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Will the real China please stand up?

By Brian Hennessy - posted Tuesday, 28 September 2010


On September 23, 2010, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao addressed the United Nations General Assembly. Premier Wen said that China was a peace-loving nation and a responsible member of the international community. He pledged that China would firmly take the road of peaceful development. He also advised the international community to adhere to the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, boost confidence, strengthen cooperation, and work towards the goal of common security and lasting peace (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Peoples Republic of China, September 24, 2010).
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Humble China

His theme however, was that China is still a developing nation, and as such is facing many internal difficulties. He highlighted this point with data from the first half of this year showing that although China’s GDP ranks it as the world’s third largest economy, per capita GDP is only one tenth of those of advanced countries (he ignored date showing that it is now the second largest economy in the world).

For example, according to UN measures, 120 million people in China live below the poverty line. Hundreds of millions more remain desperately poor. Basic services such as health and education remain in need of reform, and the gap between rich and poor is wide and widening. These are basic facts of life for the majority of Chinese people who live in the hinterland of the middle kingdom - far away from the rich coastal cities of Tianjin, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou and so on.

He continued:  future growth may be limited by energy, resources, and environmental problems. And although China is a leading producer of many important products, their quality is still low. He noted that although the lives of Chinese have markedly improved, the country has yet to complete a social security system. He also mentioned the need to improve democracy and legal systems and acknowledged the existence of inequality, corruption and social ills in China.

The state controlled English language Beijing Review (September 25, 2010) lauded Premier Wen’s humility in reminding the West that China is still a developing country.

Neighbourhood bully

This humble developing nation posture outlined to the UN General Assembly is however, at odds with China’s behaviour towards its neighbours.

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For example: China’s handling of the fishing boat incident in the Diaoyu Islands while the Premier was addressing the UN (until now a minor territorial issue between China and Japan). China ratcheted up the propaganda in the local media using language that could best be described as undiplomatic - language intended to inflame the more aggressively nationalistic members of the population. Meanwhile, the state run English language CCTV9 (International) played its part by spreading this message around the globe.

Then China arrested four Japanese photographers on suspicion of spying. This was followed by a threat to ban exports of rare-earth to Japan which needs this product for its technology industry.

Japan has given in to these threats, and has released the fishing-boat captain who it had intended to charge with a maritime offence. Now China is demanding an apology from Japan.

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About the Author

Brian is an Australian author, educator, and psychologist who lived in China for ten years. These days he divides his time between both countries.

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