A Burmese Perspective: The Chung Kuo (Zhōngguó) 中国 Spirit

(The World Will Have to Unite Against Communist Dictatorship)

By Kanbawza Win | 22 October 2010 | Friday

Chung Kuo means the "Middle Kingdom," or “central country" and that China is the centre of their known civilized world and the peripherals were called Eastern Yi, Southern Man, Western Rong and Northern Di, respectively considered to be less civilized, if not barbarian. Like it or not, the only civilized people are the Chinese residing at the centre of the universe while the rest are barbarians is the basic philosophy of the Chinese which is engrained in them, especially for the men on the dragon throne. Hence Democracy, Human Rights and Freedom enshrined in the universal values are alien to them. The term of universal values that the government serves the people and that the natural resources belong to the public and public utility is for the sake of the people’s happiness is quite unknown and strange to Communist Chinese and the current Burmese leaders.

On the other hand they believe that the opposite is true, that the people should obey the government, the state should control everything and the interest of the individuals must be subordinated to those of the local development. The very term “Universal Values” or pushi jiashi 普世價 is a new one n Chinese political debate; the concepts commonly associated with Democracy and Human Rights and as such must not be tolerated. Similarly the Burmese Generals are anathema to the word Democracy and Birth Rights which in Burmese is call Mwe Yar Par Lu a Khwin A Yae (ေမြးရာပါလူ႔အခြင့္အအေရး) and this is the crux of the thinking of the dictatorships.

Contemporary Debate

In 2008 an earthquake in Sichuan killed some 80,000 people and unlike the Burmese regime in the Nargis cyclone, the Chinese government responded swiftly, so did the international community. Guangdong Southern Weekend published an editorial eulogizing the government’s swift response and wrote, “The Government honoured it commitments to its own people and to the whole world with respect to the universal values.” This single mention of the term universal values enraged the hard line communist leaders and a series of commentary appeared in the government sponsored papers and the conservative websites attacking the universal values as a Western plot to undermine the Chinese Communist Party rule similar to what the Burmese Junta interpreted the phrase Birth Rights as a Western concept and ask the people to go the West rather than reside in Burma if they uttered Human Birth Rights.

Then the Olympic came with the slogan of “One World One Dream” which sent cold chills through the spines of the Chinese communist theoretician as it tantamount to acknowledging the superiority of the West political system. After the games successfully ended The People’s Daily accused the supporters of universal values as trying to Westernise China with a laissez faire economy which is detrimental to socialism with a Chinese character. Then in the last month of 2008 hundreds of Chinese liberal intellectuals and dissidents sign a manifest supporting the universal value, better known as the Charter of 08. This was too much for the Communist dictators to swallow while at the same time were at a loss of what to do.

Now that Liu Xiabao a Chinese dissident has won the Nobel Peace prize, the Chinese government denounced it and took a leaf out of the Burmese Junta’s book. In fact the Chinese had copied the Burmese actions when the Tatmadaw (Burmese Army) shot point blank into the peaceful demonstrators in 1988, known as 8888 revolution, the Chinese Communist did it a year later at Tienanmien Square incident on June 4th 1989. Now just like the Burmese Nobel Peace laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Liu Xiabao was serving eleven years but unlike Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s husband, Michael Aris, who the Burmese Junta did not allowed to see his spouse even though he is known to be dying of cancer, Liu-Xi, the wife of Liu Xiabao, was put under house arrest. This was a sweet revenge on the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

Both the Burmese and the Chinese dictators announced the Nobel Peace Committee as “contrary to the aspirations of the Nobel Peace Prize.” and lowered the diplomatic relations. However unlike Burma, who sentence James Leander Nichols, a Scandinavian envoy to his death in prison 22 June 22nd 1996, the Chinese are not rash and keep the Norwegian diplomats untouched.

China’s strong economic performance during the global financial crisis has been a morale booster to the hardliners conservative, that China has its own values, the people who are at the helm has stage a large scale celebrations for Confucius’s birthday (2,561st birthday) since the Communist Party rule in 1949. The pointer is that Confucian stress on social harmony and moral rectitude with the West emphasis on freedom and individual rights, and the underlying message is that the Chinese Communist system is the best in the world for development and that the world should follow the Chinese lead because they are a major race.

