China has been creating a colonization model based on economic dependence.
Last week the Chinese Communist Party celebrated 100 years since it was founded, 72 years of which the party has been in power. The centenary coincides with the Joe Biden’s reinterpretation of the nature of the Chinese challenge to American hegemony as being “a battle between the utility of democracies in the 21st century and autocracies.” An impartial examination, however, reveals that the threat to democracy comes from democratic societies themselves, and not from outside.
The label “communist” has lost its original meaning, that being the search for an egalitarian society. This doctrine has failed in all the places where it was tried, including China itself, producing dictators, elite bureaucrats, dysfunctional economies, backwardness and poverty. Since the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, his successor, Deng Xiaoping, freed China from this trap, integrating its economy with the rest of the world and creating state capitalism.
Since then, starting from an extremely poor base, China has thus succeeded in instilling in its citizens the feeling that each generation lives better than the previous one. Economic gains have not had a counterpart in the palpable loss in the political realm, because the Chinese have never loved democratic freedom, nor is it a cultural requirement. On the contrary, the Confucian roots of the Chinese culture prioritized hierarchy and discipline above liberty.
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union and the United States vied for influence all over the world, a contest that was consummated much more in geopolitical alignment than in the strict adoption of the economic or political model of one or the other.
This was so much the case that, although the main justification for the military coup in Brazil had been to avoid succumbing to Soviet domination, Brazil pulled even further away from the democracy and market economy that characterize the United States. The labels “communist” and “capitalist,” “left” and “right” always hide very diverse realities.
Currently, China is not engaged in exporting its model, also because the “communist” brand in its case is even emptier than when it was used by the Soviets. The Chinese regime is completing its political control over Hong Kong and plans to do the same with Taiwan. China considers both to be an integral part of its country.
Beyond this, at the moment there isn’t any visible interest in interfering militarily in other countries, as the former Soviet Union, China itself and the United States did during the Cold War, which led to the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, and many others directly or by proxy in Asia, Africa, Europe and Central America.
Through the Belt and Road Initiative and other investment programs, China has been engaging in a new model of colonization, based not on military force, but on economic dependency. The infrastructure that the Chinese are building in Asia and Africa turns them into the holders of debt, many times unpayable, which is guaranteed by the works themselves. Without their commerce with China, commodity-producing countries like Brazil would be ruined. Without the industrial products and components imported from China, capitalism would collapse.
China’s success, whether in the economic, technological, military or epidemiological realm (the country abruptly halted the outbreak of COVID-19 even though it started there), may inspire some currents of illiberal thought in democratic societies. And it is in this sense that Biden points out the need to show that democratic regimes are capable of delivering prosperity to their populations.
But doubt exists not because the U.S. has stopped being the greatest center of dynamic innovation and entrepreneurship in the world. It continues to be, and this is inseparable from the atmosphere of economic, political and cultural liberty enjoyed by Americans.
The doubt surrounding democratic values was planted by current illiberal groups who manipulated a sense within the West that is inverse to the sense which now exists in China: that large sections of the middle class live worse than their parents.
Such resentment gives rise to nihilism, which translates into a negation of all achievements, from epidemiological surveillance to electronic voting to the granting of minority rights that occurred simultaneously with the loss of privilege, and which could be associated with it even illogically.
Thus, the challenge that democratic values confront is greater and closer than the challenge posed by the ascension of China. The virus of nihilism (and of denialism) does not come from China. It is created and transmitted locally.
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