Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Farish Noor on 'China bashing'

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


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.

Related: Also read China Bashing and the Loss of US Competitiveness by James Petras.


  1. Did the Chinese annihilate an entire race of people in order to gain control of the country, the way the Americans wiped out the native American Indians?

    Were negro slaves brought over into China from Africa to work on its farms?

    Did China invade another country just to gain control of its oil fields?

  2. Farish Noor is perfectly correct in that the heavy criticism which China is attracting is due to its rise as a major economic power - but he is morally wrong when he asks "Why single China out now".

    When you are the world's 3rd Largest economy, YOU WILL BE JUDGED to a different human rights standard from tiny African regimes with GDP ranking somewhere below No. 150. China better get used to that treatment.

    There were world-wide protests against the US invasion of Iraq, some of which were pretty violent.

    Why should China be exempt over the its behaviour in Tibet ?

  3. The vagaries of generalisations are dangerous. What of the Westerners who opposed Iraq and are peace activists even in their own country? Does it automatically mean that their opinions on China and Tibet for example, becomes absolutely useless just because their country supported hegemony elsewhere in the world, even if they don't agree themselves?

    Should, for example, some Western media outlets who've kept their restraint, be included in blanket criticisms of the "Western media" or as part of an alleged Western conspiracy, even if they don't fit the bill?

    Certainly, much of the coverage leaves a lot to be desired, but to indict everyone as hypocritical IMHO is a big generalisation.


  4. Uncle Sam hates competitor, especially those who imitates Uncle Sam evils. ;)

    Few US company shout for serious pollution problem in China, because it is those US company that setup sweatshop in China guarantee cheap goods to US. And pollution come from the sweatshop is none of their concern.

  5. This is in reply to an earlier comment:

    Yes, all of them should be labeled as hypocritical western media and be treated as such.

    Example: in WW2 there are some Germans and Japanese who were peaceful and didnt support the war but they got their ass bombed and nuked anyway.

    There are some Iranians who dont support Ayatollah and love Isreal but we just boycott the whole country anyway.

    And westerners should be treated differently?