The Impending Struggle

During the tenure of Mao-Hse-Dong, China was behind the Iron curtain and soon after. Mao's demise another leader Deng-Xiaoping was waiting in the wings along with some other comrades changed the dismal economic scene of China with the Socialist Market Economy and if things are moving along these lines, in the not too distant future, there is every possibility of China overtaking USA, world's largest economy. But the locus standi of Peoples' Republic of China comes into question when one look at the history of human rights record which is abysmally low. The demands for more personal liberties and human rights in fact were raised by a section Chinese people especially the educated youths and with the awareness and enlightenment imbibed by the Chinese who went abroad to take up higher studies and upon completion of academic pursuits, not denying the truth that some chose to be abroad for the rest of their life, began to demand more and more democratic freedoms. Bread, butter and freedom of expression alone are equally important and hence freedom, together with bread and butter is interdependent and this metaphor challenges the core of the Chinese Communist Confucius system.

As can be see the rival camps are at daggers drawn. The liberals see the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao as the champion of universal values as he said in an interview with CNN, “The people’s wishes for, and needs for, democracy and freedom are irresistible.” His speech calling for reforms was distributed far and wide and Aung Moe Win has put it in the net indirectly encouraging the Burmese pro democracy movement followed by mountains of speculation.

Calls for reform of China's political system have come repeatedly in the past few months from an unexpected source stirring consternation and debate in the Communist Party as it prepares for a new generation of leaders. For a leadership that has tried to present a unified front as it manages a fast-changing society, Premier Wen Jiabao's comments remarks form the backdrop as the 200-plus leading members of the party gathered in Beijing last Friday for a four-day annual policy meeting is something to be think of. Central Committee meetings are closed-door affairs, this year's gathering is expected to approve an economic blueprint for 2011-15 that will promote policies to close the growing gap between rich and poor and encourage consumer spending.

As the Chinese Communist party is also beginning the delicate process of preparing for the succession of a new generation of leaders in 2012, when Hu Jintao and Wen together with many others on the nine-member Politburo Standing Committee from the inner sanctum of power, are expected to step down in keeping with past precedent. Analysts of Chinese politics say few of the positions have been settled, opening the party to intense lobbying, if not outright infighting.

Wen is very much in favor of loosening controls of individual liberty, he is still the worshipper of Hu-Yao-Bang who was summarily sacked by the then leadership and was forced to live in political wilderness for his progressive policies on democratic freedom. China, if not today at least tomorrow will have to make way for democratic freedoms. History bears testimony to it.

"Some people have come under the influence of erroneous Western political and legal concepts and now and then make expressions that don't conform to Marxist legal theory," commented Zhou Yongkang, a leading conservative figure. Wen's statements have not been accompanied by any concrete proposals, and analysts see little chance of them sparking any quick changes from an authoritarian party overwhelmingly concerned with maintaining economic growth and quieting social unrest to preserve its own power.

The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo was very much an "own goal" for Beijing. Quite likely he would not have won if China had not made crude and overt threat to the Norwegians that relations would suffer if Liu did get it. The Norwegian committee was thus pushed into showing that it was independent and could not be threatened. In the same way as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi would not have won the Nobel Peace Prize without the Junta’s 1988 atrocities.

Spratly Island Dispute

The Spratly Island are a group of more than 750 reefs, islets, atolls, caves, and islands in the south China sea between China, Malaysia, Brunei, Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. They comprise less than four square kilometers of land area, spread over more than 425,000 square kilometers of sea. About 45 islands are occupied by relatively small numbers of military forces from China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Philippines, Brunei and Vietnam the Spratly area holds significant reserves of oil and natural gas and is a productive area for world fishing and commercial shipping, and coastal countries. China and Vietnam make claims based on historical sovereignty over the islands. China has estimated that the Spratly area holds oil and natural gas reserves of 17.7 billion tons (1.60 × 1010 kg), as compared to the 13 billion tons (1.17 × 1010 kg) held by Kuwait placing it as the fourth largest reserve bed in the world. These large reserves assisted in intensifying the situation and propelled the territorial claims of the neighboring countries.

The Pentagon has expressed concern about China's aggressiveness in maritime territorial disputes with its neighbours, including Japan and Vietnam. U.S. military leaders are also worried about China's booming defence budget and its development of a ballistic missile that could target aircraft carriers, which have been used by the U.S. Navy to project unrivalled power in the Pacific since World War II. A low point came in June, when Gates and Gen. Ma Xiaotian, deputy chief of staff of the People's Liberation Army, gave duelling speeches at a security conference in Singapore, with each blaming the other for the breakdown in the relationship.

