Has China really become rich and strong?

A thermal power plant near residential buildings in Beijing, China. Photo: CNS/Reuters

Joseph Cardinal Zen

A pandemic of apocalyptic proportions continues to cause incalculable loss of life and economic resources. We don’t see the end of it yet, but we can and must take stock of some obvious facts and analyse their cause-effect relation. Only by doing so can we prepare ourselves for the rebuilding of society and providing new defences in the future for humanity.

The fact: a pandemic started in China and spread quickly over the whole world.

The analysis: it must have something to do with globalisation. Globalisation is a fact and the enormously increased mobility of people explains, in part, the quick spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus. But modern progress in communications could have provided a timely alarm and contained that spread. Obviously something went wrong.

Pope St. John Paul II used to distinguish a “globalisation of solidarity” from a “globalisation of marginalisation.” One is operated by people who care for the real good of all human beings, the other is driven by selfish interest of individuals and groups. 

Let us remember that globalisation is an ambivalent phenomenon: it may be good, it may be bad; it depends on the way we manage it.

Pope St. John Paul II used to distinguish a “globalisation of solidarity” from a “globalisation of marginalisation.” One is operated by people who care for the real good of all human beings, the other is driven by selfish interest of individuals and groups. 

It is opportune also to remember that Pope St. Paul VI said that real progress happens when everybody progresses and the whole of humanity progresses. With those premises let us examine the actual reality, especially with reference to China.

Many people welcomed the arrival of globalisation, with the world becoming a “village,” a “big family” cooperation and mutual help would make the world better, and the rich and strong could help the poor and the weak. But, alas, the actual outcome was very disappointing. Why were all those often bloody protests held at the venues of meetings of the World Trade Organisation? The answer is: the poor of the poor countries did not feel they got any help from this globalised economy of the world.

Those running economic globalisation are the world’s rich and strong: the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and so on. They are supposed to help poor countries, but too often they end up by helping the governments of poor countries, the rich and powerful people in those countries, not the poor people, because the poor people of poor countries have not been invited to take active part in the process.

The managers of globalisation plan the world economy with scarce consideration of the real local situation and needs. Local governments and other operators, rich and powerful, may be more interested in getting the money into their own pockets rather than helping the poor people of their country.

China’s entry to the world scene

At the moment when all this was becoming evident, China entered the world scene, once a poor nation now rich and strong, the model and leader of Asian and African nations. China brought them the hope of a more just, equitable, prosperous society.

There is much to be discussed about such a perception. Has China really become rich and strong? We have to distinguish between the people and the nation. China became rich and strong because its people are hard-working and fast-learning. As the world’s most populous country, China became a huge provider of labour, capable of gigantic production and bringing money into the nation’s coffers.

We discover that the real heroes are not those we used to admire on the screen, but those who sacrifice themselves in serving the sick; those who take care to keep our environment clean and healthy.

But what about the people? In a totalitarian regime the people contribute to the wealth of the nation, but they don’t receive a fair share of its prosperity. 

Under the dominion and bad example of their masters, the Chinese people have lost their traditional virtues. In a world of struggling for survival, they make recourse to lies and violence, just like their masters, becoming a threat to the world.

The world must have had an opportunity to be aware of all this, but they may have never heard about the duty of ethical investment and ethical consumption until they realised that they were complicit in nourishing a dangerous monster.

Deng Xiaoping, the initiator of China’s state capitalism, used to say that for the nation to become rich you must allow somebody to get rich first. But who can be first to become rich and for how long? Obviously those in power, the  leaders, and once they become rich they are more powerful, and they can stay that way forever.

Now, for the party to move from being capitalists exploiting their countrymen to being imperialists exploiting other countries, there is just one step.

Under the One Belt, One Road project (the modern Silk Road), Xi Jinping presents himself to many Asian and African nations as the saviour, the one who can free them from the poverty in which they were left by their colonisers.

“We lend you money, specially to build the infrastructure which is the foundation of progress” (The communists lend money, they never give gifts).

“We provide you with expertise and we send the workers to do the job” (Obviously you have to pay for all this. That means the borrowed money goes back to China).

When they are not able to pay back the money, they are requested to pay with monopoly rights and privileges, or even territorial concessions and ports (for 99 years). The new colonisers are worse than the old ones!

A pandemic exploded, a world disaster. It is an awakening for everybody. It’s time we took a hard look at this the journey in history of humanity. Can we be proud of our scientific progress, of the many possibilities for more consumption? All a sudden we are losing everything and find ourselves powerless.

Now we realise how the truth is more important; our right to information and the freedom of expression. In close contact with death, we are encouraged to pursue the human and gospel values with more determination.

We discover that the real heroes are not those we used to admire on the screen, but those who sacrifice themselves in serving the sick; those who take care to keep our environment clean and healthy.

Finally, we appreciate our faith which teaches us that we are children of God, brothers and sisters in the human family. Thank you, Lord, for this lesson from the pandemic. UCAN

This article first appeared Cardinal Zen’s blog on May 13. It is an edited version of his input for a video conference themed,  Post Pandemic Globalisation: the Role of China and the United States-Analysis and Action.

Related articles
Covid-19 forces China to ease crackdown on Christians

CHINA (UCAN): China has relaxed its crackdown on unofficial religious groups amid the intense fight against the Covid-19 coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), Read more

China not so game about video game

CHINA (UCAN): Rights advocates have criticised the ban by China of the video game,  Animal Crossing: New Horizons, in mid-April.  Read more

China censorship of coronavirus information cost lives

HONG KONG (UCAN): The Covid-19 coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic might have been avoided and thousands of lives saved if China had Read more

Cross removals resume in China

CHINA (UCAN): The government of China has begun another wave of cross removals from church buildings as the Covid-19 coronavirus Read more