Historian Anders Stefanson’s main objection to my article concerns the explanatory value of the term “new Cold War”. According to him, there is only one Cold War and it took place in the 1950s (DN 5/4). The term may not be “transferable” and thus a misleading analogy to the “conflict” between the United States and China today.
Many historians outside the United States still insist on using the term figuratively, and even Chinese hawks describe the situation as a new Cold War. If the Chinese propaganda apparatus insists, we can live with the term. But I’m open to Stefanson’s suggestions for a more appropriate name because there is a lot of strength in the names.
as I did In “Tiananmen Re: The Hard Truth About the Enlarged Neoliberal World Order” (Peter Lang, 2016), he explained, the world after 1989 cannot be simplified by the horizon of American events. It was Ding Xiaoping – backed by Western investors indifferent to human rights violations – that pushed our current authoritarian capitalist world into action. China is not a counterpart to American history.
The value struggle of the first decade of the twenty-first century is far more difficult than the conflict of the fifties for the few liberal democracies (See DN 23 March about authoritarianism in the world). I am not only suggesting that there is a need for something other than “China should shut down China,” but I am very clear about the new conditions prevailing in this conflict: it means cooperation that is inevitable given the interdependence of countries. The overriding problem that requires a meaningful discussion of how liberal democracies, illiberal democracies and dictatorships together solve the crucial issues of humanity in a country marked by growing suspicion.
Stefanson suggests that I attribute the difficulties to “the personality of the other side” and that the solution is for China to adhere to “Western democratic standards.” Chinese state propaganda is effective in the West. So Chinese scholars must curse to repeat that a one-party state is not the same as its own citizens.
I don’t think Stefanson intends to portray all Chinese citizens in a collective authoritarian-minded image. Of course, if the Communist Party thwarted itself, the country would not become less Chinese. Cultures are procedural rather than static, as the democratic island of Taiwan proves, according to postcolonial theory. The changing nature of the Chinese system and its new behavior has become a global dilemma.
Another strange The hint applies to “Lagerkvist democracies” and “the so-called free world.” Care must be taken to relativize the threats to democracies from authoritarian and populist forces, externally and internally. This does not mean that liberal democracies are perfect. Double standards deepen their political practices. Is it hypocrisy for the United States to protect the dictatorship of Saudi Arabia despite its human rights violations? Absolutely. Is it hypocritical that Western politicians now say that we were naive about China? Undoubtedly.
As the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei demonstrated, the Western world “refuses to acknowledge its complicity in the creation of this brutal regime.” Despite the shortcomings of democracies, people of democratic conscience around the world must work together to protect universal human rights. This is because China is making them relative, protecting Myanmar’s junta at the United Nations, attacking independent researchers in the European Union and the United States, crushing the democratic movement in Hong Kong, and holding minorities in the Xinjiang camp system.
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