Is Vietnam adopting a tough South China Sea posture?

By Xuan Loc Doan

Over the past month, some international news outlets have reported that Vietnam is pursuing a strong stance on the South China Sea. Yet a closer look at Hanoi’s overall position – as well as those of other countries and international entities – vis-à-vis the maritime issue shows that is not the case.

On December 30, Reuters reported that Vietnam was pushing for tough provisions in the code of conduct (COC) in the South China Sea that Southeast Asian nations and China are negotiating. More precisely, according to this report, Vietnam wants the pact to outlaw Beijing’s controversial actions in the disputed area in recent years, including the building of artificial islands and military activities such as missile deployments.

It also pushes for a ban on any new Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) that China unilaterally announced over the East China Sea in 2013. It equally demands that disputing states clarify their maritime claims as per international law.

A day later, the South China Morning Post also claimed that Vietnam “takes [a] hard line” by making such demands. It described Hanoi’s request that “states clarify their maritime claims according to international law” as “an apparent attempt to shatter Beijing’s ‘nine-dash line,’ by which China claims and patrols much of the South China Sea.”

Last Friday, the Hong Kong-based newspaper ran an article headlined “Vietnam risks Beijing’s ire as it uses US freedom-of-navigation exercise to stake its claim in South China Sea.” That article referred to a freedom-of-navigation operation (FONOP) by USS McCampbell near the Paracel Islands on January 7 and remarks by a Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman about it two days later.

Asked for her comments about the US guided-missile destroyer’s passage in a press briefing on January 9, Le Thi Thu Hang said Vietnam “has sufficient legal grounds and historical evidence testifying its sovereignty over the Hoang Sa [Paracel] and Trưong Sa [Spratly] archipelagoes in conformity with international law.”

She also stressed that as a member of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and a coastal state in the East Sea (Vietnamese name for the South China Sea), her country always respects the right to freedom of navigation and aviation in the area of other states in line with international law, especially the UNCLOS.

It could be that, as the SCMP’s article said, Beijing, which was angry about the USS McCampbell’s FONOP, was not pleased with the Vietnamese spokeswoman’s remarks and that Hanoi used the US military’s move to reaffirm its territorial claims in the area.

But Vietnam’s demands that states clarify their maritime claims, resolve their disputes and operate in the area in line with international law, notably UNCLOS, are not new.

In its own statements, joint declarations with its main partners – such as the United States, India, Japan, Australia, South Korea, Indonesia, Singapore, the United Kingdom and France – as well as talks with China, Vietnam has long and consistently maintained an international-law-based approach to the South China Sea issue.

For instance, in his keynote speech at the 2013 Shangri-La Dialogue, Nguyen Tan Dung, Vietnam’s then prime minister, urged China and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to “double efforts to formulate a COC that conforms to international law and in particular, the 1982 UNCLOS.” He also said: “As a coastal state, Vietnam reaffirms and defends its legitimate rights and interests in accordance with international law, especially the 1982 UNCLOS.”

Similarly, in a speech at the 38th Singapore Lecture three years later, Tran Dai Quang, its then president, who died a few months ago, clearly and firmly stated Vietnam’s “consistent position” vis-à-vis the South China Sea – that is “to remain resolute and persistent in the defense of national independence, sovereignty and territorial unity and integrity” and “to settle disputes by peaceful means through the political, diplomatic and legal process on the basis of international law, including [UNCLOS].”

In line with what Quang said in that lecture, in a Vietnam-Singapore joint statement issued at the end of his official visit to the city-state, both sides “emphasized the importance of resolving disputes peacefully, including full respect for legal and diplomatic processes, without resorting to the threat or use of force, in accordance with international law, including as reflected in the 1982 [UNCLOS].”

Vietnam’s joint statements with the US in 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017 stated, more or less, the same posture. For instance, in the 2017 statement issued during US President Donald Trump’s Vietnam visit, the leaders of the two countries “underscored the strategic importance to the international community of free and open access to the South China Sea” and “the need to respect freedom of navigation and over-flight, and other lawful uses of the sea.”

They also “reaffirmed their shared commitment to the peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with international law, including full respect for legal and diplomatic processes.”

In his talks with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Beijing in early 2017, Nguyen Phu Trong, general secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party, also clearly “asserted Vietnam’s consistent stance of persistently dealing with the dispute in the East Sea by peaceful measures in compliance with international law, including the 1982 [UNCLOS], and with respect to diplomatic and legal processes.”

