The title I choose for this article is millennia old Chinese saying. It is a proverb exercised in China throughout its civilisations to date. In this short article, I will try to present how China practically employed this proverb and how this habit played a crucial role in china’s economic and social development in recent history. Comparatively, I will put forward how boastfully displaying our ability and smartness hindered our development and led us to a self-inflicted calamity.
China has been in the lead of human civilisation for thousands of years. It is considered to be the mother of all technologies particularly the modern ones. They were the first to invent true gunpowder; canon was used by Ming to topple down their Mongol rulers in the 14th century. Movable printers were in place since 11th century thus allowing publications of hundreds of books and creations large libraries in the country. In addition, it has been the most populous country in the world through the recorded history having a population 100-130 million in the 15th century compared Europe’s 50-55 million. However, as any other civilisation, China suffered several foreign invasions and occupations. The latest was at the hand of European colonisers under which China had seen a century of humiliation.
When China regained its dignity in 1949, it inherited a ruined country, undeveloped infrastructure, staggering poverty and deprivation among its people. It lost Hong-Kong to Britain, Taiwan claimed independence and South-China Sea came under dispute from neighbours. The West was still superior economically, politically and militarily and was seeking for domination in other countries. Nevertheless, the Chinese leaders acknowledged their ability and what they could do at the time and realised their first priority should be rebuilding their country and the dignity of its people. They employed this saying “hide your brightness and bide your time”. The pioneering president and reformist Deng Xiaoping repeatedly used this dictum in the late 1970s to 1980s. In 1992, China’s foreign policy guiding principle was based on Deng Xiaoping’s caution which reads “keep a low profile, never take the lead…and make a difference.”
This can be seen China’s behaviour in the Security Council and how it deals with resolutions not related to its own interest. China has been one of the five permanent members of Security Council which have Veto voice for decades. But China used its Veto only 2 times as of 2006 far less than other countries in the council. For example, between 1971 and 2006 the USA used its Veto power 76 times. China prefers to abstain resolutions that directly not affecting its national interest to avoid disappointing other countries. This served well for China to secure many friends and proved China’s neutrality in affairs of other countries. This policy turned off the eyes of the imperialists led by America because they did not consider China as a competitor; rather they viewed as an inferior nation which struggling with its own messes.
As a result of this policy among other strategies, China became the second largest economy in the world and is expected to jump to the biggest economy within a short period of time. China made a rapid advance in all aspect of development particularly education, infrastructure and high-tech manufacturing. In addition, it succeeded in reducing people living in poverty from 660 million in 1987 to just 25 million in 2013. Moreover, it joined with the exclusive club of nations with ocean-roaming nuclear submarines. This achievement has beaten all odds and baffled Western politicians and commentators who underestimated China and its people. Without a doubt, China today is a power whose domination cannot be hidden any more. It is challenging America’s hegemony in Asia while it has surpassed it over Africa.
In contrast, Somalis and their successive governments like to show their power, brightness and leadership. We like to take the lead in any controversial issue whether it is related to us or not. Here are few examples which elucidate how eager we are to show our brightness and the consequence this approach bequeathed us.
Firstly, Somalia was the only country in Sab-Saharan Africa which rejected to accept the existing borders drawn by European colonisers. In addition, it was the only country in the colonised sab-Saharan Africa (except Sudan) which refused to use the colonial language as the official language of the country.
Secondly, Somalia took the lead in liberating African countries which were still under European hands in aggressive and belligerent way. For example, Mogadishu Declaration of 1971 called for the liberation of the colonised African countries by force and emphasised that armed struggle is the only way of winning true independence and freedom repealing Lusaka Declaration which decreed to seek the independence for the colonised Africans in peaceful manner.
This was not just empty words for Somalia’s leadership but they translated it into action by allowing African freedom fighters to open offices in the country, advocating moral and material support for them and putting pressure on some Western countries such as Britain and the USA to take action in relations with the colonised African states. For example, the then Somali foreign minister Omar Arte travelled to the UK to hold talks with then British Prime minister about Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and South Africa. In this meeting, Omar Arte informed the British Prime minister that if Rhodesia issue was not tackled, Africa had no other alternative but to wage a liberation war against the colonisers. The coloniser that Omar Arte was threatening was Britain itself. It is worth mentioning that the October Revolution’s foreign policy declared support for liberation movements and all struggles against colonialism all over the world. This policy, arguably, was an invitation to all colonists and neo-colonists for a fight. Somalia’s support for liberation movements was not confined to only African freedom fighters but it also extended a hand to those fighting in Cambodia, Vietnam and Palestine among others.
Thirdly, in 1976 Israel-Arab war in which Israel occupied parties of Egypt, Somalia did not only condemn the Israeli aggression but also worked hard in persuading all independent African countries to severe relations with Israel which it succeeded. It was a quite obvious to the powerful friends of Israel, if unchecked, what this 16 years old poor country would try to do when it reached its maturity. Therefore, they left no stone unturned to undermine Somalia and its leadership.
It seems that we have never learned a lesson from our past mistakes since our leaders are still employing same destructive policies which left us in this desperate and humiliating situation. Even when our voice means nothing and makes no impact on any issue, we still pursue the emotion based and fame-seeking policies. For example, in 2016, Somalia, along with six Arab countries, became the only Sab-Saharan African country which walked off African-Arab summit in Equatorial Guinea protesting the presence of Polisario (Western sahara) which has been fighting for independence from Morocco since 1976. Showing neutrality over Polisario, possibly, would extenuate the anger from our African brothers while not disowning our Arab partners. Similarly, in the same year, Somalia severed ties with Iran not because that was our national interest but because to show solidarity to one of our Arab friends.
Although the neutral position that the current administration has taken over Gulf crises is a step to the right direction and top leaders acted professionally, yet the way it is exaggerated by both Somali people and international media is not helping us but creates unnecessary foes for us. The claim that Somalia rejected $80 million offered by Saudi Arabia made news headlines of almost all African and Muslim countries thus turning unwanted and pointless attention towards us. In addition, it has portrayed our leaders as the shinning stars in Africa; exactly the same way that October Revolution leaders were viewed by African people and leaders in the early years of the revolution. However, will Farmajo and Kheyre follow the footsteps of their predecessors and try to build world image before solving internal crises?
Although most of these policies and events can be justified and even some of them were taken in the interest of our nation and acted bona fide, it is evident that we chewed more than what we could swallow and put the interest of other countries before the interest of our nation and people. It is a high time we needed to hide our brightness to rebuild our nation and ameliorate the lives of our people. Remaining neutral over issues between other countries and keeping a low profile, when possible, are the best ways we can realise our goals and save us from foreign intervention.
Ibrahim Aden Shire