Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Weekly Newsletter to the Nation
My dear friends and fellow South Africans,
I am writing to you from the ancient city of Xi’an – home of the fabled Qin Terracotta Army – in Western China towards the end of a week long visit that began in the nation’s capital, Beijing, and which will culminate this weekend in the Oriental Manhatten of Shanghai. This is my first visit to mainland China and I have been exhilarated by the pace of change here and to be a ‘chance witness’ to the rise of a country, which is set be, the superpower of the twenty-first century.
I like the American convention that opposition political leaders do not criticise the government of the day when they are travelling overseas. I would go further on this occasion, however, and praise our government and Department of Foreign Affairs. It is clear to me from the many discussions that I have had with government and business leaders here, such as the Vice Minister in the International Department of the Chinese Communist Party and vice President of the giant Sinosteel, that our leaders have been doing a marvellous job in promoting South Africa here. Opinion makers here are well-informed and positive about our country. To our Sino experts and officials I simply say: "well done".
China’s spectacular 9% growth – although major structural challenges loom – is what is propelling the world’s most populous nation into the superpower of the 21st century. China can no longer be overlooked.
The penchant for trade is an ancient Chinese characteristic. It is encouraging to see the Chinese keeping their best traditions. As I have so often stated: economic liberation nearly always precedes democracy and freedom. I believe this development will eventually replicate in China, but maybe not in the way we expect it to.
Deng Xiaoping’s "communism with Chinese characteristics" has, over the past 30 years, assumed all characteristics of corporate capitalism prompting first-class competition with the world’s most advanced economies. I saw this technological leap for myself at the Sinosteel head office in Beijing and at the Xi’an Yinqiao Biological company this morning.
China is thus well on the path only recently treaded by the ex-communist countries of Eastern Europe: the growing economic rights of the population at large are close to resulting in full political rights as we know them in our own democratic context. Needless to say, China’s rise has far-reaching consequences for liberal democracy, freedom and the rule of law. This is not to mention the extraordinary impact of the internet, and the consequent battle of ideas (and ideals), upon Chinese society. Chairman Mao’s poetic desire to let "a hundred flowers bloom" and a "hundred ideas contend" has, indeed, come to pass.
Whilst I am certainly not a Sino expert, my visit to mainland China has left me with a deep impression of the complexities of Chinese society. We must refrain from bald knee jerk responses. There is no straightforward way to empower over a billion people and bring an ancient civilisation into the 21st century with all it has to offer to the Chinese people. We have witnessed a variety of paths towards this objective, namely the separate developments in the People’s Republic, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau. They all have their merits and shortcomings. I rather suspect, in the end, a ‘democracy with Chinese characteristics’ will emerge.
A word about Tibet and Taiwan. It appears that the relationship between the latter and China, with the election of Taiwan’s new government, is warming rapidly, with direct flights between the two countries scheduled to begin soon. Talking works does it not?
But the issue of Tibet remains thorny and potentially explosive after this week’s latest round of talks between the Dalai Lama’s representatives and Beijing ended inconclusively. I had a meeting with Mr Li Jinjan, Vice Minister of the international Department of the Chinese Community Party Central Committee on Tuesday, which ran way over the scheduled time as we tackled the Tibet question.
I decided to take the ‘bull by the horns’ and discard diplomatic niceties because I am, after all, a politician who is not unaccustomed to controversy. I emphatically stated that His Holiness the Dalai Lama had made it clear to me that neither he or his supporters were seeking independence for Tibet (and recognised that the territory was part of China), but sought cultural and religious autonomy, and that Tibet be transformed into a region of non-violence and peace.
I also said that the Dalai Lama should be commended for unequivocally stating that countries should not boycott the Beijing Olympics. In responding, the Minister, in essence, accused the Dalai Lama of double speak when I pressed the above points. The Minister said that the Dalai Lama had it in his power to restrain his supporters, but chose not to. I crisply pointed out that unless the Dalai Lama could return to Tibet there was little more he could to do to restraint his Tibetan protestors.
The Minister made the point that the Olympics was for benefit the 1.3 billion Chinese people – the entire nation – and, indeed, for the world. I readily agreed with this and reiterated my opposition to the boycott of the Olympics. I would like to bolster this argument by saying that the worst thing any country could do is boycott the Olympics. I heard how old ladies and taxi drivers in Beijing are learning English in order to welcome their international guests and business commuters are leaving their cars at home and taking public transport in order to reduce carbon dioxide emissions so that the athletes can compete in cleaner air.
My dear friends, unless you are here, you cannot imagine the pride and the sheer hard work that the Chinese have put in to make this a fabulous Olympics for the world. Only the most heartless cynic could say otherwise. If countries boycotted the Olympics, it is not the Chinese Communist Party who will suffer and abruptly change policy. It is the ordinary Chinese people who will bear the brunt. instead it is time to bring out the mediation toolkit and propagate negotiation and peace-making.
If such objectives seem idealistic, South Africa, with its bloody history of conquest, colonisation and oppression, has demonstrated that we can overcome the divisions of the past and live together – even if there are still some outstanding challenges.
The route South Africa’s many constituent nations, like my own Zulu nation, had taken towards nation-building can be instructive to the continental Chinese, Taiwanese and everyone else who consider themselves part of the Chinese cultural heritage. They all will, I believe, one day find a home in some broad definition of China united by cultural diversity, language and propelled by a giant economic powerhouse.
In today’s China, the signs are already there. The Chinese culture has survived many historical upheavals and flourished in South East Asia and beyond. This is the place to mention the mighty Chinese Diaspora. The Chinese trade today follows the same routes through which China once introduced silk to Renaissance Europe. Xi’an now boasts gleaming hi tech business parks on the same route Marco Polo once trod.
And this is the big challenge: the real advancement of the Chinese people will not lie in the impressive statistics but rather in the even distribution of the newly acquired wealth across the vast continent – from the shiny skyscrapers of modern Shanghai to the snowy mountains of Tibet.
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP