Understand al-Qaeda, understand China

2010-11-11Asia Times

BEIJING - Let's imagine that China were not ruled by a communist party. Let's think of it as a fully fledged democracy, just like the United States or similar to a European model. Let's think that by some strange historical accident, China had been marginal in global economic development until 30 years ago, when some strange economic experiment started and growth exploded to the present rate.

Would ties between China and the US, between China and its neighbors, or with Europe be any different? Probably not, because with China's development and its impact on the world, there is much more at stake than simply communism.

No longer fully distracted by its military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US is focusing again on China's rise. China's yuan and trade issues have come back to the fore in America's political horizon. Meanwhile, the issues of China's undemocratic system and its human rights problems have regained global attention.

The role of America's two war failures in triggering the present financial crisis and in depleting the huge political capital that the US amassed after the fall of the Soviet empire is highlighted in A World Without Islam, in which Graham E Fuller poses a crucial question almost 10 years after 9/11.

In a nutshell, Fuller argues that absent Islam, the present problems in the Middle East would still be there. Islam has contributed minimally and really in an insignificant manner to these problems. Without the presence of Islam, possibly the present conflict would have been between different branches of Christianity: the Catholic-Protestant world versus the Orthodox world (which would be dominating the Middle East).

In the Islamic world, there is no widespread agreement on an aggressive political agenda. Otherwise, the Muslim states would be at war against the West right now. There is a largely underground organization (al-Qaeda) trying to subvert the Muslim world in order to mobilize for that war. But the attempt has largely failed as al-Qaeda's campaign has not mobilized Muslim states - although it can be argued that al-Qaeda successfully managed to provoke the US into two possibly useless wars, which are now bleeding America financially, politically, and mentally.

Can the al-Qaeda paradigm work for China too? China is "ideological" in that it is ruled by a communist party but no longer tries to export its ideology or expand its political clout all over the world. Previously, Mao Zedong was supporting "Maoist" parties around the world. Yes, there is some Chinese chest-thumping by those eager to demand a larger political say in the world and fed up with the "US-dominated world order". Are those people the exception or a dominating reality?

Here, as with the Muslims, the reality underneath is complex. Chinese who felt ill or well according to a complex and extraordinary medical tradition now have to translate their "shang huo" (the rise of fire) into indigestion or a toothache. Hence, there is the simple question of why a country of some 1.4 billion people should blindly accept rules imposed by a world (the West) that between Europe and America (depending on how you draw the borders) is equivalent in numbers to about half of the Chinese population.

Then, there are also very contingent problems: what to do with the valuation of the Chinese currency? Or what to do when a fishing trawler gets into a tiff with boats of a neighboring state?

Here, we know dogmatic faiths on either side make a solution and understanding more difficult - especially if these faiths are combined with the very sensitive issue of identity.

The solution, as Fuller argues for the Islamic world, could be counter-intuitive. In fact, the modern-day common notions that the earth is round and revolves around the sun are counter-intuitive, as the earth looks flat and the sun seems to go up and down before our eyes.

The real issue is the new world order and the relative place of China in it, especially if compared with the US, India, Japan, Russia or Europe.

The question is extremely complex, and it is made more so by China's own tendency to look at America so much, discounting its eight neighbors including India, Japan, and Vietnam. On the other hand, outsiders tend to discount China's own toughness. China sacrificed to the altar of development some 400 million children, the ones who were not born because of the country's one-child policy.

Children are the closest thing to gods in otherwise largely godless Chinese families, and they are the purpose of life for the parents and the ancestors. Yet for the sake of development, families accepted tearing their flesh and giving up these children. Furthermore, in recent years, some 50 million starved to death following the dream of a Great Leap Forward, and the whole urban population was persecuted and tortured in their souls for 10 years on the delusion of a Great Cultural Revolution.

What can foreigners do to China that the Chinese have not already inflicted on themselves over the past 60 years? In other words, it is hard to think one could use force against China and China would really bend to it. In fact, some Beijing hardliners would wish for a major war: it would cut the population, but it would not break China.

And China, despite horrible losses and even a military defeat or a nuclear war, would have expanded its regional reach and intimidated the rest of the world. With, say 400 million deaths, China might stop the one-child policy, and within 30 years, raise the population back to 1.4 billion - only this time, it would be seeking revenge.

The real issue is one of trust, reliability, and understanding to minimize animosity. In retrospect, if the US had a better assessment of the Muslim world and al-Qaeda, it's possible that America would be more powerful and richer today. (2010-11-11 Asia Times)


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