Getting real about China

It is certainly no secret that I, a bit like Justin Trudeau, admire what the Chinese have done over the past the past 50 years, since Deng Xiaping displaced Hau Guofeng and purged Jiang Qing (Mao’s widow) and the ‘gang of four.’ I also admire many of the things that Zhou Enlai accomplished in the nearly 30 years between the time the Chinese Communist Party won the civil war and his death in 1976. Unlike Prime Minister Trudeau I don’t admire their “basic dictatorship” …

… but I willingly concede that Dr Sun Yat-sen, Zhou and Deng all believed that a dictatorship, of some sort, was the only form of government that had a chance to drag China our of abject poverty and its traditions of despotic, dynastic, imperial rule.

So while I applaud the fact that China (and India), rising on the back of the post war liberal-democratic, rules based “new world order” (US led globalization, in short), have dragged about ½ of the world’s population out of abject misery and poverty and into something like a lower middle class life …

… I am conscious of the fact that the people of China still have few of the basic rights that we, in liberal-democratic Canada, take for granted.

What troubles me, most, right now, is the growth of detention camps in Xinjiang province where tens of thousands (out of about 10 million)  of Muslims, Uyghurs, are held in detention camps, ostensively for re-education.

Caveat lector: I have visited Xinjiang province, about 10 years ago, before the camps were built but when anti-Muslim sentiment was on the rise in China. I visited the provincial capital at Urumqi, then Turpan and then made an exciting trip along the edge of the forbidding Taklamakan Desert to Kashgar. I was, always, accompanied by an official who is a friend of a good friend but was, then, in the Chinese security service (he’s now a diplomat) who showed me what he wanted me to see and explained things to me from his point of view. What I saw was a backwards, even anti-modern society but one which, because of the deeply held religious beliefs of the people, posed a threat to the Chinese notion of “one country” united under Chinese Communist Party rule. In fact it seemed to me then, and still does now, that Islamophobia is very real and very strong in China whereas it is virtually non-existent in Canada.

But, of course, the notion of rounding up an ethnic group and detaining them in camps reminds us too much of Germany in the 1930s and ’40s and all this …

… but, for the “basic dictatorship”that Justin Trudeau admires so much, it is the logical thing to do, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn reminded us in The Gulag Archipelago …

… so, as the old saying goes, nothing is new under the sun.

I believe, as do many others, that engaging China in a web of rules based trading relationships is good for world peace and good for China and might be critical for Canada, which needs to diversify its trade in this age of US protectionism and isolationism. But that doesn’t mean that we have to close our eyes to the repression of a whole people. Stephen Harper was faulted, at home and in China, for raising human rights issues and risking sour relations with China … agree or not, he stood up for Canadian principles. Justin Trudeau has been much more muted in his criticism of China’s internal affairs but he has equally annoyed the Chinese by virtue signalling when they expected serious trade negotiations. Instead of preaching to the progressive choir back home, Prime Minister Trudeau needs to speak for today’s Canada which no longer includes re-education camps:

The Chinese are trying to paint a soft picture of their internment camps …

… calling them re-education facilities, but they are, I think, an attempt to do in one generation what was, previously, a two or three generation, a century long, plan. About 10 years ago my Chinese friend/guide explained to me that most Han Chinese, like him, thought that the Uyghur men were backwards and a bit lazy so they were paying young Chinese men big bonuses to go to Xinjiang and work and then marry the pretty young Uyghur women and he said, very crudely, “in a couple of generations we (he meant the Han Chinese) will have f*cked Islam out of China.” I appears, to me, that the Chinese haven’t the patience for that any more.

It’s time we, in the West, got real about China. The problem isn’t just trade deficits and stolen technology; China is trying to change the liberal-democratic, rules based world order to its advantage and one of the changes it wants to make is to its own people by destroying the Muslin/Uyghur culture in the far Western province of Xinjiang. We, Canadians, know that’s wrong, we should not be afraid to say so … yes, the Chinese will pull a long face and heap scorn on us for a while, but, in the end, they really want access to our natural resources.

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