China is a superpower and should be respected as such. But unless the Chinese learn from the West's mistakes--particularly, on the environment--then they, and everyone else on this planet, is in big trouble!
This week's Economist carries an interesting piece about the flare-up of Chinese nationalism in the wake of Tibetan riots, last March. As much as the government seems to be the primary beneficiary of that outpouring of patriotic emotion--and as much as it may have helped inflame it--all that emotion could easily turn against the government:
Popular anger, once roused, can easily switch targets. This weekend China will be commemorating an event seen as pivotal in its long revolution—the protests on May 4th 1919 against the humiliation of China by the Versailles treaty... The Communist Party had roots in that movement.Here's what's really striking. An example of how the Chinese people are not happy with the government is the environment:
Now, as then, protests at perceived slights against China's dignity could turn against a government accused of not doing enough to safeguard it.
People everywhere are aghast at the poisoning of China's air, rivers and lakes in the race for growth.At the same time, according to the Economist, they resent the West lecturing China about pollution, calling it hypocrisy when Europe and America have basically created the problem:
They cite further evidence of double standards: having exported its dirtiest industries to China, the West wants the country to curb its carbon emissions, potentially impeding its growth and depriving newly well-off Chinese of their right to a motor car.So on the one hand, they are disturbed by the wrecked state of their environment, but on the other they demand the right to destroy the environment just like Westerners are doing, apparently because pollution is modernity!
And that really scares me.
If the world has to wait for China--and other emerging giants, like India--to repeat all of the West's mistakes before they decide to deal with them properly, then we are fucked. (Excuse the vulgarity, but 'doomed' just doesn't convey the enormity of it). We must work together to make China a model of clean, sustainable growth. Then China could be a true world leader, rectifying a 100 years of bad policy in the West. For example, the whole gasoline/car infrastructure is already in place here. So to convert all the gas stations to hydrogen, or to close them all down in favour of electrically powered cars would be a mammoth undertaking. But that infrastructure is not yet in place in China. If we start now, China can avoid the mess we're in.
But the problem is, the Chinese want respect. They want everyone to recognize that China is a great, modern nation. But they don't want to face the same scrutiny that Western nations face.
I, for one, welcome China's emergence on the world stage. I welcome more Eastern philosophy and culture into the mainstream. I want China to join the club. But there's a cost of membership, and that's to play by the same rules and work on the same problems as the rest of us. The Earth--the one we all share, no matter which flag is flapping above your head--cannot sustain another 50 years of heavy polluting. It just can't handle another billion people driving, consuming energy, and producing waste.
We've got to start changing our ways--all of us--and the Chinese should see their current modernization as an opportunity to do things right, rather than lashing out and demanding the right to behave as badly as other nations.