A Son of China Speaks from Beijing

November 24, 2011

In a November 20, 2011, Op-Ed published by The New York Times, Professor Yan Xuetong wrote from Beijing about "how China can defeat America," which is seemingly an expression of his principle. It appears that his principle is a given that China can defeat America; what he finds lacking is the right strategy and he prescribes that it can be taken out of China’s virtue.

He draws this virtue from studying ancient Chinese political theorists that converged on the insight that "the key to international influence was political power" that is led by morality. He asserts that moral norms guide the ultimate winners.

He also provides more insights about the thought processes of ancient Chinese philosophers on leadership. One of those philosophers identifies leadership as humane authority, hegemony, and tyranny, which are characterized, in that order, by winning the hearts and minds of people at home and abroad, not cheating people at home as well as allies, and inevitably creating enemies. Apparently, the philosophers agreed that humane authority would win in any competition against hegemony or tyranny.

Yan Xuetong also wrote about what seems to be a diplomatic advice from Henry Kissinger that "ancient Chinese thought was more likely than any foreign ideology to become the dominant intellectual force behind Chinese foreign policy." We can only speculate that the advice would, in all likelihood, point to humane authority among the three leadership types presented by Yan Xuetong.

He highlighted today's global political climate, including competition between the United States and China that he sees could possibly threaten the global order, global divisions that are involved in competitions, and the ultimate failure of states that rely on military or economic power without humane authority. Then he tried to drive his message home for China to rely on Chinese virtue and advising that it should be the point of departure for China in order to inspire people abroad, and we might add, beyond its borders.

Professor Yan Xuetong's analysis must be a welcome piece, especially by those in Africa where China has been getting up to 30% of its fuel needs for its emerging economy while at the same time being criticized for its disregard of human rights records of African governments with whom it has been doing stately businesses. To be sure, his advise that "China must display humane authority" in other countries unconditionally has been called for by various observers. This advice should, by no means, be just in order for China to compete with the United States, as Professor Yan Xuetong put it.

The former U.S.S.R. competed with the U.S. on ideological grounds. Ironically, that competition coincided with the U.S.S.R.'s establishment of wide links with African governments. We can draw some parallels between that link and China's contemporary relations with new African governments. With the defeat of the communist ideology came the crumbling of the U.S.S.R. The recognition of China's real power will follow the realization by China of its own virtue that only humane authority would win any completion with any nation. This realization would in turn lead to the deeper understanding that America is a model of human progress that has been, with all its deficiencies, striving to stand on the liberty of the human being, a concept that is perhaps deeper than humane authority.

We may then venture to provide this understanding as an answer to Professor Yan Xuetong's question about how China can "win people's hearts across the world." We may also venture to say that this understanding should be the basis for his advice to China to shift "priorities away from economic development to establishing a harmonious society" at home. Furthermore, we may as well venture to say that his call on China to compete with America by attracting talented immigrants emanates from the understanding of humane authority that, in and of itself, demolishes the inhumane border of false nationalism.

We can fairly argue that the demolition of this inhumane border is what America has been able to do. This writer is an African who found home in America. We are certain that there are also many from China who have benefited from America's understanding of the liberty of the human being and found a home in it. Professor Yan Xuetong concluded that "the battle for people's hearts and minds will determine who eventually prevails."

We don't disagree and could just add that this battle may be as old as humanity's known existence. The egalitarian values of the communities in east Africa where this writer comes from, the give me liberty or death motto well known in America, and the humane authority prescribed by ancient Chinese thinkers and brought to us by Professor Yan Xuetong are mere signals of humanity's inherent quest that may be as old as its existence. This understanding is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of human rights that was signed after the end of the Second World War. It may have been imagined to take us to a harmonious global community. On that count, the humane authority brought to us by Professor Yan Xuetong may be only an organic component of the prescription that is already in place. The failure by China to follow it in its stately business dealings with African governments, which has been characterized as "no strings attached," must have been far removed from its own virtue. On this count, it it is duty bound to mend it.

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