Friday, December 13, 2019

Understanding China better!

Critics of China like to selectively highlight a series of imperfections about the country and say those are sufficient proof why the rise of China has been bad for the world.

They would point to issues like China’s record on the environment, on human rights, on peace efforts in the South China Sea and South East Asia and of course the effects of Belt and Road Initiative especially in Africa as renewed examples of latter day diplomatic colonialism.

The truth though is that we still need to work harder to fully understand China. There is a long way to getting there.

And in that role, we believe the media has a big and important role to play.

It is very easy to blame all of Africa’s problems on China, as many are wont to do or as Africa is goaded and encouraged to do.

But many of Africa’s problems have absolutely nothing to do with China. In fact much of Africa’s debt predates the advent of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

What has been happening in China starting in the late 70’s when the country took deliberate steps to open up to the world has been nothing short of an economic miracle.

The opening up has seen the greatest and fastest explosion in economic growth in the history of mankind.

The most important result of this opening up has been poverty reduction among the Chinese people at a massive speed and at an astonishing pace.

The human ingenuity that has accompanied that poverty eradication has been breathtaking.

Millions of people have been uplifted from poverty. The Government of China under President Xi has made it known that they hope to uplift at least 40 million more people in the next decade.

Over the recent past the economy of China has slowed down, but not before overtaking Germany as the World’s second largest economy.

Clearly the Chinese experiment in human endeavour is still far from over.

From experience, it is clear that china has come a long way to specifically address issues of ethnic minorities. More still needs to be done in that front.

Admittedly, and this the media should consistently point out, China can still do much more to manage and enhance an interface between the economy and democracy.

Concerns on human rights, environment and pollution should be addressed.

In the same way, it is equally important to also accept that there is simply no way China is going to be another America or another Europe.

The Chinese awakening has brought a sea and seismic change in the global economic balance of power. We have seen the centre move farther away from Europe and the United States, and closer to China.

China’s growth is swinging in its favour the balance of power; not only in economic terms but also in political, military and cultural spheres.

Hundreds of Batswana students go to China every year for training.

So too do members of our own BDF.

Until the start of trade war recently, there was a literal stampede of American companies settling in Shenzhen free economic zone.

Make no mistake, America will for a long time to come be the world leader on military, cultural and indeed people to people interactions.

But on all those points, China’s fast influence has become too difficult to ignore.

China already produces 5million graduates every year with over half a million of them in engineering, 250 000 of them in medicine and countless of them in new sciences like Artificial Intelligence, Digital Media and Robotics.

Alongside its growing military, China too has been expanding its soft power. The Belt and Road Initiative is by far the most dynamic instrument in that tool-box.  But People to People too has been on a full swing.

Chinese cultural power is also on the rise too.

One only has to take a headcount of Chinese restaurants in Gaborone today and compare that with what the situation was only five years ago.

China is now turning to the world and devoting more intellectual rigour and energy to spreading its revolution of poverty eradication to the world.

In almost every university across the world today, there is the Mandarin or Confucius Studies. This is not incidental it is deliberate.

It is a part and parcel of China’s growing global influence and global ambition.

Naturally, with those two also comes global assertiveness.

We need to learn more about China.

As the media we will not be able to comprehensively analyse the Chinese story,  unless we fully understand the history and dynamics of China and the Chinese people. China is a country. But it is also a civilization of over five thousand years.

At a Government level, one can only hope that for us as a country to benefit only the young, bright and high-flying career diplomats will henceforth be sent to Beijing.

Political appointees and those appointed out of patronage can go elsewhere where stakes are lower.

Because China and indeed the rest of East Asia deserve to be studied and thoroughly understood, career diplomats are best suited.

In Botswana as in the rest of Africa the media should help contextualize the interface between China and Africa.

The media should aim to help kick-start a debate and also a public understanding of China’s social, cultural and of course geopolitical rise.

To that regard, the media should strive to make Botswana become a meaningful trade partner to china.

A public debate about resetting Botswana’s foreign policy towards China and indeed the rest of East Asia is long overdue.

In Africa, especially since the advent of the Belt and Road Initiative, it has become fashionable among the media and indeed some sections of the ruling elite to portray China as an aggressor.

We need to learn from China ÔÇô and specifically avoid criticising China from a point of ignorance.

It looks like on its second phase of growth, China is poised for technological domination of the world.

Again you can see that in its ambitions and assertiveness.

Today China is a world leader in G5, a new generation internet and also in Artificial Intelligence.

The West is yet again looking not only befuddled but also clearly unsettled by the inroads made by Huawei, China’s homegrown company on G5 ahead of its own.

As the media in Botswana, we should be careful not to join ongoing international efforts to keep China down and derail it from its developmental path.

More importantly we should avoid taking sides or getting sucked in the ongoing contest between the West and China.

If anything we should carve ourselves a corner from where we could protect Botswana and Africa’s own interests.

In the end efforts to keep China down will eventually prove fruitless or even counterproductive.

Like every country China has its own faults.

The trouble though is that those faults are often exaggerated and overstated by critics.

If not managed well, especially by the media such efforts could result in deep-seated resentment among Chinese people and also Chinese Government who quite rightly will classify such efforts as attempts at containment and also national humiliation.

Botswana cannot afford being caught in the middle of such a fracas. And the media has a job to take a lead in clarifying the issues.

Botswana Editors Forum has increased its cooperation with China through the Chinese Embassy here in Gaborone.

It is a voluntary cooperation that is based on mutual respect and mutual dignity.

We are sending more journalists than ever before to China. And China is sending journalists here for familiarization of our newsrooms, but more importantly of Africa.

As I speak, over twenty of our journalist colleagues are in China. They are there to learn, but also to study China.

That is so because we fully understand the ever growing role of China in the world. It is also because we fully acknowledge that China cannot be ignored.

*This is part of a speech delivered at the China-Botswana Public Policy Forum

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