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The Empire Of Heaven: Why China’s Rise is so Terrifying

If we look at it, no State should be making any protests in what would be the rise of a new superpower and its establishment of regional (then global) dominance.   But China is such a bogeyman to other countries and even its Asian neighbors that a Chinese empire seems a terrifying prospect.

The title of this post is derived from ancient Chinese emperors’ title of “Son of Heaven” and their right to rule as “Mandate of Heaven”

First of, let’s not kid ourselves—the whole South China Sea episode is China’s big step towards claiming Asian suzerainty (I think I discussed the difference between sovereignty and suzerainty in an earlier post).   In fact, establishing military outposts and strongholds in the vital “throat” of Southeast Asia is only part of the strategy, which would eventually include the logical next step of wrenching the Philippine from American dominance to becoming a Chinese satellite/vassal state.

If we look at it, no State should be making any protests in what would be the rise of a new superpower and its establishment of regional (then global) dominance.   But China is such a bogeyman to other countries and even its Asian neighbors that a Chinese empire seems a terrifying prospect.

I would like to just point out the following facts:

When America summarized the human rights record of China, and the latter retaliated with its own scathing review of America’s human rights violation, they were both right.    Racism still exists in America, and is a natural consequence of a pluralistic society.  The national/global surveillance America conducted of its people signify a violation of people’s inherent right to privacy, also a natural consequence of a democratic government wanted a tighter control of security in an age of assymetrical terrorism.  China’s scathing review of America’s faults seem to signify that “with China, there is stability, security, and control… none of America’s faults would exist under the Chinese state”.   But the flipside of that coin is America’s points: under the socialist state, anything remotely opposed or deemed opposed to State value would be stamped out and persecuted, an absolute loss of an individual’s right to freedom.

The South China Sea occupation is all the rage today, but we cannot forget China’s radical transformation of an independent, ethnic Tibet to a homogenous Chinese province.   China would say it is an internal matter, and as far as military conquests go, the point is valid.   We can talk all we want of suppression of Tibetan identity, but like native Indian lands to the Americans, Tibet is theirs by right of conquest.   It’s a reality that many democratic states refuse to accept: that lands can still be claimed by right of conquest.   That whole “historical right” claim that China has on the South China Sea is nothing more than a “historical right by conquest” backed by “practical right by occupation/conquest”.

Once Asia accepts Chinese primacy then economic dominance follows.   If the Philippines, for example, accepts to be assimilated within the orbit of China, then economic policies will be shaped to favor Chinese markets, Chinese trade, and Chinese industries.   But that is normal, given that currently we are under the orbit of America, shaped to favor American markets, American trade, and American industries.  So that’s pretty neutral ground.

The Philippines is caught in an If-Then-Else geopolitics.   If we do not lean towards American support and friendship, we are bound to be caught in the Chinese orbit.   This is something we cannot avoid.   This is actually reminiscent of another period in the modern world when the Philippines was caught between a rising industrial Japan, and our colonial masters/mentors, America.   Again, this is routine in our history.

What’s terrifying is the aforementioned Chinese disregard for human rights.   Once again, China would shield its actions as “internal issues” that otherwise generate stability.    But this is not your run-of-the-mill “benevolent” dictatorship or “absolutist” monarchy which existed in Europe and Asia throughout history.   The Chinese socialist state actually regulates the fundamental institution of society itself, and suppresses everything it deems as opposed to the “socialist ideals” or “enlightened socialist mores”.    A Chinese citizen is not only regulated in their relation to the State, they are regulated in how they think, act, associate, and express themselves.    This is a natural consequence of the socialist state’s “unitarian view” of society where the individual is absorbed into the homogenous blob that is State-regulated society.   Individuality is a remote concept for the Chinese state, however much they talk about “championing democratic ideals”.

If China had been less draconian, less like a futuristic “Cold-War era, dystopian” model, and was nothing more than your average imperialist, like Japan was in the early modern period, or even the Spanish, Dutch and English in the colonial era,  then I wouldn’t mind finding the rise of the Chinese empire as an “awesome” event in history.   But just as the “reluctant, de facto” American empire exported its liberal ideals (your views may vary if that’s a good or a bad thing) of democracy, pluralism, and “modern world” morals (again, your views may vary), so too, will the Chinese empire export its ideology of socialism, State regulation and State absolutism.   I remember an author interviewed in The Daily Show admiring Chinese efforts to help Africa and the admiration reflects on his view of criticism of China’s human rights record as an “internal matter”.     China may even dangle economic rewards and favors in exchange for these “ideological exports”.

Being absolute, the Chinese state is the final arbiter of Chinese life, and is not accountable to anyone or anything else, but itself.   The recent arrests of human rights lawyers who dared to question and declare openly that Chinese judges, and in effect the Chinese government, may have been wrong is in keeping with the socialist state’s avowed intention of remaining the final arbiter of Chinese life with no question or opposition.     Even a religious man’s God is not permitted in the socialist state.   Being an atheist, socialist state, the Chinese government officially opposes all “superstitions”, though it leans towards policies that remind me of the Boxers of the nineteenth century who wanted to stamp out “foreign ideas” in favor of a return to “Chinese identity”.   Indeed, it was only recently that the Chinese president declared that the Catholicism in the country should be “Chinese in character”.   So they look down on and regulate and suppress “foreign-originating” religions in favor of Chinese beliefs, which, if you think about it, kind of makes sense.   Is it wrong for the Philippines, for example, to try to favor Filipino-made goods, Filipino ideals, and Filipino beliefs?

But while my opposition to Chinese subjugation of religion and God is fundamentally personal in character, we can all agree that belief and non-belief should be a matter of choice and not enforcement.   (Though some can still disagree on that, I welcome healthy dialogue).

Maybe it’s because I’ve been exposed to democratic ideology that champions human rights, the “Universal Law” and the right to freedom.  I can’t therefore envision the benefits of a regulated thought, a regulated society, a regulated life, and censored/filtered mass information and world perception.    But a Chinese empire, like all empires before it, will export, inculturate, and indoctrinate its suzerains to its way of thinking, maybe using economic dependence as a tool for compliance.   Those who oppose or tire of American ideology, thought, mores, and way of life would find nothing wrong with these “Chinese exports”.   But I would not brand China, or any other state for that matter, categorically as an “evil empire”.  Let the Chinese government’s record not only in terms of human rights but stability, security, and economics speak for itself.   It is then up to the reader to try to decide if Chinese socialism is beneficial for the future.

For fellow Filipinos, this would mean Chinese inculturation, the addition of Chinese and Socialism in the school curriculum, and the eventual “Sinification” that comes with exposure to Chinese markets and ideals (to name a few).   This is as natural a consequence as “Americanization” was in our colonial history.

I hope this summary will at least point out the facts that make China seem “terrifying” from the “outside”.    Chinese culture and State ideology is just simply too different to be understood, as the Chinese state sees Western belief and ideology in turn.   Admittedly this didn’t feel like a neutral written work, but I do hope that I’ve laid out a clear, and as impartial an observation as I can of the reason for the rest of the world’s hesitancy to a Chinese hegemonic/territorial empire.    If you disagree with this piece, even strongly protest, then I welcome healthy dialogue.   Your view may vary on everything I’ve said, and you might be fine with a “Chinese” hegemonic future.   But please, I do welcome a healthy (no flames!) discussion on it.