China’s Charm Offensive
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 31st March, 2008
This weekend, the Chinese National Circus gave a free performance for schoolkids in Fortaleza — lots of fairies and fantasies and fans, to make everyone go ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’. This was in fact just one stop on a major sweep of the Circus right through Latin America, as China takes its charm offensive deep into areas where previously the People’s Republic has made little impact. This is, of course, tied in with the Beijing Olympics. Soon, Latin America, along with Africa, Asia and other parts of the world, will also be awash with the sickly-sweet mascots of the Beijing Games. Cartoon animals and fish (even a Tibetan goat), all designed to show us how cuddly the Chinese are.
Tell that to the monks and other demonstrators who have been rounded up in Lhasa and other Tibetan communities, or to the Uighurs who are in prison for campaigning for greater rights for Muslims in Western China. There is much that is admirable in the People’s Republic, and the economic strides that the government has made are astonishing. But just as South Korea after its economic spurt had to let democratic and human rights bloom, so must China. This year, 2008, should be a milestone in China’s evolution. Not just because it can showcase to the world the degree to which it has advanced in less than 60 years, but also by loosening up — to trust the very people in whose name the Communist Party rules.
Liberals in the European Parliament (ALDE), under their British leader, Graham Watson, MEP, have been in the forefront of highlighting human rights issues in China. This is not an anti-Chinese approach, as the authorities in Beijing sometimes make out (especially when the Dalai Lama is involved), but actually pro-Chinese. Like other Liberals, I want to see China shoulder the full role in the world that it should, and indeed is beginning, to play. But Europe must have a criticial as well as constructive engagement with China, as indeed it should do with all of the BRICs, including Brazil. After all, in principle our goal is the same: the betrement of the human condition.