Sharp relief for a flat world

2011-06-09Asia Times

Presently I'm in Italy, and surely that made possible for me to come across an interesting document, which after much consideration I decided to publish. It is a low-level report from a Chinese National Security officer to his boss. I took the liberty of translating it in a "cultural way" - that is, expressing in terms culturally comprehensible to Westerners what the Chinese say in other ways. The language then may not sound very Chinese.

I certainly do not share many of the conclusions of this report, and as in many cases when dealing with these agencies, this could be a forgery or something leaked ad hoc to create false images and perceptions. Even so, I find the train of thought and the analysis perhaps worth considering.

Dear Sir,

You are worried about the consequences of the Middle Eastern Jasmine Revolutions for China, and in Beijing they are worried about the contagion while also following a story by the famous American journalist Thomas Friedman about a flattened world where all news spreads easily and thus revolution can move very simply from one place to another.

His idea - and that of some Americans - is that China should be on its toes because revolution could quickly move to China as many disgruntled Chinese youths might be inspired by news and images of revolution in Syria or Libya.

The issue is complicated, and not as simple as the author puts it. As we know, the "flat world" of fast communications has not lowered cultural barriers; it has multiplied them and made them stronger but less perceivable. People can call from China to America, or vice versa, but still people carry on speaking their own languages. One speaks Chinese and the other English, and often they do not speak each other's language and do not understand each other.

Moreover, even when they do so, they rarely understand each other's culture and anthropological background. It is something that involves individual psychologies that most people carry within themselves, totally unaware. We do know from practical experience that direct communications, if involving something more complex than buying or selling a certain item, can create many misunderstandings and false perceptions of each other's reasons and motives.

Before direct communications, these misunderstandings were more difficult because interaction was harder and because people proceeded to keep in touch with extra caution, better aware of differences in culture and psychology. Now, easy and direct contact creates the false impression that cultural exchanges are easy. But they are not. Therefore this modern "flat world" creates more trouble and confusion than the previous "round world". It is a world that may be flat, but flat on many layers that intersect, fly above, are parallel to, and crash into each other.

Then what are the images of revolution in the Middle East telling the Chinese people? You, sir, know it better than me. To the vast majority of Chinese people, who have gained and are gaining from our 30 years of reforms, the pictures and the stories of the Middle East are depicting the old, sad Chinese story of chaos (luan) entailing death, starvation, war, misery, devastation, et cetera - all things Chinese people had to endure for over 100 years, from the time of the Taiping Rebellion until the start of Deng Xiaoping's reforms. It is a nightmare most people want to escape and dread plunging back into.

Therefore contrary to the ideas and intentions of many Westerners, the pictures coming from the Middle East scare the Chinese people, driving them even more into the arms of our government, which guarantees them peace, development and stability.

Those pictures are an inspiration only for a small minority of people who are looking for an opportunity to advance their selfish political aims irrespective of the possible disasters this would bring to our motherland. They would like to stir trouble, create confrontation, and even go as far as to start chaos and civil war in order to gain power.

Yet the story coming from the Middle East is frightening most of the common people, who are becoming more conscious that not supporting the government could be a path to chaos, famine, and bloodbath. And they are therefore far less inclined to support the troublemakers wishing for a Jasmine Revolution in China.

Therefore, the war in Libya, the growing rebellion in Syria, the renewed protests in Egypt, the possible collapse of Yemen, and the threat to Saudi Arabia, are for China a blessing in disguise - little different from what occurred in 2008 with the protest in Tibet. Those events reinforced pro-government feelings among most Chinese, who were very unwilling to part in any form with a smaller or greater part of Tibet.

But fortunately for us, many American pundits do not realize this. They are self-centered, travel the world by moving through their own global archipelago of McDonald's and Starbucks, surfing the net and watching CNN, and rarely taking the risk of "culturally converting themselves" into local people, so that they are in fact unaware of the deep feelings and understanding of the common people in different parts of the world. Therefore, in this case, they are de facto working for us, a government they officially despise!

This way of looking at the world, however, grants only short-term benefits to us, especially when we are thinking of the world in a very long-term way. Their support for the spread of revolution into the Islamic world could destabilize Iran and further disrupt Pakistan. In either case, it is hard to think that a revolution would make the situation in the region more peaceful, orderly, and conducive to local and global growth, development, and liberty.

On the contrary, the spread of revolution is creating an atmosphere where recourse to war and violence could become common and where hard-headed leaders, new dictators, and tyrants could emerge as saviors out of chaos.

In this situation, we should not be passive, sit idly, gloating while watching what happens. By granting more freedom to our people and advancing our agenda of democratization, we would take the firewood out from under the boiling pot of our opponents and turn the fire back at them. We would reinforce popular pro-government sentiments, further break the ranks of our domestic opponents, and prove to people of the world - including in the Middle East and in America - that China's way of cautious yet persistent development is sounder and more effective than this sudden American fascination with revolutions.

This could also help to stem the wave of revolutions in the Middle East, prod those governments to adopt China-inspired reforms, and then create a better system within our country.

Furthermore, this could also help America to move away from this kind of self-destructive mood, where solutions can only occur through recourse to violence, be it revolution or war.

Then we would gain on all fronts.
Yours sincerely.

(For the naive, gullible ones: it is a fake!)  (2011-06-09 Asia Times)


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