As China basks in celebrations around its existence for 70 years, it continues to draw lots of positive and negative attention in the West in particular.
Most European and American media as well as intellectuals and academics in recent months have mostly painted China in grey, if not black – when talking of its western and northwestern autonomous regions of Xinjiang and Tibet. It also seeps into academic conversations which at times sound like the clash of titans, particularly when US and Chinese scholars get together. It is mostly a clash of two conflicting narratives, rooted in two different cultures.
One such occasion was a quadrilateral dialogue on Afghanistan, Regional Geo-Politics and Trade connectivity with experts from US, China, Afghanistan and Pakistan, organized by the Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS) in Islamabad on September 30.
The American speaker James Schwemmlein and the Chinese expert on South Asia Prof Zhou Shuai offered interesting, often divergent perspectives, in the presence of Afghan and Pakistani speakers.
Frequent questions from US scholars usually read like: Can economic be turned into hard power? Will lead to security authority on the global landscape? What will be the future of China and will the present system survive.
Another big recurring question revolves around the Sino-Pak relations and what might China eventually do to Pakistan under the cover of CPEC? This stems from the fact that American foreign policy has largely rested on and flowed from security concerns – perceived and projected fear from countries as far as 14,000km, such as Afghanistan.
The Chinese narrative, on the other hand, is usually anchored in phrases such as peaceful development, shared prosperity, non-interference in others’ matters and economic as the core of bilateral or multi-lateral relations – best exemplified in the Belt and Road Initiative that now involves over two dozen countries from the east to the west and southwest Asia and Africa. Essentially a geo-economic approach.
Chinese officials keep countering the “securitized narratives” on foreign relations by reiterating that China doesn’t want to use economic influence into military influence.
Why should the US and others fear China? We just want peace and development in a mutually inclusive way, they keep reassuring their audiences.
Gen (r) Asif Yasin Malik, countered the western reservations about CPEC and the perceived Chinese motives.
“Now the west is crying over the Belt and Road Initiative (BR) with claims that it is exploiting the region, but what about all the international financial institutions that have been plundering the poor nations since decades? It is just that when an alternative to the western policies is proposed, the west starts to have a problem, underlined the former defence secretary.
Conferences and round-tables often resonate with similar interesting questions; Is US really serious about harnessing peace in Afghanistan or is it interested in the instability of the country, asked Ambassador Ayaz Wazir, for example, on one of the occasions. With this he questioned the US motives of first talking to the Taliban and then cancelling the Camp David meeting.
The issue of drugs in Afghanistan as well as the duplicitous , at time ambiguous policies, of the US-led west and the spread of corruption there also often comes up to challenge the US narrative.
The cancellation of the Taliban-US talks and the “death” of Peace deal has in fact intrigued many and kicked off many questions. Why should the US sanctions be binding on other nations who are willing to cooperate with a country like Iran? Why should regional stakeholders such as China, Russia, Iran be excluded from instead of excluding them. The US policy of sanctions also drew criticism, with some participants asking as to why should the US sanctions on certain nations be binding on other countries? Russia and China are painted in negative light the moment they challenge this US approach, they said.