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China: Now With America's Attention Back

This post is part of our special coverage Global Voices 9/11 Retrospective.

Looking back [zh] at ten years of post-9/11, Chinese novelist, political commentator and former US resident, Yang Hengjun (also a former young nationalist type) writes: “America* lost China as its enemy #1, and I lost America as mine; but now that the United States is back, where should she and China stand?”


The War on Terror has left the United States weakened, but it has also led more people than ever before to understand that there is no weapon stronger than democracy, freedom and human rights, that any idea which needs to destroy or fight concepts like these is backwards and destined to fail. The United States and other western countries have taken on foes a hundred times greater than Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein, such as the former Soviet Union, but then they didn't go around saying that they had “beat” anyone. And why not? Because it was the universal concepts of freedom, democracy and human rights which ended up beating the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe; Americans didn't even fire a single shot.

Anyone who still doesn't believe that need only look at the vast amounts of money and sweat the Americans are pumping into Iraq, and compare that to the relative distance the US has recently kept from countries such as Tunisia, Egypt and even Libya, and that yet it still could not offset the explosion of revolutionary calls for democracy, freedom and fair treatment in these countries.


Ten years on, the US has annihilated another main enemy, China is halfway risen, and now the two countries are once again at a crossroads. So now what? The three main factors driving Sino-American Relations are the economy, politics and security. So-called security means that the American military stays positioned on top all around the world and, with the rise of China's military in Asia, both sides are able to maintain peaceful coexistence.

So-called politics, as far as the United States is concerned, refers to values and concepts like freedom and democracy; with these, America has become the strongest country in the world and remains uncontested, with every nation so far to try going against these concepts ending up in ruin. Will America keep playing this game until one day it uses some fatal weapon, wiping all nondemocratic systems off the face of the earth in one shot?

Yang Hengjun, 12/28/2008


As far as I know, there definitely still exist people who think like that in power in the US. They have power, but as for whether or not they'll end up forming the mainstream and taking over is determined by how steady the economy remains, or if a major military conflict takes place. I came to the conclusion quite some time ago that with respect to the economic relationship between China and the US, and China's steadily growing overall national strength, the US will never think lightly about attacking China.

At the same time, if China undergoes some sort of transition at its core, nor will the US hold back. Some mainland scholars have argued with me on this, saying that even if trouble does emerge in China, between the trade relationship between the two countries and China's military strength, there isn't much that the US could do in any event. These experts, however, overestimate the longterm beneficial impact of the trade relationship between China and the US to the US. To be honest, the only people directly affected by the US and China's trade relationship are the current round of presidential candidates.

This is why, before he seeks to get reelected, Obama sent Biden to come cozy up to China, in the hope that China will leverage the Renminbi to keep the US stable. As for military strength, I used to be a super military geek, or did you forget?



Back to the point, [the US] shouldn't avoid a China as its stands at a crossroads. Be it the newly published China's Peaceful Development white paper, or promises our leaders make to different countries as they travel around, China has been constantly making repeated calls to the international community that it hopes to pursue democracy in its international exchanges, as well as fully achieve equality with all other member-states, urging for mutual acceptance and tolerance despite differences, encouraging diversity, etc. The problem, though, is: are there any countries that actually trust Beijing?

Because why would they? If you're going to make the case for values and notions like this among the international community, you need to start practicing them yourself, first. If you can't even give your own citizens democracy, equality, mutual acceptance or respect for their individual rights, how are you going to be able to do so at an international level? If you want to rise peacefully, to foster peace and harmony between different states, the second people get a glimpse of what you mean by “harmony”, why wouldn't suspect that the minute you gain strength, that you'd treat them the same way you do your own people, and try and make the world just as “harmonious” as things are in your country?


The way I see it, China's problems aren't in its diplomatic affairs, and not in Sino-American relations, or military security, but in its domestic affairs, in the path and system that we have chosen, and whether or not these will be able to ensure that citizens will be afforded their constitutional rights and freedoms. Whether citizens will truly granted their democratic rights to rule their country the way they see fit.

*United States of America

This post is part of our special coverage Global Voices 9/11 Retrospective.


  • thank you, John. Yang Hengjun

  • James Wiegert

    Dear Yang Hengjun (and Global Voices readers),

    ‘Freedom’ and ‘democracy’ are words. It makes little sense to say ‘We’re free’ or ‘We want to be free’ without specifying ‘Free to do what?’ or ‘Free to not do (or to refuse to do) what?’ Or, more specifically, ‘Free to do (or not do) what, when and where?’

    ‘Freedom of speech’ is fine, unless you yell ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater when there’s no fire there.

    Likewise, there are many varieties of ‘democracy’.

    At the local level and, perhaps, at the state level, the individual US voter has some power to affect the outcome of elections. (Though, having said that, even at those levels, election districts can be gerrymandered to favor one party or group over another.)

    At the national level the individual US voter loses out to corporate lobbyists every time. Corporate lobbyists, and other special interest groups, concentrate on convincing senators and congressmen and women, and contribute to their election campaigns. Individual voters can’t pay enough to make their voices heard.

    Additionally, tens of millions of Americans- according to state and federal government figures- are illiterate and, so, can’t participate in elections. Or, rather, they can vote, but can’t properly investigate the people they vote for. They’re effectively voiceless. And, I think, many politicians, and others in positions of power, want them to stay that way.

    In 2000, Bush was appointed president by the US Supreme Court after questionable Electoral-College and popular-vote counts and election irregularities in Florida, where a brother of his was governor. If every illiterate American- indeed, if only all former felons deprived of their votes- had been able to vote in that election, things might well have turned out differently. (But, then, the Electoral College elects the US President, and not individual voters.)

    US officials take pride in promoting ‘democracy’ worldwide, and yet when Gaza Palestinians voted members of Hamas into office in an election that independent observers judged fair, those same US officials condemned the results and ostracized Hamas.

    Israeli officials have promoted Israel as the only ‘democracy’ in the Middle East for decades and, yet, Israel has discriminatory citizenship, land-ownership and marriage laws that favor members of the Jewish religion. Which is to say: Israel is a ‘democracy’ of sorts, a theocratic democracy, rather like Iran.

    I think US officials feel afraid of popular uprisings, like those of the recent ‘Arab spring’. They definitely don’t want something like that happening in the US. (If ever poor, illiterate Americans, of whatever color, age or ethnicity, marched on government buildings, rebelled, US officials would do their damnedest to stop them, even to teargasing and shooting them.)

    Since some Chinese alive today remember the unheavals of the 1960s and 1970s, and the economic and social costs of those upheavals, I imagine Chinese officials feel more afraid of popular uprisings than the officials of most other countries do. But the more Chinese buy from and sell to people of other countries, the more they travel abroad to study, the more possibilities there’ll be for change. What change, and at what pace, will be for you and other Chinese to decide. I wish you well.

    James Wiegert

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