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20 September 2007

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Chatham

China Hand-

The Chinese have much less to lose over a Taiwan conflict? The government fears collapse may be the result of such a conflict. Tell me, what does the US have to lose?

And the lack of control over local officials has been a problem for years. So say scholars and the government itself...but I suppose this is just more "obfuscation"? The problem isn't whether or not they'd cross the military, either.

Income inequality is more applicable to the US then China? Yeah? On second thought, mind posting your CV? Statements like this raise questions.

One could make a case for India and Russia, and it would be comparable to the case being made now for China. Japan is the second largest economy, I suppose no one questions it's importance. Do any of these seek to attack China? No, but they won't step back and let China control a sphere of influence. Neither will South Korea, Pakistan, Thailand, Vietnam, or Indonesia (and the Philippines will be added to that list soon, if it isn't on their already). I suppose the hype hasn't caught up yet with some of these other populous countries with strong economic growth. I won't be surprised if we have India "sudden experts" extolling the power of that country in 5 years, and South Asian "sudden experts" talking about their remarkable growth in 10. Actually, it may end up being a bit sooner.

Assuming their's no downturn. These countries, like China, do not have a clear or easy path. Despite the hype and myopia surrounding China at the moment (similar if not the same to that around Japan in the 80's or Iran in the 70's), this is what happens when populous countries industrialize. And then the momentary experts come out of the woodwork, telling us how it's because of this or that cultural value (all the books on the Japanese Samarai culture in the 80's). Then when there's a slowdown/catastrophe, all these "experts" disappear or move on to the next big thing (IE, where are all the Japanese experts right now? James Fallows was over there during the 80's hype, and now he's in China for the current hype there...so much for really being an expert on a country, eh?).

It's an old dance, and even with my relative youth I've seen the motions before. Like any hype, we are told that this time it's for real, this time the old rules don't apply (remember the stock market in the 90's? The recent housing market?). The old rules do apply though, and I find that one is better served by patience and historical precedent than by momentary excitement.

China Hand

The old rules certainly do apply; the problem as I see it is that your arguments are based not on the old rules, but the new ones: socio-economic and analytical theories that came into vogue in the post-war era, and which have been hyped well beyond the boundaries of reason this last decade.

I am not suggesting that because of some set of cultural values China will excel, nor have I suggested that China is going to dominate the world. China will, however, become a superpower (as will Russia, and -- eventually -- India); and U.S. policy, as currently exercised, has determined to forcefully not let that happen. Should the U.S. follow that down to conflict then there is no question that it will lose.

We could spend days debating whether or not the CCP could weather a war or whether the internal divisions would break their system apart; there is evidence that says both yes and no. All we would get from it is a clear demonstration that you are basing your arguments on a thoughtful but very weakly supported opinion. My experience inclines me to see things differently, and so I have come to very different conclusions.

In this vein, I think Kiracofe's articles are interesting. They are consistent with my own ideas and do nothing I can see to support your own counter arguments.

DH

China Hand, will you please comment upon this article?

"Lester Thurow of MIT has recently published an analysis of official Chinese claims to 10% or higher annual industrial growth rates, finding these incompatible with the objective evidence of such indices as electricity consumption as well as with the historical evidence of development elsewhere. He estimates that the real growth rate is between 4.5% and 6%, neither of which will give China a superpower economy in the present century. [International Herald Tribune, Aug 21, 2007]

And this is to take no account of the ecological devastation being produced in China by uncontrolled and corrupt industrialization and development. Corruption tends to be the engine of development in China, and essential to it.

Such growth forecasts also tend to ignore the massive, backward, impoverished, and socially and politically restless Chinese agricultural population, and the likelihood – I myself would say the certainty – of a major and possibly revolutionary political crisis in China in the foreseeable future. This would derive from the inadequacies, corruption and ideological/political illegitimacy of a self-perpetuating ruling class, whose only claim to authority is its bureaucratic descent from the catastrophic Chinese Communist regime of Mao Zedong.

On the other hand, the Chinese government is seeking economic influence wherever it can find it, whether through foreign investments in advanced countries, financed from the overflowing funds furnished China by the trade indebtedness of the United States, or by its massive purchases of raw materials in resource-rich countries, preferably in places underdeveloped and generally unregulated.