Such an approach is also supported by other countries and international bodies, such as the Group of Seven advanced economies, which repeatedly says its members “are committed to maintaining a rules-based order in the maritime domain based on the principles of international law, in particular as reflected in the [UNCLOS].”

Of Vietnam’s demands reported by Reuters, the stress that disputing states “clarify their maritime claims in according to international law” is, without doubt, the most fundamental one. All nations, strong and weak alike, should, if not must, make their claims, resolve their disputes and act in accordance with international law.

In his remarks at the G7 summit in Canada last June, Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, urged the member states (namely France, Germany, Italy, the UK, the US, Canada and Japan) to “demonstrate unity regarding the ongoing land reclamation and militarization in the South China Sea, as the international law must apply to all countries, big and small, on land and at sea.”

In this sense, Vietnam’s South China Sea posture is not tough at all. On the contrary, it’s very sensible, advisable and, as such, widely supported.

Yet for China, the provisions that its communist neighbor wants the COC to include – notably that “states clarify their maritime claims” in the 3.5-million-square-kilometer sea “according to international law” – are tough.

As the December 31 SCMP article said, they are “likely to prove unpalatable to Beijing.” This is because such propositions would invalidate the Asian giant’s controversial, if not illegal, claims and actions in the resources-rich and strategically vital waters.

As ruled by a UNCLOS tribunal in 2016, if it is based on international law, notably the 1982 Convention, China’s “nine-dash-line” claim would be unlawful. And as that infamous line was already declared illegal by the international tribunal, many, if not most, of China’s contentious actions within it, including its recent land reclamation and military buildup or a future ADIZ declaration, are illegal.

That said, it may be true that Vietnam is adopting a tougher posture than it was, and that would be understandable.

A few years ago, the Philippines and Vietnam were the two regional countries that were mostly critical of China’s behavior in the area. But since Rodrigo Duterte became the Philippines’ president in 2016, Manila has pursued an accommodating, if not defeatist, attitude toward Beijing.

The maverick leader is now seen as “China’s voice in ASEAN.” It’s no coincidence that China, which was previously very reluctant to negotiate the COC, has recently vowed to conclude it before 2021. Both the Duterte presidency and the Philippines’ term as the coordinator of the ASEAN-China dialogue end in that year.

Against this backdrop, Hanoi needs to voice its position robustly if it wants to “remain resolute and persistent in the defense of [Vietnam’s] national independence, sovereignty and territorial unity and integrity.” An effective – if not, the most plausible – way to achieve that goal is to internationalize the issue and call for an international-law-based approach to it, because international law and many other countries are on its side.

By calling claimant parties as well as other interested countries to act according to international law in the South China Sea, Hanoi is, intentionally or not, urging China to practice what Xi Jinping, its core leader, repeatedly and, indeed, beautifully, preaches on the world stage.

For instance, addressing the United Nations Office in Geneva in 2017, the Chinese president quoted “an ancient Chinese philosopher


said, ‘Law is the very foundation of governance’” and then lectured that all countries should “uphold the authority of the international rule of law … ensure equal and uniform application of international law and reject double standards and the practice of applying international law in a selective way.”

In that speech, titled “Work Together to Build a Community of Shared Future for Mankind,” Xi also vowed, “No matter how strong its economy grows, China will never seek hegemony, expansion or sphere of influence.”

Should Beijing apply all this to the South China Sea, the intractable maritime disputes would be easily and peacefully resolved.

Xuan Loc Doan Dr Xuan Loc Doan researches and writes on a number of areas. These include Vietnam’s domestic and foreign policy, ASEAN, EU, UK’s politics and international politics in the Asia-Pacific region.

How Vietnam lost and China won Cambodia

Forty years after the fall of the China-supported Khmer Rouge regime to Vietnam’s invading forces, Cambodia is now more clearly in Beijing’s than Hanoi’s orbit

By David Hutt, @davidhuttjourno

Forty years ago today, some 100,000 Vietnamese soldiers accompanied by almost 20,000 Cambodian defectors marched into Phnom Penh to overthrow the radical Maoist Khmer Rouge regime.

The invading forces found less than 100 survivors in the capital city. The Khmer Rouge, which came to power in 1975, had evacuated Phnom Penh, leaving buildings to decay and collapse.

In the countryside, where almost all Cambodians were sent as part of the Khmer Rouge’s “Year Zero” revolution, it was a Hobbesian nightmare. After less than four years in power, an estimated quarter of all Cambodians perished under the genocidal regime.

Only in November 2018 were two of the regime’s senior officials finally convicted of genocide, against the Cham and Vietnamese minorities.

