China’s embassy in Singapore has hit back at Bilahari Kausikan, former diplomat and permanent secretary at Singapore’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, for his piece published in The Straits Times .

The embassy’s response was a 625-word statement on its Facebook page, first in English and then in Chinese.

The embassy on Feb. 25 hit back at what Bilahari wrote, saying it was no different from the “cliche of Western anti-China voices”, which misinterpreted and smeared China’s political and leadership systems.

“All constructive comments and suggestions are welcomed, but arrogance and prejudice through coloured glasses are unacceptable,” the embassy wrote in response.

“This kind of arrogance and prejudice is manifested as the hostility towards anything related to China.”

Bilahari responds to embassy’s response

In response to the Chinese embassy’s post, Bilahari told Mothership: “What else could they say? All Chinese diplomats are under pressure to respond to President Xi’s instruction to assert China’s narrative.”

He added: “But what they have to say does not address a single substantive point I made. Instead they raise arguments against points I did not make, which is quite typical. It is not something I can take seriously.”

What was Bilahari’s commentary about?

Bilahari’s 2.057-word commentary published on Feb. 24 said a vanguard party that insists on absolute control is leading China, which he described as a Leninist state.

The piece was called, “Coronavirus: China’s inflection point and the CCP’s fundamental dilemma”.

Among Bilahari’s take on the current state of Chinese society is his view that the Covid-19 outbreak is a consequence of this Leninist value system, which has dented the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) credibility with the Chinese people.

This has led to anger directed at the part and its leader, Xi Jinping.

Bilahari wrote: “Still, public anger over the handling of the Covid-19 crisis is palpable, and even before the crisis, internal criticism of Mr Xi within the Chinese elite seems to have increased.”

In the long sweep of Chinese history, Bilahari noted, periods of internal uncertainty coincided with those of external uncertainty are times of maximum danger for ruling dynasties.

Bilahari wrote: “We may be in such a time.”

He argued that the CCP is nearing an “inflection point”.

Fundamental decisions, he wrote, “cannot continue to be postponed indefinitely”.

The CCP has to deal with the fundamental challenge of finding a new balance between control and economic efficiency, as the party’s legitimacy rests on economic performance.

The dilemma is caused by the conflict between the essence of a Leninist state, which is the party’s insistence on control, and the market, which, by definition, means less control.

He wrote early on in his commentary: “Control is the primary value to which all other considerations are subordinate.”

And it is Bilahari’s view that obsession over control has stopped China from developing a new sustainable model as it entails risk, which it cannot tolerate, leaving it without an answer, but only “improvisations” implemented over the last several years.

Bilahari also wrote that China had been caught up in its own hubris, which led it to underestimate the United States: “Hubris led Beijing to fundamentally misread the direction of US foreign policy, exaggerate China’s strengths, downplay China’s vulnerabilities, and brush aside growing international concerns with certain aspects of Chinese behaviour.”

Bilahari currently chairs the Middle East Institute at the National University of Singapore.

What China embassy’s post said

In its Facebook post, the Chinese embassy said Bilahari’s sense of justice to “ideologically denigrate China and sell his long-held prejudice and even hostility towards China has to be questioned”.

This was so as China is “making enormous efforts and sacrifices” to fight the virus outbreak now.

The embassy also said: “Whether a country’s development path is right or not only depends on whether it is in line with the country’s reality.”

The embassy then highlighted China’s achievements.

It noted that in the last seven decades, China has risen to become the world’s second-biggest economy and lifted more than 800 million people out of poverty, including solving the principal social contradictions and problems across different periods of China’s growth.

The embassy said: “Such achievements, unique in human history, have been made under the leadership of the Communist Party of China and under the system of socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

These achievements also brought abundant opportunities to the prosperity and development for the rest of the world, it said.

“Though Mr Bilahari himself did not deny China’s great achievements, he still criticised the political system and the leadership system that created them,” the embassy said.

“Actually, it is logically self-contradictory.”

Embassy stressed President Xi Jinping’s role at the centre

The embassy then stressed that Xi Jinping, who is the general secretary of the CCP, is in “full command” and the country is united in fighting the coronavirus epidemic.

The viral outbreak was labelled “the enemy to all mankind”.

The embassy added: “Mr Bilahari put the blame of the outbreak on China’s political system. Then regarding… the H1N1 flu that originated in North America and spread worldwide, which one should be blamed?”

“At the moment, what the world needs most is unity and trust, not the political virus that keeps people at bay.”

Top image via Jacky Ho, for the Institute of Policy Studies, NUS

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