The Nobel award has re-exposed deep-lying divisions between China and the West that had been hidden, to some degree, by growing trade relations. Joining us now to discuss the implications is Dr Robert Lawrence Kuhn, analyst and author of the book “How China’s leaders think”.
Dr Kuhn, China called for a boycott of the Nobel ceremony. What sort of pressure did China put on nations to not attend?
“This has been China’s worst performance of international statecraft in memory especially in the wake of the N. Korean debacle. We have to go back to basics, and basics start with the belief of the Chinese leaders that the only way to bring China from its level of poverty and destitution into a modern country is by the dominance and monopoly power of the Communist party. One leader told me, privately, ‘I don’t like the fact that Liu Xiaobo is in jail, but what choice do we have?’ That’s the way they think.”
We know there is a struggle within the Chinese leadership about which direction to take in the future. Does the hardline reaction to the Nobel issue show that the hawks have the upper hand?
“I don’t think there’s that much of a struggle on this subject. There are some leaders in this case that are not just looking at it very rationally in terms of the party’s dominance but are viscerally angry, they are angry at what they perceive to be a Western conspiracy against China, orchestrated by the USA by the way, using the so-called small European countries as vassals to embarrass China, to keep China contained. Now there’s also the factor of the common people. While a significant minority of the Chinese people, particularly in urban areas do want greater freedoms on the internet, and political freedoms for sure, the majority of the people feel that same way, that China is being repressed and constrained by the west, and so in any political fight between nationalism and patriotism on one side, and political reform, national patriotism wins and trumps political reform. That’s the situation.”
We’ve seen recently there has been something of a revival in Confuscianism. China has launched its own Confuscious prize. How compatible are Confuscian principles like obedience and deference in modern China where to some degree, greed is good?
“Well, that is a very interesting point, and I think what you have in China is clearly a change from the past where the self-sacrificing individual was the ideal, and in a market economy that’s a disaster, so there had to be this approach where individuals had to have economic freedom if not political freedom. But in that environment you had an evaporation of morality, in a sense, because the old Communist ideology of giving to the state, being selfless, was obviously not working in a market economy.”