“Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”
- Mao Zedong
“Hide our capacities and bide our time.”
- Deng Xiaoping
The mask is slipping. China no longer pretends to be a responsible international stakeholder. It is defiantly moving in the opposite direction. In recent days, it refused to soften its unfair trade and currency practices. It blocked a U.N. Commission of Inquiry into the Burmese government’s crimes against its own people. It condemned the Nobel Committee for awarding the Peace Prize to imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiabou and arrested his wife.
It created a maritime dispute with Japan, then used its monopoly on rare-earth minerals to coerce a humiliating concession.
It asserts aggressive claims in the South China Sea and rejects U.S. insistence on freedom of navigation in established international waters. Though Taiwan elected a pro-China president, it aims more than 1,000 missiles against the island and refuses to renounce the use of force. It tacitly excuses North Korea’s sinking of a South Korean ship.
Beijing’s protection of the Burmese junta is not new. It sided with the generals in their brutal 2007 and 2010 crackdowns against Buddhist monks that matched China’s own bloody suppression of Tibetan monks in 2008.
It resisted every U.N. effort to sanction or pressure Burma to release Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel laureate democracy advocate who was under house arrest for most of the past 19 years.
After Cyclone Nargis struck Burma in April 2008, the junta blocked international aid from reaching the victims, mostly the persecuted ethnic-minority population. As U.S. Navy ships laden with relief supplies and rescue helicopters languished off the coast, additional thousands may have perished in the flooded delta.
China shielded Burma’s regime from the world’s outrage and suppressed France’s Security Council effort to apply the U.N.’s “Responsibility to Protect” concept. That would have authorized emergency international assistance to an endangered people whose government was unable or unwilling to help them.
Burma is not the only human rights violator China has protected using its privileged position on the Security Council. Sudan, Iran, Zimbabwe, Cambodia, North Korea and Serbia have all sheltered behind Beijing’s implacable resistance to international human rights pressure. China is the undisputed world anti-human rights champion.
China has enabled North Korea and Iran to move ahead with their nuclear weapons and missile programs by deflecting, diluting and delaying U.N. and other multilateral sanctions.
It is not surprising that Beijing shields proliferating states from sanctions, since China itself has widely proliferated weapons of mass destruction and missile technology - usually to states that then spread the technology and materials to others, e.g., Pakistan, North Korea and Iran. China has become a proliferator of proliferators. It also has refused to join 94 other nations participating in the Proliferation Security Initiative to stop the dangerous trade.
It opposes only the terrorism that directly threatens China, while the Bank of China stands accused of funneling money to Mideast terrorists who target the West.
China has used its massive foreign reserves to build offensive military capabilities, which it defends as necessary and normal for “a major industrial country.” At the same time, it seeks and receives World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) subsidies and U.N. dues reductions as a poor, developing country.
Even when China deployed noncombat peacekeeping forces to show soft power during its “bide our time” phase, it vetoed U.N. missions to countries that recognized Taiwan.
While prospering from the rules and norms established by the West after World War II, China has increasingly made clear its desire to “establish a new, fair and equitable international order” with Chinese communist characteristics.
China’s new order includes funding and arming authoritarian African countries in exchange for their mineral resources, but without the environmental, labor or accountability conditions the IMF requires. Third World dictators are only too happy to accept Chinese support and evade the good-governance obligations.
As for its military buildup, Beijing has long ignored U.S. pleas for transparency on Chinese motives and purposes. Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Adm. Mike Mullen now says he has “moved from being curious about what they’re doing, to being concerned about what they’re doing.” Yet the Defense Department continues to pursue military-to-military engagement that has demonstrably enhanced China’s offensive prowess without moderating its intentions.
The hour is late, but China’s overreaching has finally alerted the world to the true nature of its “peaceful rise.” U.S. policy needs to reflect that reality.
Joseph Bosco served as a China country desk officer in the office of the secretary of defense and taught at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service. He is a national security consultant.