Of China and unipolar values

is my Trade Tripper column in the last weekend's issue of BusinessWorld:

My column “Flip flopping Asian pivot” (Oct. 11) seems to have struck a chord. Although analysis on President Obama’s no-show at the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) summit is not lacking, nevertheless, despite the contrasting views on the possible effects of his no-show, what can’t be denied really is the uncertainty his absence evoked.

China isn’t exactly shy to exploit the situation. As Tyler Roney reports (“With Obama MIA, China Touts Multipolar World,” The Diplomat, Oct. 8), “Xi Jingping has been the star of the recent talks in Asia, giving the planet a taste of a new ‘multi-polar’ world” and “China’s state media is heralding this switch in attention to a new world order.” Still, Roney was cautious: “This doesn’t exactly stop the pivot to Asia, but it’s an odd signal for Asian nations looking for stability.”

So, the inevitable question: what’s wrong with a “multipolar world?” But, the issue I believe, however, is not whether such is a good idea but rather the values espoused by the possible “multi” parts. Pluralism has been touted as something desirable but that fundamentally presupposes a pluralism based on reason. If, however, the contending countries’ conflicting worldviews are inherently opposed to each other, then the wisdom of encouraging a weakened US in favor of a multipolar world becomes questionable.

The point is better illustrated by Aleteia’s John Burger report on a Chinese activist’s recent remarks (“Forced Abortion Dilutes Sacredness of Human Life, Says Chen Guangcheng,” Oct. 17): “Totalitarian regimes pose the greatest threat to human civilization, and the free world’s number-one priority should be their demise, said Chinese human rights lawyer Chen Guangcheng in a public address at Princeton University on Oct. 16.”

What is important to note here is that Chen’s position is almost exactly aligned with Philippine values on the sanctity of life: innately opposed to coerced “one-child-per-family policy and the forced abortions and sterilizations that have occurred in its enforcement,” as well as the Chinese government’s systematic repression of religious freedom.

And as if to drive the point home: “In an interview afterwards, Chen said the issue of abortion in China is different from the question over its legality in the United States. ‘I want to emphasize the issue of forced abortion. In Chinese society, the negative impact of forced abortion is very clear. Besides causing a problem with an aging population and an imbalanced gender ratio, it’s also an issue of undervaluing life. It is done so frequently that the concept of the importance or sacredness of human life is diluted.’”

The foregoing must be taken alongside the context of our territorial dispute with China. Emphatically, the Philippines stands for the principle of an international rule of law rather than ruthless power politics: “Philippines Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, referencing his country’s ongoing territorial dispute with China, reiterated that ‘recourse to judicial settlement of legal disputes should not be considered an unfriendly act between States.’ As with Vietnam, he said that such action ‘is anchored in international law.’” (“Improving Democratic Governance in Asia,” Andrew Billo, The Diplomat, Oct. 13)

On the other hand, to believe the Chinese government would acquiesce to a law oriented dispute settlement is irresponsible. When “Hillary Clinton took the side of Vietnam in mildly pushing back against China’s claims to the South China Sea, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi could barely contain his anger. Calling the Secretary of State’s remarks ‘an attack on China,’ he lectured that ‘China is a big country and other countries are small countries, and that’s just a fact.’” (“China’s aggressive new diplomacy,” Wall Street Journal, Oct. 1, 2010)

In human rights, China’s duplicity is well recorded (human rights activist Wei Jingsheng’s New York Times article “Don’t Believe China’s Promises,” May 4, 2012, is an example). And China has no qualms backstabbing even religious freedoms: see George Weigel of the Ethics and Public Policy Center declaring: “For some time, a modus vivendi was in place between the Vatican and Beijing on the appointment of bishops. It was never codified, but everyone knew the basic rules of the road: No bishops are to be ordained without the tacit approval of the Holy See. The regime brazenly broke that working agreement late last year, going so far as to drag one elderly Chinese bishop by his hair to an illicit episcopal ordination.”

In questioning the idea of a multipolar world led by China as it presently is, the words of Chen Guangcheng are well worth noting: “When dealing with a government practicing violence and deception, if you don’t try to influence it with your universal values, such as freedom, equality, democracy, and constitutionalism, you are very likely to be affected by the wickedness of this government.

“In an age of information explosion, it is impossible for you, me, or anyone else to stay away from the world. If someone is convicted for defending human dignity and universal values, every one of us has inescapable responsibilities.”