‘Aunt’ Mai, my elderly neighbour, is a smallish (4’, 10”) wonderful Chinese woman who lives a quiet life in Edmonton caring for her sister and tending to her vegetable garden.
She and her family escaped to Canada at a time when China’s communists were brutalizing her homeland. During the Cultural Revolution (1966 to 76), her family suffered deeply, with a loss of jobs, frequent public humiliations and confiscation of their homes and property. They barely escaped with their lives.
Arriving in Canada with next to nothing, Mai never looked back. She is one of the many immigrant success stories in Canada, but remains proud of her homeland and all that China has accomplished in the past 40 years.
Why am I telling you about Aunt Mai?
Because China recently established a new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and, truth is, Mai doesn’t trust China’s communist leaders or their bank. And I don’t blame her.
The AIIB is China’s (latest) alternative to the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, a Japanese-sponsored institution funding Asian infrastructure projects.
On the surface, China’s latest banking venture, the AIIB, was established in order to directly “fund much needed infrastructure and provide development capital to economies in the region”.
Behind the scenes, however, China’s leadership is bent on establishing a Chinese-controlled alternative to the (U.S.-dominated) World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
China’s logic is simple: the world’s existing financial and trading institutions are tools in the arsenal of imperialistic Western (American) values that are damaging to traditional Asian values and frustrating China’s plans for the countries in its own ‘backyard’.
Unfortunately, Chinese President Xi Jinping has made it pretty clear that when he talks about traditional Asian values he means support for one-party systems and China’s tradition of paternalistic authoritarianism.
Whatever else they may be, traditional Asian values are not informed by Western ideals about fair trade, equality or individual liberty. Indeed, it is precisely these egalitarian principles that China so seriously opposes. To the dismay of many, Chinese officials have begun to describe Western values as a “ticket to hell.”
Aunt Mai knows from personal experience what traditional Asian values mean in practice: “In China you do not have rights, you only have ‘privileges’ granted to you by those more powerful – there may be laws on paper – but in China you own nothing.”
At the end of the day, China’s attack on Western values and institutions is all about thwarting the movement of South Asian nations toward democracy, constitutional rights and press freedom.
Nevertheless, many commentators believe Canada must act quickly to appease China. Wendy Dobson, an executive fellow at (Calgary-based) School of Public Policy argues Canada should join the AIIB in order to send the right ‘signals’ to the world’s rising superpower. “Failure to back the AIIB would indicate that Canada is following the U.S. lead – or has little interest in Asia . . .”
Quite apart from this positive ‘signal’ argument are the economic benefits that would accrue to Canada from joining the AIIB. Canada’s construction, technology and services-based economies would benefit financially by providing services and know-how to AIIB infrastructure projects, which are anticipated to amount to multiple billions of dollars in the coming years.
Still, Canada’s closest ally, the U.S., opposes China’s latest attempt to undermine long-established international institutions. The United States has been busy lobbying its closest allies, but has seen New Zealand, Britain, Germany, France and Italy all sign on to the AIIB in recent months.
The Canadian government remains sceptical and cautious, as have others. Jeffery Simpson, of the Globe and Mail, believes that the AIIB is more than just a new international institution – it’s a bold assertion of Chinese power.
The AIIB is the first shot in a silent Chinese war to supplant Pax Americana and displace the governing values of the international system and put at risk the longest period of international prosperity in history.
Although the AIIB controversy might seem like a ‘storm in a teacup’, the Harper government’s stand against it may be the most principled position it has taken in a long time.
Aunt Mai is right, Prime Minister Steven Harper should stand firm for Western values and oppose this blatant attempt by China to reverse the course of history and return to the degrading horrors of the past.
Robert McGarvey is an economic historian and former managing director of Merlin Consulting, a London, U.K.-based consulting firm. Robert’s most recent book is Futuromics: A Guide to Thriving in Capitalism’s Third Wave.
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