• By: Dan Donovan

Misunderstanding China may be the Biggest Threat to Western Democracy

Western bias in reporting on China has the potential to create inaccurate perceptions, influencing policy decisions based on flawed intelligence.

While it is natural for nations to prioritize their interests and safeguard their values, casting China as an outright enemy rather than an adversary may be a misguided perspective that contradicts the interests of Western democracies, including Canada. Addressing prevalent misconceptions is crucial for fostering a more nuanced and accurate understanding of China and promoting international cooperation.

The world today is a complex place with a geopolitical landscape that requires an approach to issues that goes beyond simplistic categorizations. From a Western perspective, concerns about China’s growing influence and differing political system have contributed to the perception of China as an adversary. However, it is crucial to recognize that labelling China as an adversary or, worse, an enemy can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy, fostering an environment of hostility and hindering opportunities for cooperation. In today’s world, where interconnected challenges like climate change, pandemics, and economic disparities transcend borders, fostering dialogue and collaboration is paramount.

It is in the best interest of Canada (and other Western democracies) to engage with China on common grounds, addressing shared challenges and seek areas of cooperation. A strategic and rational approach is one that acknowledges China’s role as a significant, important, and influential player in world affairs. By dispelling the notion of China as an enemy, Western nations can create space for diplomatic solutions, economic partnerships, and collective efforts to address pressing global issues like the war in Ukraine, the war in Gaza or key humanitarian issues.

Often, perpetuating an enemy narrative can lead to unnecessary escalations, diverting resources from domestic priorities and undermining the potential for peaceful coexistence. Below are some real examples to counteract misconceptions and emphasize that China is not a threat to Western interests:

Taiwan Reunification Misconception:

Actual Situation: China has expressed its desire for reunification with Taiwan for seven decades. Diplomatic complexities and tension with Western countries in recent years have only magnified the interest in the Taiwan question. However, to conclude that this means China is going to imminently invade Taiwan is untrue, misguided and does nothing to calm the tension.

Bias Impact: The biased notion of an inevitable invasion may lead Western governments to adopt aggressive policies, risking geopolitical stability. While it is fair game to call out China on issues TAHT may cross into Western interests, including in Taiwan, it is also as important to recognize China’s longstanding and public commitment to peaceful reunification through diplomatic engagement and other tools.


Misjudging China’s Economic Health:

Actual Situation: China’s economy remains robust, with steady growth. Misinterpreting China’s economic status can lead to misguided economic strategies and policies by Western countries. A more accurate understanding is crucial for informed economic decisions and international cooperation.

Bias Impact: Accurate economic assessments are essential to avoid miscalculations that could hinder mutually beneficial economic collaboration with China. Recognizing China’s economic resilience opens avenues for partnerships. All economies have peaks and valleys. The Chinese economy is no different in that regard. China is not going bankrupt, and its economy is not on the verge of collapse, regardless of what some Western “Chinese experts” write or publish.


Population Decline Misconception:

Actual Situation: While China faces a demographic shift, it does not necessarily indicate an irreversible decline. This shift involves a slowing birth rate and an ageing population. The oft-reported Western narrative that China is undergoing an irreversible decline due to changes in its population demographics is misguided. China has taken steps to address the challenges posed by shifts in its population dynamics.

Bias Impact: Misjudging China’s demographic situation may influence Western policies on trade and diplomacy. Having proper information and understanding how and why China is implementing certain policies to address its demographic challenges is a far more constructive and intelligent-based approach for Western analysts to take.


Consequences of Biased Intelligence:

Policy Missteps: Relying on biased intelligence can lead to policy decisions misaligned with the actual situation in China, resulting in diplomatic conflicts and economic miscalculations.

Missed Opportunities: Biased intelligence may hinder Western countries from recognizing areas of potential collaboration and mutual benefit with China, limiting opportunities for constructive engagement. An accurate understanding of China is crucial for navigating complex international challenges. An intelligence failure can have profound consequences in relations with China. A recent example of this was the complete misread by Canadian officials related to how China would react and respond to the Meng Wanzhou arrest and detention in 2018. Poor intelligence and an improper reading of the intelligence and response scenarios by the Canadian government resulted in a breakdown in the Canada-China political relationship that remains fractured.

Security Risks: Incorrectly perceiving China as an imminent threat or misreading cues may lead to unnecessary tension, military build-ups and related misunderstandings that pose security risks to both China and the Western world.

Western governments, including Canada, should foster a more nuanced and accurate understanding of China to ensure informed decision-making and promote international cooperation. Dispelling myths and addressing misconceptions will contribute to better global relations and mitigate tensions based on unfounded assumptions.

If we really want to safeguard Canadian (and Western) interests, it is essential to approach China with a perspective that transcends the binary categorization of enemy or ally. The key to this is to ensure that cooperation prevails over conflict. Talking, listening, diplomacy, and respectful collaboration are always a more productive path.

Image: OLM staff