January 7 is marked in Cambodia as either “Liberation Day” or “Victory Day”, and was once described by a former leader as the country’s “second birthday,” the first being its independence from French colonial rule in 1953.

It is also a date when Cambodia and Vietnam celebrate their seemingly intractable relationship. A new Vietnam-Cambodia Friendship Monument was inaugurated earlier this month in Cambodia’s northeastern Mondulkiri province, adding to the one that has stood tall in Phnom Penh since the 1980s.

On Saturday, senior-most officials of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) marked their victory – the “Counter-offensive on the Southwestern border,” as it was called at the time in Hanoi – with a somber ceremony and a slew of new monuments to mark the anniversary.

Roughly 25,000 Vietnamese soldiers lost their lives in Cambodia between December 1978 and September 1989, when its military withdrew from the country under a UN-brokered peace accord. Up until the turn of the century, it was almost a cliché to talk about Cambodia’s “special relationship” with Vietnam, which had propped up the post-Khmer Rouge government throughout the 1980s.

Today, however, there are questions about the closeness of their special relations since China has more recently become Cambodia’s main provider of aid and investment, one of its largest trading partners and its closest ally.

Equally important, China provides protection to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), installed to power by the Vietnamese in 1979, as Western criticism mounts and possible sanctions loom due to its recent lurch away from multi-party democracy.

“It’s clear that while Vietnam invaded Cambodia, it’s China that won Cambodia and now calls the shots,” says Sophal Ear, associate professor of diplomacy and world affairs at Occidental College at Los Angeles. “Hanoi looks at Phnom Penh wistfully, sometimes even with quite a bit of resentment; the client they created has broken away and married China.”

While Vietnam liberated Cambodia from its genocidal regime, it was self-defense, not altruism, that drove Vietnam’s intervention. Vietnam launched its full-scale invasion of Cambodia just 13 days before it entered Phnom Penh, a move motivated by years of small border incursions by Khmer Rouge forces.

Nonetheless, Vietnam paid a heavy price during the 1980s, as much of the international community opposed the new government it installed. The precursor to the CPP, which changed its name in 1991, was put in power by Vietnamese forces as the post-Khmer Rouge government on January 8, 1979.

Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge commander, was made prime minister in 1985, a position he has held since.

China, however, had backed the Khmer Rouge throughout its four-year rule and after, as it was reduced to launching minor incursions from its bases near the Thai border until the mid-1990s. So, too, did the US and some European nations consider the Khmer Rouge to be Cambodia’s legitimate government throughout most of the 1980s, motivated by Cold War politicking.

Today, Phnom Penh isn’t as keen to present this history in the moralistic, black-and-white terms as it did in the past.

A slick propaganda film about Hun Sen’s defection from the Khmer Rouge and his fight against the Khmer Rouge was broadcast on national television in January of last year. It didn’t once mention that China was the genocidal regime’s main backer.

Such historical contortion comes easy. China was “the root of everything that is evil” in Cambodia, Hun Sen famously said in the late 1980s. A decade later, however, he came to see China as Cambodia’s “most trustworthy friend”. Today, the mot juste for government officials is “ironclad friend.”

But where does all of this leave Vietnam? There are certain indications that relations between Cambodia and Vietnam are souring, chiefly because Beijing is now usurping the roles Hanoi once played in Cambodia. Fragments of this official discontent occasionally seep through closed door diplomatic meetings.

Soy Sopheap is a long-time political mediator for Hun Sen and a founder of the government’s most vocal mouthpiece, Fresh News. In June, he dedicated a segment of his chat show on BTV News, a news station owned by Hun Sen’s daughter Hun Mana, to railing angrily at Vietnamese businesses for holding lengthy land concessions in Cambodia. Significantly, complaints of China doing the same in Vietnam precipitated major protests across Vietnam that same month.

“We are never brave enough to speak out as we’re forever scared of Vietnam,” Sopheap stated on air, before lambasting the Vietnamese foreign minister, Pham Binh Minh, for “looking down” on Cambodia.

It is unlikely that someone of his stature would have been allowed to make such incendiary comments in Cambodia’s repressed media environment without the blessing of senior government officials.

A few months earlier, in March, Hun Sen was even more unequivocal. “I will question our friend Vietnam, whether they are actually loyal to me and Cambodia,” he said in a speech. It isn’t the first time that relations between the two nations have been called into question.

The Cambodia government has twice in recent years prevented the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), a regional bloc, from making strongly worded statements against Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea, features of which are strongly contested by Vietnam.

