This is a re-post of an article by Shaun Rein, “How To Fix Western-Chinese Relations; Do it with the Nobel Peace Prize,” where it first appeared on Forbes – with permission from the author.
“How To Fix Western-Chinese Relations”
Do it with the Nobel Peace Prize.
12.14.10, 10:50 AM EST
Tension between China and the West has been inching up over the past year. There have been disputes over everything from Google’s stand against censorship and protectionism to China’s trade surplus, the valuation of the yuan and the problem of North Korea’s thuggery. Bad relations do not help anyone, and they certainly don’t solve any of the very real economic problems the world faces. We need to have the West and China working together. Otherwise we could collapse into another Cold War.
I have an idea that could help get Western-Chinese relations back on track, improve human rights in China and make the Chinese government and people less suspicious about Western intentions. Next year the Nobel Prize committee should confer a special one-time-only double posthumous Nobel Peace Prize, on both Deng Xiaoping, the former Chinese paramount leader, and Mohandas Gandhi. Doing so would properly give due respect to Deng and Gandhi, both of whom helped billions of people, would right the wrong that Gandhi never won the Nobel and would rally Chinese support for continued reform.
Many Westerners see Deng as someone who ushered in economic reforms and got companies like Coca-Cola ( KO – news – people ), Nike ( NKE – news – people ) and Motorola ( MOT – news – people ) to invest in China, but he did far more that gets scant attention in the West. If the Tiananmen incident in 1989 hadn’t happened, Deng probably would have won the Nobel and would be viewed in the West with the kind of respect and love Gandhi enjoys around the world. That’s how much he is appreciated in China.
Here are reasons why Deng deserves to win next year’s Nobel Prize, despite what happened in 1989.
First, by the time Deng passed away in 1997, he had a total grip on power–not in the manic way of Mao Zedong, but rather from the respect he commanded because he had restored calm to the country.
I remember walking the streets when he died and seeing shopkeepers put out small empty bottles in their windows in mourning (in Chinese, Deng’s name sounds like” little bottle.”) Instead of hoarding power for himself and his family, like the Kims in North Korea, Deng had the great foresight to push through policies to prevent the offspring of cadres of the highest-ranking from rising above a certain level in government. The offspring of the most influential members of the Standing Committee of the Politburo may be influential, but they have never made it onto that Standing Committee.
How many times have you seen anyone with such absolute power put into law that his children could not maintain a generational grip on power?
Deng effectively created a healthy diffusion of power throughout the country. There may still be too much cronyism in China, but the situation is far better than if he had pushed his children into leadership positions. Today most offspring of government leaders go into business. Few grandchildren of the most powerful leaders from the late 1970s and ’80s are in government service.
Deng’s foresight also brought about China’s first peaceful transitions of power in the past century, from himself to Jiang Zemin and on to Hu Jintao and most likely next to Xi Jinping. Such peaceful transfers of power were unthinkable not very long before, when President Liu Shaoqi was tortured and died in prison, or when Mao’s heir apparent, Lin Biao, died in a mysterious plane crash.
Finally, Deng pushed for greater academic exchange and economic interdependence. In so doing he not only created a more stable and vibrant economy and way of life for ordinary Chinese, but also diminished the threat of military disputes spiraling out of control. More than a million Chinese have studied in the West in the last three decades. When they come back to China they bring back positive feelings for America. Perhaps surprising to many Americans, most of China’s leadership actually likes the American way of life. They are often exasperated at the way China, and they personally, are portrayed in the West.
A couple of years ago I went fishing with a very senior official who the Western press liked to attack for being evil and a thug. He seemed pained by the criticism, because he liked America and didn’t understand why reporters jumped to conclusions about him as he tried to do what was best for the Chinese people. Many of China’s up-and-coming leaders were educated in the U.S., for instance, Zhu Min, former vice governor of the People’s Bank of China, who studied at Princeton and Johns Hopkins.
Deng kept China from turning inward like North Korea or Myanmar and got it instead to push outward, to learn from the rest of the world and to minimize tensions and misunderstandings. Not only did he thereby create a more peaceful world, he also eroded some of the apprehension within China about the motives of the West.
2010 should have been a great year for China’s relations with the West, but it has instead been marked with tension and misunderstanding. The Nobel Prize committee should step up to help diffuse the situation by giving Deng and Gandhi the recognition they both deserve for doing so much for the Chinese and Indian people. That is something that Chinese would rally behind, and it would be a fitting tribute to two great leaders who did more for peace than anyone else in the last century.
Shaun Rein is the founder and managing director of the China Market Research Group, a strategic market intelligence firm. He writes for Forbes on leadership, marketing and China. Follow him on Twitter at @shaunrein.