the US in the eyes of China's youth, who are becoming increasingly Westernised.

In reality, Clinton did the Chinese leadership a massive favour by granting businesses from the mainland access to global markets. But things have changed and it's inconvenient to acknowledge this truth. Instead, China's leadership just rewrites the record and posits as an autonomous economic virtue the prosperity China's people have been allowed to access by the US leadership pre-2001. China's leadership wants nothing more than to acquire additional power in both an economic and moral sense. In order to do that, truth must be sacrificed to the greater common good. No only truth, but rightful gratitude as well.

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