Whereas Malaysia and the Philippines have largely dropped their criticism of China’s action in the maritime area, Vietnam remains a constant and vocal critic. Its improving ties with the US, keen to limit China’s geopolitical power, have arguably emboldened Vietnam in its opposition.

It is possible, however, that Hun Sen’s comments were simply for his domestic audience, rather than revealing bilateral tiffs with Vietnam. They came amid a verbal attack on his veteran political opponent Sam Rainsy, the self-exiled leader of the banned Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).

For decades, Sam Rainsy and senior CNRP officials have claimed Hun Sen is merely a “puppet” of Vietnam and is content to cede sovereignty to Hanoi.

They have also engaged in anti-Vietnamese rhetoric, inflaming such chauvinism that dates back to the 19th century. “Send the yuon immigrants back” was one of Sam Rainsy’s proposals before the 1998 general election, using a supposed racist slur against the Vietnamese.

But in his bid to paint Sam Rainsy as treasonous, part of the CPP’s narrative in justifying the CNRP’s court-ordered ban, Hun Sen made a volte-face by suggesting his opponent had secret meetings with Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2003, with the implication that Sam Rainsy is a Vietnamese sympathizer.

There were also reports last year of diplomatic displeasure in Hanoi with Cambodia’s political direction.

Alan Parkhouse, a veteran journalist and editor in Cambodia, wrote early last year in Asia Times that Politburo officials in Hanoi “expressed their displeasure behind closed doors during a November [2017] meeting in Vietnam, even going as far as telling Hun Sen to step down after July’s elections,” according to a Cambodian government insider.

The most obvious explanation for fraying relations is China. “After 1997, Hun Sen incrementally brought Cambodia from a balancing of Vietnam, China and the West to what Cambodia is today- an economic dependency of China,” says Paul Chambers, lecturer at the College of Asean Community Studies at Naresuan University, Thailand.

In this reading of events, it is only natural for Cambodia to somewhat lose interest in Vietnam since it has more to gain from China.

In an essay for the Southeast Asian Affairs journal published last year, Steven Heder, a research associate at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, wrote that Vietnam-Cambodia relations are best understood through a party-to-party prism, rather than the traditional nation-to-nation viewpoint.

Both parties have enjoyed close relations for four decades. Many CPP officials studied in Vietnam in the 1980s and 1990s, and many still look to Hanoi for guidance in policy and governance.

On an important level, healthy relations between the two nations are maintained by close dealings between the Vietnamese People’s Army (VPA) and the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF), effectively the CPP’s armed wing.

Almost all of the RCAF’s most senior staff are CPP officials, including the Prime Minister’s son Hun Manet, now one of the military’s most senior officials.

Vietnam’s military still also holds significant investments in the Cambodian economy. Metfone, Cambodia’s largest telecoms network operator, is owned by the Vietnamese military-owned Viettel Military Industry and Telecoms Group.

From a party-to-party viewpoint, Cambodia-Vietnam relations are not only maintained at the higher levels of governance, through the two ruling parties agreeing on many of the same things, but also through lower-level dealings, such as between military officials.

When Vietnamese Minister of Defense Ngo Xuan Lich visited Phnom Penh in late December, Hun Sen made a point to stress that dealings between the two militaries remain tight.

But party-to-party relations are also diverging. On the one hand, Vietnam’s repressive Communist Party would be alarmed if a democratic election in its neighbor saw a handover of power to an untrusted party – especially if that victor was the CNRP, given its historic anti-Vietnam stance.

It would make little diplomatic sense, then, for Vietnam’s Communist Party to oppose Hun Sen’s rule considering none of Vietnam’s neighbors – Cambodia, Laos and China – have ever had functioning democracies for at least the last half century.

On the other hand, however, the Vietnam is today keen to promote free-trade and mollify Western concerns about human rights and democracy in the region.

As such, it doesn’t want foreign governments poking their interventionist noses in regional affairs, certainly not lest they also begin to question what’s happening in Vietnam, too.

Its free trade agreement with the European Union, which could prove wonders for the Vietnamese economy, hangs in the balance because of human rights concerns.

But this was the exact result of CPP’s political crackdown and dissolution of the CNRP. The US has already imposed sanctions on some Cambodian officials, and promises more, while the European Union has taken steps to punitively withdraw Cambodia from a preferential trade deal.

Independent observers have not missed the diplomatic hypocrisy of punishing Cambodia but not Vietnam for its abysmal rights record.

