China’s 1.3 billion citizens have today been celebrating the sixtieth anniversary of the foundation of the People’s Republic.
Of course, much remains to be done to ensure that China’s people can enjoy all the rights to which they’re entitled. But the founding of the PRC brought to an end more than a century of warlordism and internal strife– circumstances which, as we Americans have come to (re-)learn all too vividly through the experiences of our government in Iraq and Afghanistan, are deeply harmful to everyone’s rights, including, far too frequently, the right to life itself.
After the Chinese Communist Party came to power in Beijing in 1949 it made many very serious mis-steps, including during both the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. But since the late 1970s the country has been on a much steadier path, and the economic and social rights of its people have shown amazing and very valuable improvement. Their civil and political rights situation has improved more slowly; but it has, nonetheless, improved. (For more on this, see Chapter 4 of my 2008 book, Re-engage! America and the World After Bush.)
Another big problem has been the uneven development of these rights. But the CCP leaders seem well aware of this, and intent on addressing it.
One aspect of the rise of China that particularly impressed me was the fact that the Beijing government never got caught up in the nuclear arms-racing that consumed so much of the financial and political energies of the US and the former Soviet Union. I imagine that holding the line, as Beijing did, on maintaining only the “necessary minimum deterrent” might have seemed hard or even unwise to some Chinese strategic planners, aware as they were of their country’s past vulnerabilities to the mega-lethal meddling of outside (mainly European) powers. But it was the right decision.
The CCP’s leaders have evidently made a number of other decisions, as well, over the past two decades that signaled clearly a judgment that the development of forms of power other than military power would serve them better in the modern world than just raw military power. China’s emergence onto the Asian and world scenes over the past two decades has been marked by three notable features:
- (1) It has been characterized by the use of economic, cultural, and diplomatic power rather than military power;
(2) It has been pursued by playing within, and calling for the strengthening of, the existing “rules of the game” in international relations, rather than by challenging those rules; and
(3) It has been accompanied by Beijing’s continuous issuance of reassurances that China’s rise/emergence is, and will continue to be, peaceful.
So yes, I am a bit disturbed by the need China’s rulers evidently feel to celebrate the PRC’s 60th birthday with some huge-scale military parades. But they have lots of other forms of parades and celebrations going on, too. (Check the portal I link to in the first paragraph.) And they have every reason to celebrate.
Happy birthday, China!