Leading Chinese dissident artist and filmmaker Ai Weiwe says China’s influence has grown so large that it cannot be effectively stopped now.
“The West must have really cared about China decades ago. It’s already too late now because the West has built up its stronghold in China, it should simply sever it, it will hurt deeply. That is why China is so arrogant.”
Ai Wei never reduced his words about China. “This is a police state,” he says.
The artist famously designed Birds Nest Stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but got into serious trouble after he spoke out against the Chinese government. Eventually, in 2015, he left China to come to the West. He first lived in Berlin and settled in Cambridge last year.
- Profile: I Weave
- Aye Veevi: The changed man
Mr I believe China is using its enormous economic power to impose its political influence today.
It is certainly true that China has become more assertive in recent years.
Until about a decade ago, China gave the world a normal face. Official government slogan: “Hide your light and set aside your time”. The ministers stressed that China is still a developing country with a lot to learn from the West.
Then Xi Jinping came to power. He became general secretary of the Communist Party of China in 2012 and president the following year. He introduced a new tone. The old burial faded, and there was a strange slogan of “strive for achievement.”
In some ways China is still a developing country, with 250 million people living below the poverty line.
Nevertheless it is already the second largest economy in the world and will overtake the United States in the next decade or so. At a time when the vision of American power has waned, China’s influence in the world is becoming more and more apparent.
I have seen clear signs of China’s growing political strength and involvement around the world, from Greenland and the Caribbean to Peru and Argentina, and from South Africa and Zimbabwe to Pakistan and Mongolia.
Tom Dujentad, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the British Parliament, recently accused China of pressuring Barbados to oust the Queen as its head of state.
Today, China has a significant presence almost everywhere in the world. Any country challenges its fundamental interests.
During the Dalai Lama’s visit to Downing Street, Anglo-Chinese relations were deeply paralyzed. Recently, during a visit to Taiwan by the Speaker of the Czech Republic Parliament, a high-ranking ambassador warned, “The Chinese government and people will not sit idly by in the face of apparent provocation from the Czech Senate Speaker and the anti-Chinese forces behind him.”
However, Hu Jijin, the outspoken and most influential editor-in-chief of China’s Global Times newspaper, rejects any suggestion that China is an international threat.
“I would like to ask you, has China ever pressured any country to do anything against their will? It is the United States that continues to impose sanctions on many countries in the world, especially many countries. Are you allowed to know which country China is?”
“Have we ever allowed an entire country? We only expressed our dissatisfaction on specific issues, and it was only a reaction when our country was openly offended.”
However, China is currently angry with a whole host of countries: Taiwan, Australia, Japan, Canada, India (China recently fought a violent border conflict), Britain and of course the United States.
The language sometimes used by the Global Times sounds like the worst rhetoric since the days of the old Mao Zedong.
Mr Hu recently wrote an editorial describing Australia as “chewing gum under China’s initiative”. When I asked him about this, he said that the current Australian government has repeatedly attacked and annoyed China.
“I feel like they’m like glue stuck to the bottom of my shoe. I can not shake it. It’s not a good feeling. I said it as an expression, it’s my right to a comment.”
In Hong Kong
Mr Hu is close to President Shi, and we can assume he will not say these things if he does not know that he has the support of China’s top leadership. When I asked him his views on Hong Kong, he did not back down.
“The Chinese government does not oppose Hong Kong’s democracy and freedoms, including the right of the Hong Kong people to protest peacefully in the streets.
“But importantly, they should be quiet … We support the use of more decisive force by the Hong Kong police against violent demonstrations.
“I believe that if violent protesters threaten the lives of the police, when they launch very sharp missiles, throw petrol bombs or Molotov cocktails at the police, they should be allowed to use their guns and they should open fire.
Strong things, and if police in Hong Kong start firing on protesters it could lead to a huge international reaction.
Most foreign observers think that China’s aggressive behavior actually hides a fundamental tension.
The Communist Party was not elected, so there is no way to know how much real support it has in China. For example, a major economic downturn – one cannot be sure of surviving a severe crisis.
President Xi and his colleagues are haunted by the memory of how the old Soviet empire disappeared between 1989 and 1991 because it did not have the support of ordinary citizens.
Mr Hu did not approve of the start of a new Cold War. He says China’s dispute is essentially with the United States. He points out that President Donald Trump’s attacks on China are closely linked to the November 3 presidential election and his efforts to win it.
In fact after the election, the atmosphere is likely to improve – whoever wins.
China is so big, so involved in everyone’s lives that the United States and its allies must be in a permanent position.
But that reinforces Mr Ai’s warning: it’s too late for the West to defend itself from China’s influence.
“Infuriatingly humble social media ninja. Devoted travel junkie. Student. Avid internet lover.”