China-Phobia as Persecutory Delusion

Chinese president Xi Jinping

Chinese president Xi Jinping

Published Mar 22, 2024


Paul Tembe

In geopolitical settings it is a norm for dominant nations to engage in battle of narratives or rhetorical battles. Such battles do not necessarily reflect animosities between nations. Instead, these tend to take a form of a friendly tussle and arm wrestling between siblings. However, when taken to extremes these narrative battles may turn destructive setting in place resentment from one nation towards another.

The recent tide of China-phobia not only points back to the Cold War era tendencies as it escalates the nature of one-sided vilifying battle of narratives. China's rapid developments seem have angered some Western nations, especially the United States. The United States has difficulties in accepting China's peaceful rise. It believes that China seriously challenges and threatens the global interests of the United States.

Recently, the Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim condemned 'China phobia' among some Western countries. He pointed out the futile nature of such an exercise. Prime Minister Anwar bluntly inquired as to “why Malaysia must be tied to one interest?” The Prime Minister retorted that he doesn’t buy to the strong prejudice against China narrative. In an interview with the Financial Times, Anwar questions as to why Malaysia would "pick a quarrel" with China, its largest trading partner in response to US criticisms of his country's ties with Beijing, according to the report published by FT website.

‘Panda poking’ ought to be avoided at all costs as the world seeks solutions to the war in Ukraine, Gaza conflict, and the Red Sea blaze. In the words of China’s deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Geng Shuang, "There are a plethora of phobias against given countries, religions and races in the world today." "Some of these phobias stem from the sense of civilizational superiority and a narrow historical outlook, while others are the products of geopolitical clashes and ideological confrontations,” Geng concluded.

However, the question at hand is what is the reason for persistent China-phobia from Western countries? Why the United States in particular persists and escalates tendencies of China-phobia? A simple take on these questions would have one assume that the United States feels threatened by advances made by China in economy, technology and military. Let us take a tally of the advances made by China and the United States in an attempt to validate the above assumption.

The United States continues to be the top world economy. China's per capita income is only one sixth of that of the United States. The United States is still way ahead of China in variety of fields, such as in economy, scientific and technological innovation, including the military. One would then wonder as to the reason for the United States to be constantly on its toes in regards to China’s development.

The United States economy's strong performance in 2023, along with the challenges faced by China's economy, suggests that China's GDP overtaking the US less likely. United States gross domestic product rose 6.3% in nominal terms, compared to China's 5.3% gain in 2023. Furthermore, United States firms' profitability growth outpaced that of Chinese firms by 50% (27.6% growth for US firms vs. 18.1% for Chinese firms). Measured at market exchange rates, China's GDP was $18.3 trillion in 2022, 73% of the GDP of the United States and 10 times more than the 7% of US GDP it registered in the year 1990.

China has had huge technological successes since the past decade. In regards to latest technologies China has a large number of AI scientific articles and patents, suggesting Beijing's global leadership in this area. However, the United States maintains a strong foothold in advanced AI developments, with organizations like OpenAI, Microsoft, and Alphabet leading in large language model creation and diffusion.

Lastly, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, military spending in China took up 1.6% of the country's GDP in 2022, compared to 3.5% in the United States. China spends much less of its GDP on military than the United States.

Running through the above figures clearly shows that the United States continues to be ahead of China in a number of important variables that reflect strength and global position of a nation. That makes one wonder as to the reason for the United States to heighten the rhetoric and instances of China-phobia.

Persecutory Delusion

Fear mongering tendencies towards China seem to be solely based on United States need for power and control. The United States fears that China’s development will cause it to lose control and influence in the regions neighbouring China. It also fears that it will have no means to curb China’s rise and influence on other regions of the world.

The Unites States always perceives and reads the world from a superpower perspective. Geng Shuang muses that the assumption that "China will dominate the world" is loaded with fallacy that amount to persecutory delusion”. Such a statement may explain as to why the United States is always quick to churn out vilifying rhetoric that constitutes China-phobia narratives. Such tendencies have become a foundation for Washington's stance on policies towards China. The United States does not only throw negative narratives only against China. It applies the strategy of negative narratives wherever if perceives loss of control and influence in a particular region of the world. It is a strategy applied by all ‘powers’ that are hell bent on unilateralism versus multilateralism, competition against cooperation, set on the promotion of a zero-sum game instead of win-win situation.

Different Ball Posts

South Africa has had its fair share of demonization through Mzansi-phobia narratives. In the case of South Africa, it is not economy, technology or military development that seem to irk the West. Instead, it is the perceived assumption that South Africa has chosen to side with China in majority multilateral institutions such as the United Nations, G20, and by its membership to BRICS and FOCAC and its prominent role in majority global matters.

The recent case in point is South Africa’s to support the Palestinian cause and seeking a peaceful resolution in the on-going conflict. The bold stance taken by South Africa to seek the International Court of Justice (ICJ) counsel in the case of Palestine has angered the United States and its allies. The reaction from the United States was swift with claims that South Africa had abandoned its traditional democratic values. The Mzansi-phobia narratives were swiftly followed by threats of punitive measures, such as the removal of South Africa from the AGOA Treaty. The threats were also displayed as the United States Congress had a special seating to question its relations with South Africa, or whether South Africa was a threat to the United States security.

New Type of Global Growth

China has repeatedly reassured the world that it will always follow a path of peaceful development. Over and beyond that China has demonstrated in practice through establishing multifaceted frameworks and programs to share its developmental successes with the world.

The establishment and the drive of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) with over 152 member states is one factor that reveals China’s intentions to share its success with the world. The World Bank estimates that by 2030, Belt and Road cooperation will bring an annual benefit of USD 1.6 trillion to the world, accounting for 1.3% of the global GDP and injecting strong impetus into global development. The BRI is but one of many instances that serves to witness China’s intention to share its development with the world.

The Forum for China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) has served a significant role in the management of infrastructure development in Africa. Engagements of China in Africa are reflective of teachings of the Chinese culture that advocates benevolence, righteousness, harmony, honesty and responsibility. These core values are similar to the ‘Four Proposals’ announced by President Xi Jinping as drivers of the China-Africa cooperation during his first visit to Africa in the year 2013.

Nations that converge to form anti-China forces will continue to hype up the imagined allegation of "China threat" and in the process concoct yet another new version of China-phobia in order to isolate and contain China. These may be presented to Africa as a ‘debt-trap’ or neo-colonialism but in the end action and results on the ground speaks volumes as China revels in its results.

The world needs a new type of international relations based on mutual respect, fairness, justice, win-win cooperation and peaceful coexistence among all nations. Just as South Africa believes in the justice for all its people and nations, China is ready to make unremitting efforts with all other countries to that end.

TEMBE is a pragmatic sinologist and founder of SELE Encounters.