China’s rise to being the world’s most powerful state makes for some awkward posturing from Chinese leadership. China has taken a position in world affairs as a leader of developing, post-colonial states but this means that China’s leaders have to play down their own neo-colonial ambitions (securing diplomatic support and resources for continued economic expansion). This makes for some interesting interactions between China and other developing states, especially in Africa.
Western discourse continually paints China as a boogie-man and a threat to freedom and liberty. If China’s rise continues on its current trajectory then its narrative of the Middle Kingdom as a developing post-colonial country will become unsustainable, but it’s hard to see it dropping its role as a counterbalance to Western powers (Huntington FTW!). Managing the perception of China’s role in the world will be a priority for both Western powers and China itself, and with the West’s massive head-start in global cultural presence and the fact that English has become the lingua franca China is already on the back foot. As China continues to expand economically and militarily, its soft power needs to catch up. I’m not sure that the current Chinese narrative about its role in world affairs can be maintained, and with similar pressures growing internally an evolution of China’s portrayal of itself seems both necessary and inevitable.
NB: I got thinking about this subject again when I uploaded an old paper I wrote which was an analysis of China’s official discourse on its engagement with Africa. The full text is in PDF form under the “Essays and Papers” section at the top of this blog, if anyone wants to read it.
So I can’t help but think of high school politics when looking at the recent Summit of the Americas. Seems like all the kids had a party but deliberately snubbed one kid (Cuba) because the big bullying jock (the USA) and his sidekick (Canada) have a problem with him, while the other kids aren’t happy about it they aren’t really in a position to do anything, except maybe skip the next party themselves. Obviously the complexities of the Cuba-US relationship are deeper than those of a bunch of hormonal teenagers, but the whole situation got me thinking that perhaps the US needs to rethink its approach to the Cuban regime. While the days of planting exploding cigars to blow up Fidel Castro might be gone, the US still maintains its embargo on Cuba. Obama might claim this is because Cuba has a poor human rights record and has not made steps towards democracy, but that position is laughably hypocritical when you consider how close the US is with Saudi Arabia, a country whose human rights record is surely among the worst in the world – especially if the definition of human rights is one taken from a liberal Western standpoint (which I will assume Obama’s definition is).
Anyhow, I was wondering if the embargo and isolation approach is even a good idea if the US and its allies want Cuba to democratise. Obviously this approach hasn’t worked for over half a century so maybe a change of tact is needed. If Cuba was opened up to US trade, the resulting wealth and increase in American soft power due to an increase in American firms and products in the country might force the country’s leaders to embrace free market reforms themselves as the pressure grows from a swelling middle class. After all, this basic model of democratisation following economic growth is widely accepted, and an increase in trade with the US could only bolster Cuba’s economy.
Food for thought… and even some mainstream pundits in the US are thinking the same way. After all, I think the US can safely claim it won the Cold War: no need to be scared of commies anymore! These days it’s the Chinese and/or the Muslims everyone’s afraid of (except Mitt Romney).
Being worried about communism is so last century.