Washington has bolstered alliances and cooperation with Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia and Australia, prompting some in Beijing to view that as an attempt to rein in Chinese influence and it seems that the United States will back up small Asian nations who feel bullied by China and will insist on diplomatic solutions to territorial disputes. The United States is concerned that newly heated disputes over Pacific island chains little known to most Americans could hurt access to one of the world's busiest commercial sea lanes. Smaller nations complain that China may try to seize the areas outright or assume de facto control with naval patrols. Unfortunately Obama seems to lack the courage to cut knots. Perhaps a landslide defeat in the coming mid-term elections will toughen him up, make him stop listening to pollsters and political strategists with ever changing targets and take some bold decisions.

The threat and the subsequent Beijing "outrage" is yet another demonstration, following spats with Japan, India and its South China Sea neighbours, of how China's global standing is being damaged by outbursts of nationalism. It is not easy to tell to what extent these reflect a new arrogance stemming from economic success and an excess of foreign praise or reflect a struggle at the top of the Communist Party between a liberal and internationalist group and a conservative, nationalist one.

But something is going on. Liu's award coincided with a visit to Europe by Premier Wen Jiabao during which he made a very liberal-sounding speech about the need for democracy and free speech. This has not been reported in China itself. It seems unlikely that Wen is so disingenuous that he would make such a speech for foreign consumption and deliberately suppress it at home. It seems that rivalry is growing between Wen and China's leader Hu Jintao. In Shenzhen on Aug. 20, Wen surprised local cadres by appearing to criticize unnamed Chinese Communist Party officials for dragging their feet on political reform, saying that without it "it will be impossible for the goal of economic reform and modernization to be realized."

Burma Case

As far as Burma is concerned Hu Jintao publically supported Than Shwe and endorsed the Junta's roadmap to a civilian dictatorship. As one of the richest countries in the world with US $2.6 trillion in reserves, China recently provided Burma with $4.2 billion in loans with no interest. This is evident that China is seeking to counter potential US influence in the region. Both being dictatorial regimes China have in common interest to keep a tight rein on political freedom, free speech and a free press. The difference is that Burma unlike China will not recognise the ethnic rights not to mention the Chinese style of federalism and Burma has real problems among the ethnic cease-fire groups, who are working to create more political space and autonomy along the Sino-Burma border. Even though China has been working to defuse a potential civil war, it is still to be seen whether it is successful or not.

Most observers and ethnic leaders see the autonomous regions of China's ethnic groups as a potential model that could be emulated in Burma, but so far such an approach has gained little interest within the junta. China has its own ethnic Kachin, Wa, Kokang and Shan living in Yunnan Province who enjoy greater freedoms that their fellow ethnics living in Burma, who are still treated like third-class citizens. Also, as a potential model for Burma, China has experimented with political and social reforms to stimulate economic development, while Burma’s generals are still living in the 19th century with a dormant economy. China hopes the election will create a new political structure and more power sharing between the parliament and the junta, which it hope to defuse the ethnic problem. One will have to agree with Nyo Ohn Myint, when he said that the Chinese strategy of balancing its need for Burma's resources while pressuring the junta to negotiate with cease-fire groups to avoid war is the issue that will dominate relations between the two countries following the election.


Summing up all these Chinese national event and international reaction it seems that the future of the world will depends on the outcome of the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of china (中国共产党第十八次全国代表大) Zhōngguó Gòngchǎndǎng Dìshíbācì Quánguó Dàibiǎo Dàhuì, to be held in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, sometime in the autumn of 2012. The centre of power has shifted from Europe (before the 2nd World War like Berlin, Paris, London currently Brussels) to Washington and is now to Beijing. The Congress will elect the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and will likely elect currently touted successors into power.

It is widely speculated that Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang will succeed Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao as top Politburo Standing Committee members by October/November 2012, and take over the Presidency and Premiership in March 2013 at the National People's Congress. The other seats are up for grabs, will be likely Li Yuanchao, Wang Qishan, Bo Xilai, Wang Yang, and Yu Zhengsheng, being potential candidates, based on their current positions of seniority in the Chinese political hierarchy and their age. It will likely consist of seven or nine members. Chinese politics observer Willy Lam suggested that a power struggle is likely taking place between Hu's Tuanpai, or Communist Youth League Faction, Xi's Princelings faction, and remnants of former president Jiang Zemin's Shanghai clique, at the 18th Party Congress.

If the liberals won than there is hope for the world as it will gear on to democracy and human rights with less human rights violations around the world and R2P concept can apply. But if Hu Jintao and the hardliners won than there will be an increase of dictatorial countries from current Burma, North Korea, Fiji, Guinea, Libya, Zimbabwe, Niger on to many Asian, African and Latin American countries which China is openly supporting. Perhaps the world should unite against these Chinese hardliners as it had done to new threats like terrorism if we want to make this world a better place to live in.

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