Friday, May 3, 2013

the middle kingdom and the three worlds

"third world" probably doesn't mean what you think it means.  the term originated during the cold war to refer to nations non-aligned with either the capitalist west (nato) or the communist bloc (the ussr.)  many of these third world countries had been former colonies, having found independence and needing to develop economically in the '60s and '70s.  hence popularly "third world" came to describe poor or developing nations.

the west did not consider china a third world country.  rule by the chinese communist party signified soviet alignment to the west.  mao zedong had a different idea: he wanted to lead china was a non-aligned power between the u.s. and the u.s.s.r., despite his communist ideology, calling this his "three worlds theory."

i don't really remember the collapse of the u.s.s.r. - it didn't hold much significance for me at six.  neither did china form an axis of evil with the soviet giant.  i missed the hysterics of reagan.  young children in nineties must have dreamed of china as an alien place of red palaces and toy factories.  we saw the "made in china" sticker everywhere.

china came of age economically at the same time my generation did.  it now has the second largest economic in the world.  furthermore, in the new york times yesterday, an article reviewed the rising military might of china in the pacific, narrowing the capabilities between the u.s. and china.  obama and the joint chiefs of staff have in response this year declared a shift to greater attention militarily to the pacific, particularly as traditional american allies such as japan, south korea, and india continue to find themselves locked in disputes with china over territory.

this military focus only inflames china.  as henry kissinger points out in his book "on china," the middle kingdom has historically considered itself the center of the world, insisting upon tribute from bordering kingdoms, but the ancient imperial mandarins of china dealt with their neighbors diplomatically.  contemporarily china may seem aggressive, but in a constantly changing southeast asia populated by many different peoples and cultures, china attempts to maintain internal stability and beneficial relations with its neighbors in the face of a growing american military presence in the area.

instead of providing constant worry to the chinese government, instead of viewing china in the united states (replacing the u.s.s.r. as the second world,) the u.s. government needs to start supporting chinese diplomacy.  overt u.s. support could temper china's aggressive stance and put china in a place to effectively stabilize the region, including aiding democracy and normalcy in north korea and myanmar.  china needs to become a regional leader and an international leader and can only do so with the support of the united states.

we need to erase the distinction between a capitalist first world and a communist second and acknowledge that whether as a developing nation or non-aligned, china is not a third world country.

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