By Edward wong, New York Times – Read Original Story here
The Communist Party’s emerging empire is more the result of force than a gravitational pull of Chinese ideas.
I am the son of two empires, the United States and China. I was born in and raised around Washington in the Nixon-to-Reagan era, but my parents grew up in villages in southern China. My father was a member of the People’s Liberation Army in the 1950s, the first decade of Communist rule, before he soured on the revolution and left for Hong Kong.
So it was with excitement that I landed in Beijing in April 2008 to start an assignment with The New York Times that stretched to almost a decade. I had just spent nearly four years reporting on the bloody failure of the American imperial project in Iraq, and now I was in the metropole that was building a new world order.
China had entered a honeymoon phase with other nations. For years, anticipation had built for the 2008 Summer Olympics. Though China had suppressed a Tibetan uprising that spring, it earned international good will after a devastating earthquake.
People flocked to Beijing for China’s “coming out” party. Foreign leaders gawked at gleaming architecture and opening ceremonies that signaled the nation’s ambitions. After the festivities ended, the world arrived at another inflection point — the implosion of the American financial system and the global economic crisis. China’s growth buttressed both the world economy and a belief among its officials that its economic and political systems could rival those of the United States.
I learned in 2016 that Tashi Wangchuk, a young entrepreneur who had spoken to me about his advocacy for broader Tibetan language education, had been detained in his hometown, Yushu, by police officers. In microblog posts, Mr. Tashi had asked local officials to promote true bilingual education, and he had appeared in 2015 in Times articles and video.
Mr. Tashi is the kind of citizen China should value — someone working within the law to recommend policies that would benefit ordinary people and ease tensions. But two years later, Mr. Tashi remains imprisoned. A court tried him on Thursday for “inciting separatism” despite criticism from Western diplomats and human rights groups.
The party’s style of rule threatens to turn sentiments against China even as the empire grows in stature. History teaches us about an inevitable dialectic: Power creates resistance. While the state can bend people to its will, those people meet it with fear and suspicion. The United States learns this lesson each time it over-relies on hard power.
I traveled often to the frontier regions because it was there that the dynamic of power and resistance was most evident, and that I got the clearest look at how China treats its most vulnerable citizens, those outside mainstream ethnic Han culture. No other areas better embody the idea of imperial China. Conquered by the Manchus and reabsorbed by Mao, these landsmake up at least one-quarter of Chinese territory. Party officials fear they are like the Central Asian regions under Soviet rule — always on the verge of rebellion and eager to break free.
In October 2016, I quietly entered the sprawling Tibetan Buddhist settlement of Larung Gar and watched the government-ordered demolition of homes of monks and nuns. In parts of Xinjiang populated by ethnic Uighurs, the tension is even greater, fueled by cycles of violence and repression. Uighurs speak in hushed tones of restrictions on Islam and mass detentions. Signs across Xinjiang forbid long beards and full veils, and surveillance cameras are everywhere. On my last reporting trip in China, to the Silk Road oasis of Kashgar, I saw police patrols in riot gear rounding up young men.
An important bellwether is Hong Kong, the former British colony from which my parents emigrated to the United States. On this southern frontier, as in the west, the party works to silence the voices of students, politicians and other residents critical of its rule. Agents have even abducted booksellers. But those moves have actually led to more resistance and strengthened Hong Kong and Cantonese identity. They have also stoked greater fears of Beijing among citizens of Taiwan, the self-governing island that the party longs to rule.
It is not a stretch to say the party’s ways of governance perpetuate a lack of trust by the Chinese in their institutions and fellow citizens. And its international policies light the kindling of resistance overseas, from Australia to Ghana.
Chinese citizens and the world would benefit if China turns out to be an empire whose power is based as much on ideas, values and culture as on military and economic might. It had been that under its most glorious dynasties. But for now, the Communist Party embraces hard power and coercion, and this could well be what replaces the fading liberal hegemony of the United States on the global stage.
It will not lead to a grand vision of world order. Instead, before us looms a void.