Minxin Pei: China’s Dictator Complex
The portrayal of Beijing as a non-ideological pragmatist in international affairs is at odds with its policy and behaviour toward some of the world’s worst dictatorships. For example, China maintained its support for Slobodan Milosevic’s regime almost until the very end of his rule. In Africa, China stuck by Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, inviting him to visit Beijing even when he was an international pariah. Of Latin American leaders, the mandarins in Beijing seem to have taken a particular liking to Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, a dictator in all but name.
China’s dictator complex was on full display during the Arab Spring. Around the fall of Hosni Mubarak’s regime in February, the official Chinese media consistently cast Egypt’s anti-Mubarak forces as mobs who would do nothing but cause chaos. The Chinese handling of the recent collapse of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime was egregiously inept. Beijing not only received a high-level representative of the doomed Gaddafi regime in June – its arms manufacturers were trying to sell $200 million worth of weapons to Gaddafi’s forces in July, in violation of a UN Security Council resolution forbidding arms sales to Libya.
What does this dictator complex tell us about Chinese foreign policy?
The most obvious answer is that, instead of being non-ideological, Chinese foreign policy actually is quite ideological. As can be seen from recent events, even in situations where supporting dictatorships hurts Chinese interests, Beijing has chosen to side with these international outcasts. This ideological bias stems from the nature of China’s domestic political regime – a one-party state. The ruling Chinese Communist Party believes that its greatest ideological threat is posed by the liberal democracies in the West. Even as China benefits from the West-led international economic system, the Communist Party has never let down its guard against the democratic West.