China has two faces. There is the face of Chinese economic success, the managers of China’s reserves, the CEOs of China’s quasi-private enterprises, the English-speaking, tailored diplomats everywhere from Beijing to Washington. And then there is the face of the People’s Armed Police and the crackdown in Xinjiang.
There is a modernizing China sending bright and optimistic students out into the world, packing the best graduate programs. There are people in China making for themselves material lives that generations of their forbearers could not dream of. Then there is the China where political freedoms have stymied over the last 20 years, and in fact, in some ways, deteriorated. Chinese authorities may no longer be committed Marxists, but they have not yet shaken their bias for the purely material. Spirituality in China is so distrusted and devalued that Christian pastors are arrested as a matter of course, and authorities view Buddhist monks with unfiltered contempt.
China is modernizing its economy and its military, but it is stuck in an antiquated authoritarian governing system. The size of China’s economy and integration into global supply chains makes it a suitable partner for the G-8. Its governing system aligns it with the likes of North Korea and Burma. China is allied with North Korea by treaty. Should it be any surprise when it ensures action taken at the UN against its ally is so full of loopholes as to be unenforceable? Or when it preserves China’s export of select arms to North Korea? Should it come as a surprise when China protects the prerogatives of the despots of Burma to deal with its dissident monks in the same brutal way it deals with its own?
Thirty years of economic reform in China have literally transformed it. Anyone familiar with China’s tortured modern history cannot but welcome prosperity for the Chinese people. Unfortunately, the pictures from Xinjiang and the invective about Rebiya Kadeer is more in keeping with the epic tragic excesses of the cultural revolution.
America must stand with people exercising their God-given rights wherever they may be. The White House yesterday released a statement that it was “deeply concerned” about reports of riots in Xinjiang and called for “all” “to exercise restraint.” It is cruel to equate the oppressed and the oppressor. There is not much the US can do about the crackdown, but it can be clear about its principles. It can certainly refrain from moral equivalency, and it can give prominent place to issues of basic human liberty on its agenda with the Chinese.
The US must deal with China. There are things, particularly in the economic field, where we need to work together. But in all its dealings with the People’s Republic of China, the Administration should suffer no illusions about the nature of its interlocutor. The China of the Shanghai skyline and the China of Xinjiang crackdown remain two sides of the same coin.