My Take

A contradictory mix of preconceptions over China's role in the world

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 April, 2014, 5:18am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 April, 2014, 5:59am

Here are some recent criticisms frequently mentioned against China's external conduct in mainstream Western media. Though they are all negative about China, they also contradict each other.

China is narcissistic, isolationist and has limited ambitions and interests outside its own borders so long as the external environment is conducive to domestic political stability and economic growth.

China's rise has made it ambitious and aggressive towards its neighbours while denying their legitimate interests and security and economic concerns.

China is a bad global citizen that negates and violates international norms and treaties.

China follows international norms and treaties such as those in trade and commerce only if it can exploit them to further its own interests.

In short, China is either a selfish narcissistic power, a neo-imperialist expansionist one or both. Let's call these the half-empty-bottle positions.

Let me present the half-full-bottle position, admitting, from the outset, that we are all prone to "confirmation bias".

"Peaceful" is a relative term. But let's just say China has yet to have its own South Ossetia or Crimea moments or comparable US invasions like those of Iraq and Afghanistan. Much ink has been spilled about China's failure to criticise Russia's aggression. But it's hard to imagine China committing similarly aggressive acts.

At this moment, Beijing has committed almost 2,200 troops as peacekeepers in at least 10 UN missions, which is more than any other UN Security Council member, including the US.

A Chinese warship recently escorted a shipment of chemical weapons from Syria as part of an international deal. In January, a mainland icebreaker helped rescue a Russian ship off Antarctica. Before Shinzo Abe came to power, China was one of the most generous donors to Japan after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Is China the devil, an angel or both depending on where, when and how?

Those who want to judge or understand China fairly should look at the totality of the often-contradictory evidence, not cherry-pick only that which fits their preconceptions.