Now China and
South Korea are engaged in a stand-off regarding four N. Korean asylum seekers.
China wants the four handed over and S. Korea accuses the Chinese of hypocrisy.
China is facing renewed pressure from East Asian and Western countries to finally
come to terms with its relationship with N. Korea. The message is: take responsibility
for N. Korea and start working for regional stability. Up till now, Beijing has
repeatedly assumed a position of righteous neutrality under the cover of "international
and Chinese laws." This position will not survive long.
Now N. Korea
is again implicated in wrongdoings as the Pakistan-India conflict grows hotter
and talk of the origin of Pakistan's nukes comes into play. Many officials and
writers (especially Indians) trace the Ghauri/Nodong missile back to Chinese know-how.
Despite Beijing's protests that China has never and will never foment regional
strife, both India and Japan are growing tired of N. Korea and Pakistan -- and
they are looking to China for answers. China has supplied fighter jets, weapons
technology, engineers and most of all serious investment in Pakistan. In return,
Pakistan supplies the Chinese with a freshwater port in Gwadar, access to the
Middle East and Central Asia and a tool to keep India off-balance and focused
on war, not money.
is trying to have the cake and eat it too: China's economic growth demands and
requires political growth as well, but Beijing is hoping to exert power economically
without entangling itself in international political webs. Unfortunately for modern
China, economics and politics are inextricably linked. Selling weapons and technology
is good business, but when business lacks a moral (or political) foundation, conflicts
China continues to increase its manufacturing capacity, thereby also increasing
exports, regional neighbors will be hard-pressed to maintain their own export-driven
economies. Japanese workers are watching their employers move across the sea,
South Asian exporters are slashing prices and the ASEAN nations are pressing for
a free-trade agreement with China. All these developments have domestic repercussions.
Even if Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi declares the rise of China a boon for
all of Asia, he must deliver to his constituents who are wallowing in a stagnant
economy, searching for part-time employment.
cannot move from peasant kingdom to nobility but reject the responsibilities that
come with power and quasi-rule. China must see itself as a force for peace and
stability in Asia and not just as an economic engine devoid of any goals but profit
and ascendance. Both N. Korea and Pakistan look to China for both political and
economic support -- so far China is only willing to do business.
Asian heads of state still see China's rise as mutually beneficial, but when cheap
Chinese exports and labor relieve the surrounding nations of money and jobs, anti-Chinese
sentiment will rise. In Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia an entrenched
Chinese (economic) aristocracy was targeted during the 1997-98 Asian financial
meltdown; China may very well become to East Asian nations what the U.S. is to
Latin American nations, albeit without the job market.
way for Beijing to soften the blow of China's rise is to show that behind the
business deals and high-minded speeches stands a real desire to improve the standard
of living in Asia, and not just within China. Instead of bickering over N. Korean
refugees, solve the problem at its source; instead of propping up Pakistan's military,
take the initiative and call for negotiations in Beijing. If Beijing sees the
U.S. as an unwanted rival in Asia, then perhaps China should do something about
yes this is a lot to ask of a country with 900 million peasants, 150 million migrant
workers, rampant political corruption and thuggery, serious environmental problems
and a population set to burst the nations at its seams. But with a dream-like
meteoric rise to power come real dizzying responsibilities.
printable version of this article
Matuszak is a teacher living and working in China. His articles have appeared
in the South China Morning Post, the Minnesota Daily, and elsewhere.
His exclusive Antiwar.com column (usually) appears Fridays.
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