Freedom and China not incompatible

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 July, 2012, 12:00am


It is a fight China does not want. But many western intellectuals and policymakers are already baying for blood. Somehow, Islamic terrorism has proved inadequate for that role, and so the West is going back to confront its old communist foes by giving them new, though no less threatening, labels.

We are entering a new global ideological war, or so we are told. The latest to make this pronouncement is Michael Ignatieff, historian, novelist and failed leader of Canada's centralist Liberal Party. In a lecture in the Latvian capital, Riga, last month, he said the new and decisive challenge for Western liberal democracy was 'the post-communist oligarchies', that is, China and Russia. They present the greatest strategic and moral threat because they pursue capitalist methods and are highly integrated with the global economy. In other words, you can't nuke them. But as they grow rich, they are not becoming more like the West.

It seems the West led by America always needs an enemy to maintain its own ideology, justify its military posture and manipulate public opinion. But is being non-democratic enough to be labelled a threat? Can a nation like China try to achieve freedom and betterment for its citizens by striking out on its own path? Since every threat is reciprocal, shouldn't a Chinese intellectual counterpart to Ignatieff declare that the West, with its avowed hostility, is the greater threat to China?

Freedom comes in different guises - social, political, economic, moral and religious. There is freedom from hunger that comes with the ability to feed your children and not watch them starve. There is freedom to dream, to expect a better future, if not for yourself then for your children. Such freedoms are, I submit, far more important for citizens in many developing countries such as China than the purely formal right to vote or universal suffrage.

Economic freedom - at least as a launch pad to greater freedom - may be more important than political freedom at a certain developmental stage. It is folly and arrogance for Anglo-American democracies to think they have realised the ideal freedom, and that everyone else must either follow their example or be declared an enemy.