With the ‘New Era’ proclaimed by President Xi Jinping, China has declared itself as one of the superpowers of the world. Superpowers, by nature, purport to portray an air of confidence and security, and China is no exception.
With a newfound confidence, Chinese government and its leaders have been singing – ad nauseam – a song of a new world order led by China and its economic prowess. So much so that they are often caught sanctimoniously lecturing other governments of the world.
The outward appearance of confidence and security however seem to conceal a deep sense of insecurity: a fear of its own people and nervousness about its territorial integrity. This insecurity was exposed once again in the recent case of Marriot Hotel’s questionnaire gaffe.
The US-based hotel chain has sent out a questionnaire recently asking members of its customer rewards programme to list their country of residence. The options included Tibet, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. The listing of these places – considered sensitive to China’s national interest and territorial integrity – as countries, has sparked fury among Chinese netizens.
Chinese netizens, many of them part of ‘Fifty cent army’- China’s vast army of paid Internet commentators, reportedly called for a boycott of all Marriott hotels in China on Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter.
Marriot, to limit the fallout from this political gaffe, frantically came up with a series of apologies and withdrew the survey, and offered a clarification, explaining that the group doesn’t support separatism.
Nevertheless, China shut down Marriott’s local website and mobile phone app for a week as punishment for apparently disrespecting China’s sovereignty.
Chinese authorities also launched an investigation into Marriot for possibly violating China’s orwellian cyber security laws after the hotel chain’s twitter account seem to have liked a tweet by Friends of Tibet, a Tibet advocacy group based in India.
The Marriot gaffe is not the first incident to invite the anger of China’s paid nationalist netizens. Like Marriot, US based Delta Airlines, European fashion line Zara and medical device maker Medtronic have also attracted the ire of China over similar gaffes recently. These companies were also forced to offer apologies and take immediate measures to amend their ‘vices.’
However, these recent incidents represent just the tip of the iceberg in the corporate world’s faustian relationship with China. Multinational corporations have repeatedly sacrificed their moral stand to secure the prospect of a vast market in China. Even industry leaders like Apple has been known to kowtow to China and turn a blind eye to China’s blatant violation of human rights, transgression of international rules and fair trade practices to gain access to its huge market.
China’s economic intimidation and coercive tactics have become a routine affair of late and it has induced self-censorship and nervous adjustments from companies, universities and governments over the past few years. These incidents have signified mounting control and domination of these foreign corporations by China and the growing dependence and erosion of independence of the other.
While these instances may depict confidence and strength of China, it also underlies an insecurity complex. This insecurity emerges from the fact that the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation or Xi Jinping’s China Dream rests on a fragile foundation of national integration.
Driven by a false notion of irredentism, China has occupied its smaller neighbors such as Tibet and Inner Mongolia et el in a quest to reclaim what they call ‘lost lands’ and attain past greatness. However, these regions still remain restive and haven’t completely accepted Chinese rule. And the reality is not lost on China’s leadership.
As a result, China’s leaders harbor a deep fear and nervousness that these regions could one day rise up. Already, popular sentiments against Chinese rule in places like Hong Kong are gaining ground. In Tibet, sentiments are currently bottled up under strict surveillance and draconian rules. However, despite China’s fear of its own people, the solution to these issues is not inconceivable. The Tibetans led by the Central Tibetan Administration have renounced separatism and have called for genuine autonomy of the Tibetan people based on the Buddhist notion of the Middle Way Approach conceived by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
President Dr Lobsang Sangay of the Central Tibetan Administration, the political leader of the Tibet, has called on China to address the legitimate grievances of the Tibetan people. At least 151 Tibetans have set themselves on fire and many more languish in Chinese prisons for peaceful expressions of dissent against China’s unjust policies. If China reforms its policies and resolve the Tibet issue based on the Middle Way Approach, at least the territorial integrity of the Chinese nation will be safeguarded. That would be one monkey off China’s back, to say the least.
But the Chinese leadership is known to be paranoid. Instead of redressing the Tibetan issue and reforming their failed policies, they have resorted to imposing harsher measures, which generate even more resentment and the possibility of unrest.
The underlying question is how long can China maintain stability by relying on repression borne out of paranoia?
Andy Gove of Intel has said that ‘only the paranoid survive’. But the paranoia that afflicts China is borne out of its own misdemeanors and historical fallacies. In fact, this misplaced paranoia could lead to disintegration and destruction, with no clear beneficiaries. Its time the Chinese leadership see sense and wisdom in the Tibetan approach to resolving the issue of Tibet and thereby harness the potential of Middle Way Approach.