I remember the Cold War with no warmth. It was a time of paranoid rantings. In one corner sat the capitalist ‘running-dogs’ (the United States); in the other, those ‘communist bastards’ (the USSR). Ignoring the poor inside and outside their countries, both sides threw ever-increasing fortunes at an arms race doomed to fail. Russia collapsed under the weight of it.
Today – as China’s influence on the world overtakes that of the United States – paranoid rantings are returning to international debate. In my country, Australia, there’s public disagreement between the intelligence and defence forces about whether we need to ramp up our military to defend ourselves from the Chinese. Putting aside the rather awkward reality that the Chinese outnumber Australians 60 to 1, the good news is that China gives no indication of wanting to take up arms and expand beyond the boundaries it already claims. It doesn’t need to. This magazine should help to explain why.
‘Emerging superpower’ is just one of those buttons that, when pressed, provokes extreme reactions in governments. In China, ‘dissenter’ is another. Twenty years ago this month, Chinese tanks rolled over protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. The picture of a young man standing alone in front of one of the tanks was – and still is – beamed around the world. It is a potent symbol of the power of protest, celebrating the bravery of individuals who stand up against the full force of government to claim their rights. It is a timely reminder, for it is not just in China where repression rages. This month’s Special Feature, ‘You are being watched’, reports on surveillance tactics being used by police and special forces on picket lines from New York to New Zealand. Tiananmen Square may be closer to home than you think.
Chris Richards for the New Internationalist co-operative.