Chinese head of state Xi Jinping made his first official visit to Myanmar (Burma) on Friday, where he met with State Councillor and de facto leader of the country Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, President U Win Myint, and the Burmese military’s infamous commander-in-chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. Although it was Jinping’s first visit since assuming office, the occasion marked 70 years of diplomatic ties between the two countries and signifies a continued mutual desire to unite their economic and strategic interests. A total of 33 agreements were signed to speed up China-backed development projects in Myanmar and bolster the China-Myanmar-Economic-Corridor; a vital component of the wider Chinese Belt and Road Initiative. Both countries have track records of serious state-sponsored human rights abuses, and share an increasing disdain for, and distancing from the West. With the tantalising promise of economic prosperity, has China got Myanmar under its thumb, and will development come at the expense of human rights.
There was some apprehension as a Chinese ‘Heavenly Palace’ fell to Earth last week. The 8.5 tonne Tiangong-1 space station, adrift since China’s space agency lost connection with it two years ago, made an ‘uncontrolled’ re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere early on Easter Monday.
Fortunately there was never much cause for concern, the European Space Agency calculating the chances of being hit by debris as ’10 million times smaller than the yearly chance of being hit by lightning’. Most of the station burned up on contact with Earth’s atmosphere and the remaining fragments plunged into the South Pacific. But the episode had a eerie resonance, symbolising something of the West’s prevailing perception of China as an enigmatic, technologically advanced state, glowing with – rather like its wayward satellite – a nebulous sense of danger.
Overshadowed by the perennial pain of Brexit negotiations and fresh flurries of speculation over her leadership, Theresa May’s trip to China earlier this month passed with little comment.
Democratic freedoms in Britain’s former colony Hong Kong were briefly discussed. A few business contracts were confirmed. And the shimmering outline of some future post-Brexit trade deal could at times be briefly discerned.
What was remarkable about the visit was scarcely noted:
Visions of a great civilisation enjoying ‘peace under heaven’ have haunted the Chinese imagination from the time of the sages to today, when President Xi Jingping’s ‘China Dream’ of a prosperous ordered nation is propagated ceaselessly by the state-controlled media.
Here hypermodernity is filtered through ancient virtues. China’s gleaming new cities, high-speed rail links and technology parks are studded with billboards urging honesty, modesty and filial piety. Its vast wired economy is screened for decadent Western influences, blocking Facebook, Google and YouTube, and magazines infatuated with celebrity gossip or ‘crude language’. This year the ‘Great Firewall of China’ was reinforced when the state banned VPN services used by millions to break through to the global web.
Now China is finetuning the ultimate technological fix for designing a virtuous society: a ‘Social Credit System’ that will use the data produced by a population of some 1.4 billion citizens in the course of their daily interactions with digital services to rank them according to ‘trustworthiness’.
Fifty years ago Mao Zedong’s Red Guards rampaged through the ancient streets of Qufu, home city of the sage Confucius, pulling down statues, burning temples and desecrating graves.
The ‘old customs, old culture, old habits and old ideas’ associated with the teacher who for millennia had provided philosophical legitimacy for China’s feudal order were to be swept aside by the Cultural Revolution to make way for a new classless society.
But today Qufu is one of communist China’s foremost places of pilgrimage. An sprawling museum and park complex stands by the restored temple, overlooked by a giant figure of Confucius the size of the Statue of Liberty. ‘The Holy City of the Orient’, with its gleaming new high-speed rail link, now attracts more visitors each year than the land of Israel.
The latest North Korean missile launch over Japan on the 28th August 2017 is a sign that North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un is willing to act unilaterally, despite what any other country may think or want the regime to behave according to international accords. This is obviously disturbing and only goes to show that the North Korean regime is totally defiant towards the international community, and sticking its middle finger up at the United States and the wider world.