But the question remains whether Cambodia is moving closer to China at the expense of Vietnam, or is the CPP moving closer to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) at the expense of the Vietnam’s Communist Party? Beijing is now offering the same party-to-party exchanges and “soft power” roles that used to be exclusive to Hanoi.

More civil servants and ministry officials are traveling to China on visits to observe how politics operates there. Most ministries have signed bilateral agreements to boost joint cooperation. Beijing has also funded new think tanks in Cambodia, and is even paying for Cambodian journalists to visit China to study alongside their Chinese counterparts.

Thanks to scholarship programs, more than 1,000 Cambodians have now studied at Chinese universities, many of whom will go onto hold positions of influence. Most are likely to return imbued with China’s outlook on world affairs, in which Vietnam often plays the role of adversary, especially in regards to the South China Sea.

In December, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi pledged more support for youth exchanges programs when he met Hun Many, one of Hun Sen’s sons who serves as president of the Union of Youth Federations of Cambodia, a CPP-aligned organization.

Another explanation of shifts in party-to-party relations between Cambodia and Vietnam is the supremacy of Hun Sen over the CPP. Analysts say that CPP grandees, like the late Chea Sim, the party’s president between 1991 to 2015, were avowedly pro-Vietnam.

Interior Minister Sar Kheng is another senior CPP official who is said to still have very close ties to Hanoi, though his control over the party is certainly not as significant as Hun Sen’s. The death or fading influence of such pro-Vietnam officials has allowed the CPP to rethink its foreign relations, analysts say.

“At least since 2008, Hun Sen has held almost all the cards in the CPP. Hun Sen was initially balancing between Vietnam and China. His decision to move closer to China was backed by the CPP because Hun Sen effectively is the CPP,” says Chambers.

There are also clear changes in military-to-military relations as China’s armed forces form even closer relations with Cambodia’s – possibly making Vietnam’s military ties less important in the process.

The two sides now hold regular joint training exercises, dubbed “Golden Dragon”, and Beijing invites senior Cambodian defense officials on state visits. This has become even more important after Phnom Penh postponed, for an undisclosed time, joint training operations with the US military, which is forming increasingly closer ties to Vietnam’s armed forces.

In recent years, China has also pledged hundreds of millions of dollars to support Cambodia’s military, including an additional US$130 million it provided last year to the defense sector. China also pledged US$2.5 million last year to help clear unexploded ordnance left behind by the Khmer Rouge, a donor area that used to be provided mainly by the US and Japan.

In November, this journalist co-authored a report for Asia Times on rumors that China was lobbying to build a naval base in southwest Cambodia, and correctly predicted the issue would be raised by senior US officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, when they attended Asian conferences at the time.

Hun Sen and other senior Cambodian politicians have spent the last two months denying the allegation.

When he visited Vietnam in December, Hun Sen told his counterpart Nguyen Xuan Phuc that the report was “fake news, lying news and destructive news,” while repeating his oft-stated rebuttal that “the constitution of Cambodia does not allow any foreign military bases in the Kingdom.”

In the past two years alone, however, the CPP has shown its constitution to be easily malleable for its political and other purposes. As for the future of trilateral relations between Cambodia, Vietnam and China, it is likely to continue down the same path it has been moving in recent years.

Rhetorically, Cambodia will remain equidistant between its two allies. Vietnam will be heralded as Cambodia’s liberator and historic ally. China’s role in funding the Khmer Rouge will be torn from the CPP’s history book, as will almost all occasions when Hun Sen didn’t see Beijing as Cambodia’s “ironclad friend.”

But, in diplomatic reality, Vietnam will play second fiddle as China has much more to offer Cambodia 40 years after the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime Beijing once supported and Hanoi overthrew.

Working with China is more beneficial than fighting it

By Ken Moak

It appears the political and security elites in the United States are preparing for an OK Corral-type showdown with China. On December 1, the US Justice Department asked (some would argue pressured) Canada to arrest Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, on a provisional warrant. It went on to charge two Chinese government employees with stealing information from firms and governments in 12 countries.

The big question is: Why now and what does the US hope to gain from these provocations?

China’s economic, technological and military rise

A brief look at China’s accomplishments in the economic, technological and military realms might shed light on the question.

The size of China’s economy is estimated at US$13.7 trillion in nominal exchange rate measurement and it met the targeted growth rate of 6.5%  in 2018, according to China’s National Bureau of Statistics (CNBS). China’s growth rate is far greater than that of the US, estimated at around 3% by the US National of Statistics. If the trend continues, the Chinese economy could well topple that of the US, becoming the biggest economy in both measures.

