13 December 2007

China and the U.S.: the peaceful dictatorship vs. the belligerent democracy

The announcement this week that the Chinese had signed a multi-billion dollar deal to develop a giant oil field in Iran contrasts yet again the Chinese and American approaches to securing their supplies of natural resources, indeed if not in their approaches to international relationships generally. While the Americans threaten and bully Iran, and wage wars on that country's borders, the Chinese quietly and peacefully make a mutually beneficial oil deal.

Even though they are a great power with one of the world's fastest growing economies and an attendant need for raw materials, the Chinese have no military bases outside their country. They aren't waging war anywhere in the world, nor are they threatening to. Nor do they constantly interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.

The United States does all these things. It has a military presence on every continent, is currently waging wars in two countries while threatening to attack a third, invades another country at least once a generation if not once a decade, and constantly interferes in the affairs of other peoples around the globe.

China is accused of coddling bad guys like Iran and the Sudan, and it does. But then the U.S. counts among its close friends brutal regimes such as the Sauds of Arabia. The behaviour of both simply illustrates that in the world of realpolitik, trade tends to trump morality. On this, the Chinese are no different from the rest of us.

The whole thing is rather embarrassing for democrats. It would be nice to perceive the world's principal democracy as the paragon of progressive international relations. Yet it is totally outshone by a dictatorship. Embarrassing.

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