China-bashing season has begun

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Is all the talk of an ‘aggressive China’ moving into Africa
simply a smokescreen to hide the fact that American oil and gas
companies are already there, exploiting the natural resources of
Africa to serve their own domestic industrial needs, wonders Farish Noor.


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While
the simplistic thesis put forward by Samuel Huntington in his work
The Clash of Civilisations’ reads like a paltry script
from a bad movie, it has to be said that bad scripts are often the
most believable and effective. It was Huntington who predicted that
in the wake of the Cold War a new sort of conflict would arise,
namely one configured along cultural-civilisational differences
between the developed Western world and the mysterious, exotic and
threatening East.

The
two cultural blocs that were said to be the future adversaries to the
West were the Muslim world and China , respectively. In the case of
the former, it was opined by Huntington that with the demise of
Communism the potential threat of Islam would be realised sooner or
later for the simple reason that Islam and the West shared ‘bloody
frontiers’ that were marked by centuries of conflict. This thesis,
however, is patently false to anyone who has even the slightest idea
of the history of Islam and the non-Muslim world, for the fact is
that the frontiers of the Muslim world are not marked by violence nor
stained by blood, but rather remain porous horizons marked by the
eclectic culture of Islamic mysticism or Sufism: From Southeast Asia
to China, from Africa to Europe, the furthest frontiers of the Muslim
world are precisely where mysticism and the Muslim practice of
inter-cultural dialogue and cultural cross-fertilisation flourished
the most.

Related
to Huntington’s fear of Islam was his fear of China, dubbed the
‘sleeping giant’ by Napoleon more than a century ago and which
till today has yet to truly realise and demonstrate its full economic
potential. Huntington ’s crude thesis argued that in time the West
would have to realise that non-negotiable cultural differences exist
between the Western world and the Orient, and that these cultural
differences would ultimately serve as the catalyst for an all-out
confrontation between the West and China .

As
the world stands on the brink of a global recession and as we witness
what may soon become a global food and resource crisis, the lens of
Western policy-makers and media analysts are already looking
eastwards to locate the new ‘threat’ to the global order, namely
China.

It
is with this thought in mind that we reflect on the rather curious
assortment of media tid-bits that have been served to us lately. In a
space of a month, the international media have focused on the
internal and external developments in China of late. Needless to say,
the human rights record of China – not only in its dealings with
Tibet but also internally in terms of its treatment of local
dissidents – leaves much to be desired. China was and remains an
authoritarian state with a brutal policing apparatus that works to
ensure that the regime remains in power at all costs, regardless of
the loss of basic freedoms and civil liberties to its people.

But
having said that, it should also be remembered that the Chinese
government is not the only despotic regime on the planet at the
moment. Nor should we forget that the Western governments have been
willing and able to work with many equally brutal regimes the world
over, from the despots of the Arab states to the dictatorships in
Latin America and Africa. So why single out China for now? And if
China ’s record is something to be looked at closely, we might as
well take some time out to look at America ’s own human rights
record in dealing with the detainees in Guantanamo Bay as well.

The
latest craze seems to be the focus on China ’s economic dealings
with Africa and how Chinese companies have been investing in the
development of natural resources and infrastructure in the African
continent. Several reports in the international media – including
the BBC and CNN – have painted the picture of an aggressive China
moving into the African continent to suck its resources dry and to
secure monopolies in areas such as oil and gas.

Yet
it has to be remembered that in the wake of the Second Gulf War and
the invasion of Afghanistan in 2002, it was America that took the
lead in the race to re-establish its presence in the African
continent. Fearful of the prospect that the oil and gas reserves in
the Arab-Muslim world were being depleted too fast, and that Arab oil
and gas will run out for good in less than two decades, American and
other Western oil and gas companies have begun to turn to Africa as
another source of vital resources for their industrialised economies.
Soon after the invasion of Afghanistan the Washington-based African
Oil Policy Initiative Group (AOPIG) was set up to promote American
oil and gas company interests in Africa . Already many of these
companies have secured for themselves lasting monopolies in African
countries like Nigeria .

So
is all this talk of an ‘aggressive China’ moving into Africa
simply a smokescreen to hide the fact that American oil and gas
companies are already there, exploiting the natural resources of
Africa to serve their own domestic industrial needs? And if China is
to expand and develop its economy, then surely it also needs to
secure a steady supply of vital resources such as oil, gas and steel?

This,
then, appears to be the real reason and agenda behind the spate of
China-bashing that we are seeing in the international media today.
For if the governments of the West are really concerned about the
standard of human rights in China at present, they would do just as
well to apply the same standards to themselves and to their strategic
allies in the Arab world, Africa and Asia. For now however, this
hypocrisy of the highest level will continue as long as the
international community remains blissfully ignorant of the real
geo-political manoeuvrings that are taking place in this latest media
skirmish between the West and China . A global economic crisis is in
the making, as well as a global race for rapidly depleting resources.
The media campaign to demonise China today is just the opening round
to what will surely be a long-term conflict whose human costs will be
borne by the rest of humanity as well.

Dr.
Farish A. Noor is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of
International Studies, Nanyang Technological University of Singapore;
and one of the founders of the
www.othermalaysia.org

research site.

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