This creates influence but also dependence and resentment, and eventual backlash – as is apparent already in some African countries, exploited and then abandoned by the Chinese, where local industry has also been destroyed by the cheap Chinese imports that were part of the Chinese economic embrace and program of resource exploitation.

What does this globalization reveal about China itself? A remarkable series of articles by a senior correspondent of Le Figaro newspaper in Paris, François Hauter, formerly stationed in China, attempts to answer that question (among others). He writes about the two Chinas that coexist, the modern China displayed to foreigners and the hidden China where, he writes: “nothing has changed in a quarter century.” "

http://www.williampfaff.com/modules/news/article.php?storyid=247

zanzibar

Clifford,

The Asia Times article you linked to is very interesting and adds a dynamic that I did not contemplate. What will the role of Russia be in the event of a US military strike on Iran? Russia has been reasserting its power. There have been recent stories about reactivation of their strategic forces as well as tests of fuel bombs - what was the purpose? Putin has also consolidated the energy industry in Russia and Gazprom has become a formidable player controlling 25% of gas supplies to western Europe. Now working towards formation of a gas cartel. In this context the only thing missing is an overt strategic military alliance with Iran reminiscent of cold war blocs.

I am also puzzled by the new direction of France. Maybe its just short term opportunism or are they feeling left out of the western alliance and seek a larger role suitable for their ego?

A few months ago I would have said that Russia will sell Iran down the river as part of a tradeoff but now I'm not sure. They want to be a serious energy hegemon in the vein of Saudi Arabia and use that power for their own strategic purposes - that may be in direct conflict with the DC elites and the Cheney neocons in particular.

China Hand

Sure; but my apologies: I must be brief.

The article is long on Western ideology and very short on an understanding of Chinese (I would say even Asian) culture and history.

First, I know a few Taiwanese and Chinese entrepeneurs who have worked in Africa, and a few African diplomats who work over here; my sense is that the relationship is developing rapidly and happily.

Mao is hardly seen by the majority as "disastrous". The article seems to suggest that the CCP legitimacy is in question because its authority derives from Mao while its economic reforms represent a fundamental break.

Except that if the Chinese were as critical of of Mao as the author evidently is ("disastrous", "catastrophic"), then the reforms and adjustments made these last 30 years would reinforce the bureaucracy's legitimacy, not weaken it. Mao's legacy is instead more widely debated and nuanced, and perceptions of the ruling party's economic and bureaucratic authority reflect that.

So I would suggest these internal pressures don't play out in the way the author suggests.

Thurow's article I find questionable on a few points. He writes "What are the chances that [Hong Kong's economy shrank while Guangdong's grew]? Very slim." Yet just after "the handover", management and investors from Taiwan and Hong Kong flocked to China and mostly wound up in Shanghai, Guangdong and FuJian. It is very easy for me to imagine both of those numbers being correct.

Similarly, Thurow writes "There is an equally simple reason that neither of these predictions is likely to be realized. It simply takes more than 100 years for a large, less economically developed country to catch up with the world leader in per capita income."

I would simply say that "catching up with the world leader in per capita income" is not the Chinese estimate of Superpower status. As your source mentions (and as I have pointed out elsewhere on this blog), there are "two chinas": the traditional, land-based economy and the urban, technology-based economy. The government is being very careful about how the two influence each other. Free marketeers would like to argue that this is somehow a a "price" the Chinese peasants are paying, but at the same time acknowledge that the urban life awaiting Chinese peasants is a miserable one.

The entity that negotiates these two worlds is the CCP.

Is it or is it not 10% growth? Frankly, I don't care; that's a debate for accountants and tax collectors. What's undeniable is that the growth is revolutionary in its scale and having a tremendous impact on the world around us. Will it slow down? Probably. Will it fall apart? I see no symptoms of that.

Finally, it seems to me that Thurow's article fails completely to account for the rise of Taiwan and Hong Kong. Both share all of the technology and sophistication of any western country, and only 25 years ago both rapidly started to emerge from a position very like China's. China is larger, and so taking longer. It also started a little later.

Asian population densities pose tremendous problems. Taiwan is dealing with them relatively well; China seems to be doing even better. That is why I am skeptical of economists and analysts who try to reduce standard-of-living metrics to things like GDP and per capita wage earnings.

The ecological problems -- which I agree are dangerous and frightening -- are but one more symptom of this; yet Europe and the US cannot offer any real help: their own solution has been to export the dirty stuff abroad. So in this instance, the Chinese are attempting not only to catch up but to actually surpass the West. If Chinese policy closely follows Hong Kong and Taiwan then we should expect the worst, both for them and the rest of the world.

