The main Chinese dissident, artist and director Ai Weiwei, says that China’s influence has become so great that it now cannot be effectively stopped.
“The West should have really cared about China decades ago. Now it is already a little too late, because the West has built its strong system in China and simply interrupting it, it will hurt deeply. This is why China is very arrogant.”
Ai Weiwei never belittled his words about China. “It’s a police state,” he says.
The artist designed the famous Bird’s Nest stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but ran into serious problems after speaking out against the Chinese government. Finally, in 2015, he left China to come to the West. He first lived in Berlin and settled in Cambridge last year.
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Mr. Ai believes that China today uses its immense economic power to impose its political influence.
It is certainly true that China has become much more assertive in recent years.
Until about a decade ago, China presented a modest face to the world. The official government slogan was: “Hide your light and wait for your moment”. Ministers insisted that China is still a developing country with much to learn from the West.
Then Xi Jinping came to power. He became general secretary of the Communist Party of China in 2012 and president the following year. He introduced a new tone. The old modesty vanished and there was a different slogan: “Strive for success”.
In a sense, China is still a developing country, with 250 million people below the poverty line.
Yet it is already the second largest economy in the world and is about to overtake the United States in the next decade or so. The influence of China in the world is becoming more and more evident, at a time when American authority has visibly diminished.
I have seen for myself the clear signs of China’s growing political strength and involvement around the world, from Greenland to the Caribbean, to Peru and Argentina, from South Africa to Zimbabwe to Pakistan and Mongolia.
The chair of the British Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, Tom Tugendhat, recently accused China of lobbying Barbados to dump the queen as head of state.
Today China has a significant presence practically everywhere in the world. Any country that challenges its fundamental interests suffers.
When the Dalai Lama visited Downing Street, Anglo-Chinese relations were frozen. And recently, when the Czech Republic’s parliament spokesman visited Taiwan, a senior diplomat warned that “the Chinese government and people will not stand idle in the face of open provocation from the Czech Senate President and the anti-Chinese forces behind. of him and they must let him make him pay a high price. “
However, Hu Xijin, editor of the outspoken and highly influential Chinese newspaper Global Times, rejects any suggestion that China is an international bully.
“I want to ask you, when has China ever pressured a country to do anything against its will? It is the United States that continues to apply sanctions around the world, especially economic sanctions on so many countries. Which country do you know China has sanctioned? ?
“Have we ever sanctioned an entire country? Only on specific issues did we express our dissatisfaction, and only as a reaction when our country was openly offended.”
Yet China is currently embroiled in rabid clashes with a whole host of countries: Taiwan, Australia, Japan, Canada, India (with which China recently fought a violent border skirmish), Britain and of course the United States.
The language used by the Global Times at times may sound like the worst rhetoric of Mao Zedong’s old days.
Hu himself recently wrote an editorial describing Australia as “the chewing gum under China’s boot”. When I asked him about this, he said that the current Australian government had repeatedly attacked and harassed China.
“I feel like I’m like a piece of rubber stuck to the bottom of my shoe. I can’t shake it. It’s not a good feeling. I said it as an expression and it’s my right to have an opinion.”
In Hong Kong
Mr. Hu is close to President Xi and we can assume that he would not have said these things unless he knew he had the support of the top Chinese leadership. When I asked him for his views on Hong Kong, he didn’t hold back.
“The Chinese government does not oppose Hong Kong’s democracy and freedoms, including the right of the Hong Kong people to demonstrate peacefully in the streets.
“But the key is that they must be peaceful … We support the even more resolute use of force by the Hong Kong police against violent protests.
“If violent protesters threaten the lives of the police, when they throw very sharp bullets and throw petrol or Molotov cocktails at the police, I believe the police should be allowed to use their guns and they should open fire.”
Strong stuff, and if the Hong Kong police really started shooting down the protesters, there would be a huge international reaction.
Most foreign observers think China’s aggressive behavior actually hides underlying nervousness.
The Communist Party is not elected, so it has no way of knowing how much genuine support it has in China. One cannot be sure of surviving a major crisis, such as a major economic collapse.
President Xi and his colleagues are haunted by the memory of how the old Soviet empire simply vanished between 1989 and 1991 because it lacked the support of ordinary citizens.
Mr. Hu does not accept that a new cold war has started. China’s dispute, he says, is basically with the United States. He points out that President Donald Trump’s attacks on China are closely tied to the November 3 presidential election and his efforts to win them.
After the election, the atmosphere is likely to improve, whoever wins.
China is too big, too involved in everyone’s life, for the United States and its allies to remain in a permanent state of utter hostility towards it.
But this simply reinforces Mr. Ai’s warning: that it is now too late for the West to protect itself from China’s influence.