Why the West’s resentment of China is so misguided

Over the past few years, some western commentators have proclaimed the “decline of China.” They argue China’s economy is failing, its youth are alienated and unemployed, it abuses human rights and represses its people and its demographic decline means that China will never rise to surpass western power.

The subtext of this focus on China’s problems is that western domination of the world will continue, proving the superiority of the West’s political and economic ideologies.

These eulogies for China are premature, at best.

Economists in the West don’t fully understand western economies, let alone China’s, and western states have numerous fundamental problems of their own.

Drumbeat of negativity

China is experiencing economic headwinds as it transitions to a new model of economic development. It is also contending with western economic and technological sabotage.

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How well China manages these forces remains to be seen.

An objective analysis of China’s economy is required, but the constant drumbeat of negativity emerging from the West makes that difficult. Some of it is a concerted propaganda campaign, financed by the United States, to undermine America’s biggest competitor. But the trend also reflects the western world’s racial and political anxieties and its profound insecurities about its own failures and decline.

For hundreds of years, the West has used imperialism and violence to construct an international system that ensures its prosperity and prioritizes its interests. Keeping the Global South subservient to a Eurocentric world order has been critical to this strategy.

Israel’s attack on Gaza, killing tens of thousands of Palestinians — along with the associated American and British bombings of Yemen, Iraq and Syria — are contemporary manifestations of this phenomenon.

China’s rise is the first time in modern history that a non-European state beyond western control is economically eclipsing the West. The “yellow peril” is back, and the West will now need to compromise and negotiate with a powerful, non-western entity.

It cannot simply impose its will on the Global South, though the American campaign against China is an effort to re-establish this status quo.

To the West, this was not how it was supposed to be.

A pedestrian and office buildings are reflected on a brokerage house’s window as an electronic board displaying Shanghai shares trading index in Beijing.
(AP Photo/Andy Wong)

China forged its own path

According to American political scientist Francis Fukuyama, the end of the Cold War was the “end of history,” meaning that liberal democratic capitalism is the final and best form of government for all nations.

This political and economic system, embodied by the West (especially the United States), was supposedly the only path to success. The West was held up as pinnacle of achievement that the entire world should emulate.

China disproved this narrative by achieving extraordinary economic and technological developments with unprecedented speed, and it did so by following its own path. It is a major player in the world economy, but has refused to become a western vassal state.

At the same time, the western world has failed in many measurable and obvious ways, particularly since the 2008 financial crisis. Europe is facing economic stagnation, demographic decline and increasingly toxic politics.

Western youth are alienated and pessimistic. The West’s failure to destroy Russia’s economy with sanctions following its invasion of Ukraine is evidence of decreasing western economic power. Its absolute moral failure in Gaza is tragically apparent.

Two men carry the bodies of children shrouded in white cloth.
Palestinians carry the bodies of children killed in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip at Al Aqsa Hospital in Deir al Balah on Feb. 20, 2024.
(AP Photo/Adel Hana)

American decline

But the most spectacular and consequential example of western decline is the United States. On paper, the U.S. economy is performing moderately well. In practice, under-employment and economic inequality are posing major problems.

Many Americans are angry, disillusioned and polarized. American politics are dysfunctional and blatantly corrupted by money. Even the highest judiciary has been accused of corruption.

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In the next presidential election, Americans may well re-elect Donald Trump, someone who epitomizes this corruption.

The U.S. government also continues to stir up violence and instability around the world rather than dealing with its own enormous domestic problems.

A man with an orange tinge to his skin and wearing a red ball cap that reads Make America Great Again.
Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Waterford Township, Mich., on Feb. 17, 2024.
(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

China’s achievements

Over the past 20 years, China’s transformation has been astonishing. Its modern cities feature marvels of architecture, well-constructed infrastructure, phenomenal public spaces and are clean and safe, in contrast to the crumbling infrastructure and dangerous streets of some American cities.

By purchasing power parity, China’s GDP is currently 25 per cent bigger than that of the U.S.; the International Monetary Fund estimates it will be 40 per cent larger by 2028.

China is responsible for 35 per cent of the world’s manufacturing compared to 12 per cent for the U.S. China’s economies of scale and technological advancements mean that renewable energy may become affordable to billions of people all over the world, offering viable climate action.

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If China really does fail — something those western commentators perpetually claim is imminent — it would have serious consequences for the rest of the world.

Western hostility towards China reflects the grudging realization that the West may not be the pinnacle of achievement after all. Rather than possibly learning from China’s successes, westerners have chosen resentment borne of a sense of frustrated superiority.

The modern world is a pluralist global system. Different states will follow different paths to development and experiment with different forms of government. The West does not have all — or maybe any — solutions to the many problems the world is currently facing.

China is pursuing its own economic and social goals. These may not accord with western models, and China may stumble as it follows its own path.

But cheering on those stumbles won’t make for a more peaceful or co-operative world, nor will it compensate for western failures.

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