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National President Argues for a Better Understanding of China

Last month, NZ China Friendship Society National President Dave Bromwich talked to Wellington members about the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, celebrated last year in Beijing. Dave reminded them of the historic journey that China has undertaken, from China’s ‘century of humiliation’ to its position today as a global power. He also talked about how China’s motives and actions have not always been well understood in the West, leading to strained relationships and mistrust.

At members’ meetings around the country, Dave has been asking, ‘what does it mean today to be a friend of China?’ For members of the NZ China Friendship Society, Dave argues that friendship starts with expressions of goodwill. Through tours, exchanges, and joint projects, we show our openness to new opinions and new perspectives — even when others are sowing seeds of doubt and fear. From this openness flows understanding and friendship, which underpin our relationship with China and the Chinese people.

70th Anniversary Celebrations

On September 30th, National President Dave Bromwich stood in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing and accepted a Chinese Government Friendship Award — one of 100 people receiving this award in the 70th anniversary year of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Only 1700 people worldwide have received this award since the formation of the PRC in 1949.

The next day, President Xi Jinping stood on the same spot where Mao Zedong had stood 70 years previously and declared ‘the Chinese people have stood up’. Dave said that, in his speech, President Xi emphasised the historical background to China’s development and his projections for the Chinese people and the world. The traditional October 1 military parade down Chang’an Avenue was followed by a civilian parade and evening celebrations. In their reporting on the October 1 celebrations, Dave saw Western media choosing to emphasise China’s military capacity and implications of threat and aggression. For Dave, this was yet another example of the West’s misreading of China’s intentions.

China’s journey
China’s journey towards its current status as a global player has not been an easy one. Dave referred to the shameful consequences of the two Opium Wars waged between the Qing dynasty and Western powers in the mid-19th century, when the Chinese government was compelled to grant favourable tariffs, trade concessions, and territory to Western imperial powers. China was forced to open specified treaty ports (most notably Shanghai) to handle all trade with imperial powers and to cede sovereignty over Hong Kong to Britain. Internal dissention, invasion, and civil war only ended with the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Dave made the point that, throughout this period, China has had to cope with negative perceptions promoted by the former imperial powers.

Cultural differences
Dave said that understanding Chinese culture has been a challenge to the West. He claimed that cultural differences, rooted in the Chinese philosophies of Taoism (Lao Zi, Chuang Zi) and Confucianism (Kong Zi, Meng Zi), have been responsible for many of the misunderstandings between China and the West. For Dave, the influence of Taoism can be seen in the underlying belief in balance and harmony, evidenced in practical areas like Chinese cuisine (hot/cold dishes) and medicine (acupuncture). The influence of Confucianism can be seen in a focus on relationships and respect for others and things.

New Perspectives
Dave claims that Westerners tend to hear phrases like ‘shared future for mankind’, ‘unity through diversity’, ‘harmonious global community’, and ‘global consensus for a new era’ as cynical or window-dressing statements by Chinese politicians. Dave maintains that we should be more inclined to take these statements at face value, as a true statements of Chinese aspirations. He makes the point that these statements are consistent with aspirational statements made in world forums like the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). A resolution aimed at building ‘a community of shared future for all human beings’ put forward by the UNHRC in 2018 was adopted with 28 in favour, one against (the United States), and 17 abstentions including Australia.
According to Dave, the challenge for the West is to embrace an alternative perspective on issues and allow a Chinese voice to be heard. Only in this way can we diminish conflict and build a global consensus on world affairs. We are in this, says Dave, for the long term.

Next Steps
Dave concluded his talk with a review of past and planned tours to China. Over 2018 and 2019 Dave led tours to the centre and the south east of China. A tour planned for this year to the north east and North Korea was cancelled and an overland trip from Hanoi to Lhasa planned for 2021 has been postponed to 2022. However, a tour from Guanxi to Shaanxi retracing part of the Red Army’s Long March of 1934-35 is still tentatively planned for September 2021. For more information, see https://tours.nzchinasociety.org.nz/tours/.