Because European empires caused both World Wars of the 20th century, after 1945 there was somewhat of a public move towards contrition in European political and intellectual circles, due to the damage that European armies along with their aggressive Japanese friends had done to the wider world. Ultimately, the wars fought among competing empires eventually destroyed all of the very empires that the wars sought to entrench. Mid-20th century liberation struggles throughout the world saw a de-colonisation movement take hold, even if it was often fiercely and violently resisted by the reactionary forces that still commanded influence in London, Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels, Madrid and Lisbon.
Today, the nations that won their liberation from European domination will never be returned to slavery. However, many developing nations are today experiencing a new kind of repression from their former imperial masters in the form of unequal treaties through which European states and the US seek to plunder the resources of Africa and Asia whilst giving little back to the masses.
China is well aware of these methods as China itself fell victim to war, imperialism, exploitation and forced narcotics sales at the hands of western empires beginning in 1839, when the British Empire commenced a war of aggression against China. The First Opium War was launched by the British Empire in order to force China to accept the import of dangerous narcotics sold by British merchants. It was this war which began a century of unequal treaties forced upon China by aggressive foreign powers that aimed to seize Chinese land, dominate Chinese ports and weaken China’s legally defined leadership.
As 2019 marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), it is helpful to remember that one of the motivating factors behind the PRC’s founding leadership was to end the century of humiliation which began with the First Opium War and to restore China’s status as a dignified, independent and productive nation. As China was a great civilisation long before European societies developed any form of cultural enlightenment, China quickly re-familiarised itself with strength and dignity whilst the Reform and Opening Up of 1978 helped China to become the world’s most dynamic economy. This is why it should not be surprising that in 2014, China overtook the United States to become the strongest economy when measured in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP).
And yet China’s restoration of greatness was not achieved through conquest, war or exploitation, but through a tireless internal drive towards economic modernisation, social harmony, a just and uniformly implemented legal system and an emphasis on ethical cultural characteristics. China knows all too well of the dangers inherent in an aggressive path towards material enrichment, which is why the PRC has uniformly renounced such methods as both an internal development model and as an international trading model.
In spite of these clear facts, many western “intellectuals”, politicians and propagandists continue to worry that China will use its economic strength to exploit western nations in the way that western nations once directly exploited China or furthermore, in the way in which western nations continue to economically exploit the less powerful nations of Asia and Africa. Those who propose such absurd hypotheses about China are experiencing the phenomenon of psychological projection. Psychological projection is when one denies one’s own neuroses and instead attributes these psychological flaws to others. In this case, some westerners who cannot come to grips with their own blood-soaked history of aggression against Asia, Africa and indigenous Americans, are projecting their own wicked characteristics onto the leadership of China.
It is because of these deep psychological flaws that some westerners cannot come to grips with the fact that China seeks only win-win, as opposed to exploitative zero-sum relations with all of its foreign partners. Likewise, Faustian Europeans are unable to come to grips with the long term strategy of China’s leadership which realises that peace is a better means of achieving sustainable prosperity than any form of war (including trade wars and cold wars).
But at a time when Europe’s economy continues to stagnate and in some cases contract, at least some European leaders realise that revitalising their economies will be impossible if they cling to the old parochial model of an economic fortress Europe. Perhaps this is why the UK Prime Minister moved quickly to de-escalate tensions after her Defence Minister Gavin Williamson made supremely threatening remarks towards China.
Although Williamson might imagine himself as a captain of a Royal Navy ship during the Opium Wars, the reality is that the European countries that once plundered and enslaved their way towards prosperity, must now do things the ethical way. No matter what future economic model they ultimately choose, deep down the more pragmatic European leaders know that the style of aggression promulgated by people like Gavin Williamson has no place in the 21st century.
Ultimately, European leaders ought to understand that China is happy and willing to cooperate with any and all economic partners so long as agreements are conducted on a win-win basis within the framework of a rules based international economic order. Rather than hide behind the bellicose rhetoric of the 19th century, European leaders should wake up to the fact that while some of them spout threats, it is their own economic prosperity that is threatened and that furthermore, the enemy is entirely an enemy within.