The remarkable annual average growth rate of nearly 9% has allowed the country to spend lavishly on research and development and higher education, estimated at over US$260 billion and US$175 billion, respectively, in 2017 by the CNBS. A big chunk of higher education spending was on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

As a result, China produces over 6 million STEM graduates each year and a similar number worked in research. These millions of STEMs are the country’s best and brightest scientific and engineering minds.

This might be a more compelling explanation of why the country is fast closing the innovation gap with and even surpassing the US in some areas – 5G, AI, driverless cars, high-speed railway, etc – than China stealing American secrets.

Huawei is at the forefront of 5G technology and the biggest (and some would suggest the best) telecommunications equipment manufacturer in the world. According to the company’s press release, almost 170 countries are using its equipment. Huawei is also the world’s second-largest smartphone producer, surpassing Apple but behind South Korea’s Samsung.

Other than the US, Australia and New Zealand, no country has accused Huawei of being a “spy” for the Chinese government. Indeed, France and Germany welcome the company’s investment.

It is probably the fear that Huawei might displace Apple that the US barred the company’s products from entering its market and asked Canada to arrest its chief financial officer. According to Jeffery Sachs, a Columbia University  professor and Washington Post columnist, Meng Wanzhou’s arrest might have been politically motivated, contrary to what both the US and Canada have claimed. This allegation was supported by Trump himself when said he would intervene if China would not give him the “deal” he wants.

While China is not interested in getting into an arms race with America, it is spending heavily on developing new weapons systems to ensure it has a credible deterrent. The latest is the JL3, a submarine missile that can carry 10 nuclear bombs with a range of over 7,500 kilometers. Together with its DF21, DF26, DF31 and DF41, China has achieved that credible deterrent capability.

America’s ruling elite upset and frustrated

The US political, security and intelligence communities are upset with China because it is able to challenge American supremacy but cannot do anything about it short of a nuclear attack.

It was not supposed to be that way. The US did not expect China to transform itself from an impoverished and backward country into a superpower within four decades. Based on Soviet economic performance, the West and Japan, in fact, laughed at Deng Xiaoping’s “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics,” dubbed “state-capitalism.” Indeed, they cheered for India.

However, the West, the US in particular, and Japan are shocked because China has done so well. According to the World Bank, China’s economy was just a little over US$250 billion in 1978, the year Deng opened the country up and established economic reforms, turning away from dogmatic central planning to a market economy with Chinese characteristics.

Since then, China’s economy has grown enormously, reaching nearly US$13.7 trillion in 2018. Along the way, the government managed to lift between 750 and 800 million people out of poverty, build the largest and most sophisticated high-speed train system in the world, and establish a formidable space program, just to name a few accomplishments.

In a span of 40 years, China has managed to become a near-peer power of the US, economically, technologically and militarily, and therein lies the frustration: having China as an equal is unthinkable but stopping her is unimaginably costly.

Is Beijing as “evil” as the US says?

It could be argued that the “communist” government might be more responsible and caring than any in the West, including the US.  According to the World Bank and other supranational institutions, the Chinese government has lifted 800 million people out of poverty and elevated over 400 million to middle-class status within 40 years. In doing so, it has erased considerable human misery and lived up to its stated aim of “serving the people.”

Putting economic development at the forefront has not only benefited China, but also the world. Since the 2008 financial crisis caused by the US, China has contributed to a third of global economic growth by buying huge quantities of resources and other goods and services around the world. Indeed, the Australian China hawk Tony Abbott even admitted that it was China that made his country the “lucky continent.”

Because of huge industrial and infrastructural investment from China, many countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia are beginning to develop more rapidly.

What did the “holier than thou” US do to improve the lives of its poor and middle class?

A final comment

Demonizing China with “fake news” would only make the world a more dangerous and miserable place. US provocations in the South China Sea in the name of “freedom of navigation operations” could lead to a military clash, risking American, Chinese and other people’s lives.

As the UK’s last colonial governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, painfully discovered, China is too big to be bullied. The US and its allies should do the right thing for their countries: work with China to make this world a better place.

There is nothing to be gained from conflict. Spending more money on defense translates to less money for improving people’s lives.

Ken Moak Ken Moak taught economic theory, public policy and globalization at university level for 33 years. He co-authored a book titled China’s Economic Rise and Its Global Impact in 2015. HIs second book, Developed Nations and the Economic Impact of Globalization, was just published by Palgrave McMillan Springer.