Reorienting around the Orient

I know quite a number of Pakistanis being a student at Ohio Wesleyan. Not all of them care that much for politics. But of the few who do, there is a general sentiment that Chinese is the new language of the global market.

As the US continues to fall in the respect of Pakistanis, China continues to rise. The two have been on friendly terms since Pakistan gained independence, as it was one of the first countries to recognize the PRC’s right to Taiwan. They have close economic ties, with China even pitching in to boost the Pakistani economy. More importantly, China is the Asian representative with Security Council veto, and is therefore the counterweight to “US imperial interests.”

The Chinese are already respected as an economic superpower, but will this influence translate into cultural and political supremacy? While it’s a stretch to claim that US values shape other countries, it’s undeniable that the American market played a strategic role in getting the television and internet to the “developing” world. And this ultimately became political power: last century was the “American” century.

There are three different scenarios for the future of global affairs with respect to China and the US. The Chinese economy, being unsustainable long-term, falls, and the US keeps its role as the only remaining superpower. The Chinese growth of the Chinese economy slows, and they become a political equal to the US unless some other factor favors one over the other. Or the American economy stagnates as the Chinese economy continues to grow, and the twenty-first century becomes the “Chinese century.” This latter scenario is advocated by a number of my international friends.

While I don’t know enough to give an educated guess at which scenario will more likely occur, I do worry what the global community will be like if China ascends as others predict. The Chinese have opened their markets to some capitalism, and have given their citizens more civil liberties than they had under the original CPC. Overshadowing this is Tibet, the worst human rights tragedy since the holocaust; numerous horror stories of pregnant women drugged to terminate unwanted pregnancies; and intense government pressure against unrecognized religions, such as Evangelical Churches, Falun Dafa, Catholics who recognize the authority of the Pope, and various other religious minorities.

There are valid accusations against the human rights record of the US. We wire-tap citizens in the name of national security, have extensive body pat-downs to board planes in addition to a long list of banned items, and try “enemies of state” in military courts when we’re not busy denying them the freedom from torture in Guantanamo Bay. And we refuse to allow citizens to be tried for war crimes that they may have very well committed.

But the modern US, despite its flaws, is still the most religiously and ethnically diverse country on the planet. Even minorities that are subject to grassroots persecution – Mormons, Muslims, Jews, Scientologists, and in some cases Sikhs – find far more freedom to practice here than in Europe or other places around the globe. The opportunity for upward class mobility, while harder to achieve, is still possible. People can speak their minds and criticize the government in an open forum without fear of abduction or injury.

It’s easy for us to forget that we have the freedom to think and be lazy, largely because we stand behind the most funded military on the planet. We currently wield political power. But what if that shifts, and China becomes our superior? Do we want Chinese cultural values to compete against American ones?

I don’t think it’s right to force our culture down anyone else’s throats, but I think it’s equally not right for other cultures to force themselves down other people’s throats. Practically speaking, we have the power to take the high road and let other people be other people. But will China do the same thing if they become the center of global authority?

I worry about the US not being the superpower that it is simply because I don’t trust the motives of those other nations that might take our place. We’ve done terrible things to the world, but it could be much worse.

** Edit: Also, let me clarify that I do not think there is “one Chinese” people. China is ethnically, religiously, and racially diverse, with numerous perspectives and opinions on the direction of the country. By “the Chinese” I simply refer to the wielders of Chinese political authority – the CPC.