My Take

The Chinese dream just like everyone

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 July, 2015, 2:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 July, 2015, 2:32pm

Orville Schell is one of the great sinologists writing today. A classic Western liberal, his writings are easier to swallow for Chinese like me by not demonising China or putting a halo on American foreign policy like so many US commentators today.

I admire his most recent book Wealth and Power: China's Long March to the 21st Century. Its central thesis, however, eludes me. Schell and his co-author John Delury seem to think China's search for wealth, power and global influence are unique characteristics of its drive to become a modern nation. It's as if they amount to a definition of China's exceptionalism.

Schell repeated this thesis in an op-ed piece in The New York Times over the weekend.

Commenting on President Xi Jinping's "Chinese dream", he describes it as "an indigenous reverie confected to rally his people not to the promise of greater openness and constitutionalism but greater wealth, power, national unity and global clout".

He believes Xi's drive puts China on a collision course with the US and the West, which want China to evolve into "a more open society and a more responsible stakeholder in global affairs".

I don't know of any country that does not want to be prosperous, powerful and respected. The drive to be independent and sensitivity to outside interference is especially pronounced among post-colonial and developing countries. China is not the exception; it follows the rule. It just happens to be the colossus that is succeeding.

Openness in an authoritarian society like China ebbs and flows; it is relative. Today, it is much more open than 20 years ago. It will, however, never be open enough to many Westerners. But the West is no longer the arbiter of goodness and light.

As for being a "responsible stakeholder", that is easily taken as a coded phrase for China to behave like a good boy and follow Western institutional norms, usually emanating from Washington. Again, every power aims to blend global rules and institutions to its purpose and interests. How is China any different? There is a tendency among some foreigners to portray China as exceptional and dangerous when it is behaving no differently than their own countries - without the hypocrisy.