For better or worse, it's safe to say that we're at the doorstep of a new era of China bashing in the West. The post-Tiananmen Square crackdown honeymoon where the zeitgeist was "we can all get rich together" is over. It's been replaced by China = bad guy.
Across the Western democracies - from the U.S. to Britain, France, Italy, Germany, a fear of China is rising and shows no signs of abating. A new poll by Harris, released Wednesday by the Financial Times, indicates that China has overtaken the U.S. as the biggest threat to global stability in the eyes of Europeans.
“The story of the last five years has been about economic opportunities," said Mark Leonard, executive director of the European Council on Foreign Relations and author of What Does China Think? told the FT. "The story of the last six months has been about China as a threat in Darfur and in Tibet."
That story is pretty much the same in the U.S. Last month, Gallup reported that after three years of relatively mixed views toward China, Americans have turned sharply negative against the Middle Kingdom. In that poll, China replaced North Korea (anyone remember the Axis of Evil?) as one of the top three U.S. enemies - after Iran and Iraq. And that poll was taken before Tibet was engulfed in protests and the Olympic torch relay morphed into a circus.
But it's not just in polls where you sense the shifting zeitgeist. Even a casual peruser of the editorial pages of leading American newspapers - or shows such as CNN's The Situation Room where Jack Cafferty recently described Chinese products as "junk" and called China's government "a bunch of goons and thugs" -- can figure out that it's open season on China. Same holds true in a new crop of thrillers where Chinese villains have replaced old Soviets, those feline French and wild-eyed terrorists as the rogues du jour. Check out NY Times reporter Alex Berenson's "The Ghost War" or Colin Harrison's "The Finder," both published this year. It's not quite Yellow Peril time, but ....
A few years ago, China's sizzling economy was viewed as an opportunity. Now, perhaps because we're flirting with a recession, it's a threat. In terms of a challenge from Asia, China circa 2008 is the new Japan circa 1980.
On the military side, China is the new Soviet Union. A few years ago analysts generally pooh-poohed China's modernization. "The Million Man Swim" was how one analyst described a potential Chinese attack on Taiwan. Not any longer. China's military (which has been rewarded with double-digit budget increases every year except one since 1989) can now shoot satellites out of the sky and has begun to roam the high seas.
When it comes to human rights, again, China is the new USSR.
A few years ago, the Western media enthused about how Chinese were freer than at any time in their history. Remember the stories about how the Internet was going to set China free? Or village elections? Not anymore. These days the glass is definitely half-empty. Beijing obviously hasn't helped. Its human rights policies have taken a decided turn for the worse since President Hu Jintao took power in 2001.
And on foreign policy, a few years ago, even a few months ago, Western media outlets had a load of nice things to say about China; Beijing was downright pro-American. China was aiding the U.S. in North Korea and Afghanistan; it had helped convince Sudan to accept U.N. forces. A New York Times piece in October (with the great headline: Look Who's Mr. Fixit for a Fraught Age) concluded that China had suddenly become a key to the resolution of trouble around the world.
Not anymore, even though China continues to try to play that positive role. On Tuesday, for the first time, China hosted talks on Iran's controversial nuclear program in Shanghai.
China's foreign policy has always been an often bizarre mix of pragmatism and perfidy. Months ago, we focused on the pragmatism; now it's the perfidy.
So, how do you say Boris Badenov in Chinese?