China has come a long way in terms of social and economic development since it undertook reform and opening up nearly 40 years ago. As the country becomes more open, our society becomes more diversified and so are the public views on various issues.
As we enjoy more freedom, parochial nationalism is, alarmingly, also rising. In today’s China, those who subscribe to nationalistic sentiments often cast the country as a victim in international affairs. Our web portals and publications are full of comments to the effect that foreign parties take the lion’s share of profits from international projects. At the same time, Chinese people are portrayed as trading their blood and sweat for a living.
As a result, these voices claim that the people of China are losing out because they are still being subjected to the exploitation of Western countries via international cooperation.
Those people might speak some truth, but we must take all the facts into account to get a full picture of things. When the country opened its doors in the early 1980s, we did not possess the technology, money or advanced management skills to make progress. What we had was abundant human resources and a vast market.
Foreign businesses that were willing to come to the country needed to make money, otherwise they would stay home. We could only build our economy on this premise, and it has indeed thrived so much that we had the world’s second largest economy by 2010. Our people have also benefited from these this remarkable progress.
People my age remember well that in the old days there were few things we could buy and most were rationed via a coupon system. Reform and opening has provided us the opportunities to work with foreign partners in win-win situations. To portray China as a victim in international cooperation is an attempt to discredit the policies of the last four decades.
Narrow-minded nationalists often tend to tout military confrontation when dealing with territorial disputes, as opposed to Deng Xiaoping’s advice to “set aside differences and pursue joint development.”
In recent years, as the nation continues to achieve a greater international status, mutual distrust between China and countries such as the United States and Japan has soared. That has led them to try to contain China. Meanwhile, concerns and fears among our neighbors over our growing clout are escalating. Friction with neighboring nations over territorial disputes involving the South China Sea has appeared from time to time.
The philosophy of Deng, a leader of great wisdom, in the early 1980s was the result of a thorough consideration of all factors involved in the situation. Based on this approach, Deng also proposed the “one country, two systems” principle to overcome barriers to the return to China of Hong Kong, a former British colony. For that, he has won wide respect and praise.
The pursuit of peace and development through cooperation is the hallmark of our times. China should continue to make great strides in the first decade of the 21st century because we have embraced this idea. As far as South China Sea issues are concerned, Deng’s advice should continue to allow us to continue to achieve win-win situations with countries that have a stake in the region.
Wars are not the answer, and they actually create problems, as the United States and other Western countries have found. I believe that we can resolve disputes with our neighbors regarding the South China Sea through peaceful negotiations. For example, we have in recent years managed to define our borders with 12 countries via diplomacy.
Nationalism in China is also driven by a blind sentiment against multinationals doing business in the country. That we prosper now has a lot do with the presence of international firms in China because they have introduced new ways of thinking, advanced technologies and management techniques. Multinationals, the very embodiment of globalization, have the advantage of optimizing resources globally, and they also represent efficient production. Those who are opposed to multinationals are opposed to improved productivity. Furthermore, China is developing its own multinational firms.
Our relationship with the rest of the world is far different than it was in the past. We cannot develop without the rest of the world, and the prosperity and stability of the world can hardly be sustained without our involvement. This is the big picture that none of us can ignore.
If groups espousing parochial nationalism get their way by obstructing the policies of reform and opening up and our engagement with the rest of the world, they will only make China an inward-looking country again. If that happens, we will only fall behind again. This means that if we want to continue prospering, we must continue with reform and opening up and reject narrow-minded nationalism.
Wu Jianmin is China’s former ambassador to France and a former president of China Foreign Affairs
By WU JIANMIN Apr. 22, 2016 on USCNPM
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