Leading Chinese dissident, artist and filmmaker I Weiwei says China’s influence has grown so much that it is not going to stop effectively now.
“The West should be really worried about China a few decades ago. Now it’s already a little late, because Western China has built its strong system and it would be deeply damaged just to cut it off. That’s why China is so arrogant.”
I Weiwei never strained his words about China. “It’s a police state,” he says.
The artist famously designed the Bird’s Nest stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but he ran into serious problems after speaking out against the Chinese government. Finally, in 2015, he left China to come to the West. He first lived in Berlin and settled permanently in Cambridge last year.
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Mr. I believe that China today uses its immense economic power to exert its political influence.
It is certainly true that China has become much stronger in recent years.
About a decade ago, China presented a humble face to the world. The official slogan was: “Hide your light and say goodbye to your time”. The ministers stressed that China is still a developing country with a lot to learn from the West.
Then Xi Jinping came to power. He became secretary-general of the Chinese Communist Party in 2012 and president the following year. He introduces a new tune. The old decency faded, and there was a different slogan: “Struggle for achievement”.
In some ways China is still a developing country, with 250 million people living below the poverty line.
Yet it is already the second largest economy in the world, and will continue to surpass the United States for the next decade or so. At a time when American dominance has apparently waned, China’s influence in the world is becoming clearer.
From Greenland and the Caribbean to Peru and Argentina and from South Africa and Zimbabwe to Pakistan and Mongolia, I have seen for myself clear signs of China’s growing political power and involvement.
Tom Tugenhat, chairman of the British Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, recently accused China of pressuring Barbados to oust him as queen’s president.
At present, China has a significant presence in all parts of the world. It suffers for any country that challenges its fundamental interests.
When the Dalai Lama visited Downing Street, Anglo-Chinese relations were deeply frozen. And recently, when the Speaker of the Parliament of the Czech Republic visited Taiwan, a top diplomat warned that “in the face of public outcry from the Speaker of the Czech Senate and the anti-Chinese forces behind him, the Chinese government and people must not be lazy and must pay a heavy price.” “.
Yet Hu Jizin, the clear and highly influential editor-in-chief of China’s Global Times, has rejected any suggestion that China is an international barbarian.
“I want to ask you, has China ever pressured a country to do something against its will? The United States, especially the United States, has continued to impose sanctions on so many countries. Do you know which country has allowed China?”
“Have we ever sanctioned an entire country? We have only expressed our dissatisfaction on certain issues, and only in response when our country has been publicly dissatisfied.”
Yet China is currently embroiled in the wrath of entire countries: Taiwan, Australia, Japan, Canada, India (with which China has recently fought a violent border conflict), Britain and of course the United States.
The language that the Global Times sometimes uses sounds like the worst rhetoric of the old Mao Zedong days.
Mr Hu himself wrote an editorial describing Australia as “chewing gum under Chinese boots”. When I asked him about it, he said that the current Australian government had repeatedly attacked and harassed China.
“I think these are like gums stuck under my shoes. I can’t shake it. It’s not a nice feeling. I said it as an expression and it’s my opinion.”
In Hong Kong
Mr. Hu is close to President Xi, and we can assume that he would not have said these things if he had not known that he did not have the support of China’s top leadership. When I asked him for his opinion on Hong Kong, he did not back down.
“The Chinese government does not object to Hong Kong’s democracy and independence, including the right of the Hong Kong people to protest peacefully on the streets.
“But the bottom line is that they have to be peaceful … We strongly support the use of force by the Hong Kong Police against violent protests.
“If violent protesters threaten the lives of the police, when they start firing very violently and throw petrol-bombs or Molotov cocktails at the police, I believe the police should be allowed to use their guns, and they should shoot.”
If the powerful staff and the Hong Kong police really start firing on the protesters, it could lead to a huge international backlash.
Most foreign observers believe that China’s aggressive behavior actually hides nervousness.
The Communist Party is not elected, so there is no way to know how much real support it has in China. It cannot be guaranteed to survive a serious crisis – a major economic collapse, for example.
President Xi and his colleagues are haunted by the memory of how the old Soviet empire collapsed so easily between 1969 and 1991, because it has no popular support.
Mr. Hu does not accept that a new Cold War has begun. He said China’s dispute is mainly with the United States. He made the statement that President Donald Trump’s attack on China was closely linked to the November 3 presidential election, and that it was his attempt to win.
In fact after the election, the atmosphere is likely to improve – whoever wins.
China is so big, it is involved in everyone’s life, the United States and its allies can be in complete opposition to it.
But that only reinforces Mr Aye’s warning: it’s too late to protect himself from Chinese influence in the West.