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China's views on the US: More than just a rivalry (a visual newsletter)
More than wanting to compete as rival superpowers, the Chinese government literally despises America, and wants their citizens to follow their lead.
Something that’s always making some sort of headline in Chinese media is the US. Whether it’s the US’ relationship with China, some sort of economic or political faux pas, or a discussion on how the US government has mismanaged the latest natural disaster/ mass shooting event, China is never slow (or hesitant) to partake in a little schadenfreude. Instead of discussing any one specific hot take, I thought it would be a good idea to get an overview of recent views about America in the Chinese press. That way when we talk about specific events in the future, we’ve already got an idea of how China sees the US as a whole, and how that informs their reporting.
For something a little different, I wanted to make today’s newsletter a bit more visual. Just like Western newspapers, Chinese papers often use cartoons as supplementary entries to political essays, articles, and opinion pieces. I could post dozens - if not hundreds - of cartoons from China Daily, Global Times, and other news sites that demonstrate China’s attitude towards America on every issue from democracy and imperialism, to Covid and human rights issues. As it is, I will try and focus on just a few of issues, all of which have corresponding cartoons from Chinese newspapers in the past few months.
I thought we’d start by taking a look at what China thinks about American democracy, then we’ll look at Chinese evaluations of the US’ response to Covid. Finally, we’ll talk economics, and wrap up with a little US-China comparison.
The best thing about relying on Chinese media to understand how China feels about the US is that I barely have to do any work. The following paragraph is taken unedited from an article made up mainly of cartoons in the China Daily following the Summit for Democracy, a virtual summit hosted by the US in December 2021 to promote democracy, to which Taiwan was invited, but the PRC was not:
More than one week after the end of the "Summit for Democracy", US politicians continue talking about it as if it was a magnificent costume.
Absurd. Their democracy was founded 200 years ago on the bones of indigenous and African people; Now it is filled with loopholes that US politicians make use of.
The US-style democracy focuses on voting only, which has caused a split in society. Its politicians just make empty pledges, without honoring them at all.
The US' failure to control the COVID-19 pandemic shows "democracy" is nothing but a fig leaf.
Why are US politicians still trying to promote it worldwide, with guns in hand?
In holding the "Summit for Democracy" to try and humiliate China, they only humiliate themselves instead. It's time US politicians stopped abusing the word "democracy".
China has a history of looking down on American democracy. The main problem, from China’s perspective, is that democracy in America is all about voting, and has nothing to do with representing the desires of the broad masses of people (remember, China considers the PRC to be a democracy, just not a parliamentary democracy). Here’s an excerpt from the curriculum of a Chinese middle school politics class:
According to China, America runs a ‘money democracy’, in which the people are just ‘mass actors’ in staged elections that are rigged by the rich and famous, as well as the bipartisan media outlets. Essentially, America’s democracy exists merely to protect the interests of the capitalist economic system, as well as promote the image of ‘human rights’ that gives it justification to meddle in the affairs of other countries.
Articles also point to racial tensions, a widening wealth gap, and divisive coronavirus policies as issues that remain unresolved as party politics take precedence over social issues. They accuse the US of spreading this divisiveness to the rest of the world, focusing too much on the ‘bad things’ that places like China are doing, instead of fixing their problems and cooperating with others to fight issues such as climate change.
China really loves that the US is not doing too well on the Covid front. Forget that people are dying and livelihoods are in peril, the most important thing that Covid has done is prove that Chinese authoritarianism is better and stronger than the sham US democratic system.
A failing covid policy is just another knock to the American political system, in comparison to China’s covid policy which not only protects its own citizens, but helps countries around the world defeat the virus.
Internal bickering and an ineffective strategy for tackling the virus has also hindered whatever progress the US may have been making to pin the blame for the outbreak on China. Instead, the US looks to be blundering, and when Chinese media makes statements like “while permitting the uncontrolled spread of the coronavirus at home, the US has been manufacturing and spreading “political viruses” abroad,” it’s hard for the US to make a comeback.
Whatever criticisms you may have of China’s “Zero covid” strategy, their arguments that the US approach to the virus is completely ineffective seems to hold more water as the pandemic drags on:
“The US side refused to implement quarantine measures, such as enforcing a mask mandate. What’s more, US personnel overseas attached little importance to the health of local communities and disrespected local quarantine regulations, which made the virus spread faster.”
The US’ failing economy
Covid has also dealt a heavy blow to the US economy, which was already on the ropes as it was prior to the outbreak. The Great Resignation, inflation, cheap imports all threaten to push the States to what Global Times has dubbed ‘stagflation’ - a situation in which the country experiences no growth and few prospects, as in the 1930s or the 1970s.
Apart from hindering its own development, the US’ economic strategy threatens the global economic order, as “the geopolitical uncertainty resulting from the US government's desperation to impede the growth of China, Russia and other economies is unlikely to abate soon, which will create more divisions in the world and possibly make the prospects for the global economy even bleaker.”
By contrast, China’s economy is not only surviving during the pandemic, but thriving:
“China will remain as the engine of the world's economy in 2022, and all other countries that maintain friendly trading and investment relations with China will significantly benefit - including all the partner countries of RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) and Belt & Road.”
As one of the articles featured in last week’s newsletter discussed, China continues to pump money into its high-end manufacturing services, including “high-quality iron and steel, non-ferrous metals, chemicals, bio-medicine, electronics, solar panels, semiconductor chips, rare earths, electric batteries, and new energy vehicles.”
One interpretation of these cartoons is that China sees itself - rather smugly - as rising from the ashes of US failure. As bipartisanship and economic floundering continue to drag the US down, China’s dream of national rejuvenation is creeping even closer. As they gleefully watch the failure of democracy in the States and abroad, China promotes its own successful governance to the rest of the world. To make matters worse, having used the US as one of the main recipients of its exports, China has essentially climbed on the back of American consumerism to reach its economic success.
It would be interesting to know to what extent the US knows that this is China’s officially sanctioned view of their politics and society. To me, at least, the US seems painfully ignorant of how it is perceived by its biggest rival, probably believing that China is still intimidated by its economic and military might, rather than the reality in which Beijing patiently awaits their self-inflicted downfall. Instead, it seems that most China commentators spend most of their time projecting Western views on every missive released by the CCP. It may behove China watchers based in the US to stop trying to decipher wordy internal messages and instead focus on the writing - and drawings - on the wall.
China Daily US democracy nothing but a fig leaf
Linqing No. 3 Middle School Politics Class,《美国的两党制》[America’s Two-Party System]