I thought I’d bring to people’s attention to a recent Op Ed from Tony Blair in the Wall Street Journal on the Rise of China and the Olympics. I think the piece is interesting as a genuine attempt by a Western Leader (or at least a former Western leader) to understand – in good faith – the Rise of China and the Olympics.
About the Chinese people, Blair observed:
These people, men and women, were smart, sharp, forthright, unafraid to express their views about China and its future. Above all, there was a confidence, an optimism, a lack of the cynical, and a presence of the spirit of get up and go, that reminded me greatly of the U.S. at its best and any country on its way forward.
On his observation of modern China, Blair offered:
During my 10 years as British leader, I could see the accelerating pace of China’s continued emergence as a major power. I gave speeches about China, I understood it analytically. But I did not feel it emotionally and therefore did not fully understand it politically.
On the challenges facing China, Blair had this to offer:
The Chinese leadership is understandably preoccupied with internal development. Beijing and Shanghai no more paint for you the complete picture of China than New York and Washington do of the U.S. Understanding the internal challenge is fundamental to understanding China, its politics and its psyche. We in Europe have roughly 5% of our population employed in agriculture. China has almost 60%. Over the coming years it will seek to move hundreds of millions of its people from a rural to an urban economy.
On the need for Political Stability, Tony explained (bravely I thought):
For China, this economic and social transformation has to come with political stability. It is in all our interests that it does. The policy of One China is not a piece of indulgent nationalism. It is an existential issue if China is to hold together in a peaceful and stable manner as it modernizes. This is why Tibet is not simply a religious issue for China but a profoundly political one — Tibet being roughly a quarter of China’s land mass albeit with a small population.
So we should continue to engage in a dialogue over the issues that rightly concern people, but we should conduct it with at least some sensitivity to the way China sees them.
On the coming changes in geopolitics, Blair put forth:
This means that the West needs a strong partnership with China, one that goes deep, not just economically but politically and culturally. The truth is that nothing in the 21st century will work well without China’s full engagement. The challenges we face today are global. China is now a major global player. So whether the issue is climate change, Africa, world trade or the myriad of security questions, we need China to be constructive; we need it to be using its power in partnership with us. None of this means we shouldn’t continue to raise the issues of human rights, religious freedoms and democratic reforms as European and American leaders have done in recent weeks.
It is possible to hyperbolize about the rise of China. For example, Europe’s economies are still major and combined outreach those of China and India combined. But, as the Olympics and its medal tables show, it is not going to stay that way. This is a historic moment of change. Fast forward 10 years and everyone will know it.
For centuries, the power has resided in the West, with various European powers including the British Empire and then, in the 20th century, the U.S. Now we will have to come to terms with a world in which the power is shared with the Far East. I wonder if we quite understand what that means, we whose culture (not just our politics and economies) has dominated for so long. It will be a rather strange, possibly unnerving experience. Personally, I think it will be incredibly enriching. New experiences; new ways of thinking liberate creative energy. But in any event, it will be a fact we have to come to terms with. For the next U.S. president, this will be or should be at the very top of the agenda, and as a result of the strength of the Sino-U.S. relationship under President Bush, there is a sound platform to build upon.
As a conclusion, Blair offered:
My thoughts after the Beijing Games are that we shouldn’t try to emulate the wonder of the opening ceremony. It was the spectacular to end all spectaculars and probably can never be bettered. We should instead do something different, drawing maybe on the ideals and spirit of the Olympic movement. We should do it our way, like they did it theirs. And we should learn from and respect each other. That is the way of the 21st century.
While Blair on the whole still exudes of western centrism (he for example still assumes the western conception of human rights and religious freedom to be fundamental rights when in reality Chinese are not so ideological and tend to see conception of human rights and religious freedom more in terms of social equity and social stability…), I nevertheless think it’s overall a good piece – and perhaps representative of a new Western dialog on China …. post the Olympics.