LONDON — The huge growth in Chinese gross domestic product and the market represented by a population 10 times that of Japan present huge opportunities for potential trade and investment. But these tend to obscure the problems that policies pursued by the present regime in China pose to the rest of the world.
China is not a democratic state and human rights in China continue to be flouted and restricted. Press censorship has been tightened and free access to the Internet restricted. Chinese are still taught to revere Mao Zedong, and the crimes of his monstrous regime are glossed over. Corruption is extensive and inequalities are growing not only between rich and poor, but also between underdeveloped and developing regions. These inequalities are liable to cause instability.
The Chinese armed forces remain among the largest in the world and their equipment is being modernized. The regime has not given up its claim to Taiwan and other disputed islands. Nationalist sentiments are encouraged rather than controlled. Chinese forces pose a potential threat to stability in East Asia.
North Korea remains the greatest menace to peace in East Asia today. The state best able to keep Pyongyang in check is China. Unfortunately the Chinese do not seem to be willing to effectively exercise their influence on Kim Jong Il. The existence of nuclear weapons in North Korea may be seen by the Chinese as a salutary deterrent to activist intervention by the United States and Japan.
The Chinese no doubt also fear that a meltdown in North Korea that might arise from putting increased pressure on the regime would pose serious problems for China, especially if large numbers of refugees tried to cross the border. But these fears should be balanced by the recognition that the longer the delays in change in North Korea, the greater the chaos that may follow. The unstable situation in the Korean Peninsula is particularly worrying for Japan and South Korea.
Threats of conflict between China and India or between China and Vietnam have faded, and tensions on the borders with Russia appear to have lessened. But Chinese foreign policies are worrying in other areas. China has been unwilling to support effective efforts to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
In the Middle East and Central Asia, the Chinese position has generally been unhelpful to the cause of peace. In Southeast Asia the Chinese have been unwilling to put pressure on Myanmar to permit the development of democratic forces and to curb its infringements of human rights.
China has been unhelpful as well in Africa. By supporting the Sudanese government in its opposition to U.N. attempts to solve the crisis in Darfur, China has exacerbated a situation that the U.S. has described as “genocide.”
In Zimbabwe the Chinese have given their backing to the bankrupt and corrupt regime of Robert Mugabe, which has caused so much suffering to so much of its population. In other parts of Africa the Chinese have fished in troubled waters and used their aid primarily to further their interest in gaining increased access to raw materials.
The growth of Chinese trade has been generally beneficial to the rest of the world, but Chinese trade policies still pose many problems for its trade partners. Copying of proprietary goods continues and there are many patent infringements. The Chinese courts have yet to demonstrate their independence and their determination to uphold the laws of international commerce.
Chinese manufacturers can and do exploit employees in contravention of accepted international labor practices. Chinese competition, which is considered by the states affected as unfair, has often disrupted the exports of other developing countries. The artificial exchange rate maintained by China is regarded as damaging to international currency markets, especially by the U.S.
The Chinese demand for a greater share of the world’s natural resources has led to price rises and shortages that have caused difficulties especially to resource-poor countries. In particular, Chinese demand for energy has not only ensured that oil prices have remained high but has fueled inflation. Other developing countries such as India are finding that Chinese competition for fuel and other raw materials pose a threat to their economic growth.
As a result of Chinese consumption of oil and other hydro-carbons, especially coal, China has become the second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases after the United States, and is likely to overtake the U.S. well before 2025. The pollution in large Chinese cities poses a serious health threat. Much of China’s electricity generation comes from burning dirty coal. As pollution spreads, it is increasingly likely to affect neighboring countries.
All these problems and potential threats make it essential that Japan and the rest of the world renew efforts to develop dialogue with China at all levels and do everything possible to persuade it to recognize its increasing global responsibilities. The Chinese will be unlikely to listen to pleas for greater freedom at home, but they could be induced to adopt gradual changes in their foreign policies if such changes can be shown to be in China’s long-term interest.
Japanese leaders face a particular challenge to do more to develop a constructive dialogue with China, not only on international issues generally but on such important bilateral issues as North Korea, the environment and Chinese trade practices.
Political posturing over visits to the war-related Yasukuni Shrine is not only silly but damaging to Japan’s national interests. It is also an immature and shortsighted attitude. It is particularly important for Japan to work hard to persuade the Chinese to be more helpful on North Korea and the environment. Japanese efforts are more likely to be effective if the heated atmosphere generated by the Yasukuni controversy is cooled.
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