Basically, I see the Pfaff article as pointing out that China is a very crowded and volatile place that encompasses what are to Western eyes extreme differences; from this, he concludes that the "post-communist" bureaucracy is out of control and the poor can only be miserable. I would contest, however, that traditional lifestyles in China are not all that unpleasant, that the best way to deal with volatility is to remain adaptive, and with overcrowding is to maintain a sense of unified purpose. Throughout these last few decades of development the CCP has remained tightly focused upon these goals. So where Pfaff appears to see corruption and weaknesses I rather see suppleness and strength.

Is the place cruel? Undeniably. Is it more cruel than the U.S? Again, that is a debate.

DH

China Hand,

"Is the place cruel? Undeniably. Is it more cruel than the U.S? Again, that is a debate."

Thank you for your thoughtful reply. My biggest question about China is if there is a natural tendency toward acceptance of authoritarian rule. I think there can be as many shortcomings to excessive personal liberty as to living under relatively benevolent authoritarianism. This article considers the possiblility that democracy isn't necessarily inevitable in a developed country.

"China and Russia represent a return of economically successful authoritarian capitalist powers, which have been absent since the defeat of Germany and Japan in 1945, but they are much larger than the latter two countries ever were. Although Germany was only a medium-sized country uncomfortably squeezed at the center of Europe, it twice nearly broke out of its confines to become a true world power on account of its economic and military might. In 1941, Japan was still behind the leading great powers in terms of economic development, but its growth rate since 1913 had been the highest in the world. Ultimately, however, both Germany and Japan were too small -- in terms of population, resources, and potential -- to take on the United States. Present-day China, on the other hand, is the largest player in the international system in terms of population and is experiencing spectacular economic growth. By shifting from communism to capitalism, China has switched to a far more efficient brand of authoritarianism. As China rapidly narrows the economic gap with the developed world, the possibility looms that it will become a true authoritarian superpower."

http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2007/06/the_return_of_authoritarian_gr.html

Also, here is an interesting article about some problems with Afro-Sino relations.

http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,484603,00.html

Chatham

"My biggest question about China is if there is a natural tendency toward acceptance of authoritarian rule. I think there can be as many shortcomings to excessive personal liberty as to living under relatively benevolent authoritarianism."

DH-

It's impossible to sum up the feelings of 1/6 of the worlds population. The impression I've gotten from people in the big cities is ranges from anger to complacency. I wouldn't say anyone loves the party, some think it's better than the alternatives (which they seem afraid of), some dislike it but are afraid of it, and some outright denounce it (got this from cab drivers, who often don't care). I'm sure you can find some who like it, but I doubt that's many people.

As to your article, I would say it's completely correct in saying there's two China's - the sprawling cities of the east with built up city centers (and plenty of slums, just not heavily frequented by foreigners), and the undeveloped countryside with most of the people. How many foreigners see the countryside? Hell, even going to a large city that's not one of the handful of tourist haunts is considered amazing now. When talking about the countryside, we're talking about an area where even many Chinese I know say they don't understand, and have little contact with. And if I remember correctly, the breakdown of country to city dwellers is something like 850 million to 450 million. Thought the urban poor are often grumbling, one can only imagine what the 850 million in the countryside who have to face the problems of pollution and corruption without any benefit must feel.

Another thing to watch is the the new upper class. A few are often nudging the limits of government criticism (and criticism in general - I get the impression there's a lot of emotion there seeking an outlet).

As a whole, though, the impression I got from the Chinese upper class (I suppose they would be middle class here in the states) is one of caution - there's a lot of change going one that they don't really understand (and who does?) or see the end point too, so they try to make the most of things and hope for the best.

To answer your question - despite all the talk of the "cultural differences" and that "the Chinese are just like that", I wouldn't say that there is a greater acceptance of authoritarianism there than elsewhere (just as we can see now that the Japanese and Germans weren't more prone to authoritarianism). It seems to be as a result of circumstance, and not one that they're happy about.

Oh, and it is a more cruel than the US.

DH

Chatham,
Thanks for your insights, China is a fascinating topic. If you have any favorite aricles, please send them my way.

Clifford Kiracofe

Zanzibar,

The old Russian eagle's two heads face West AND East. The early post Cold War saw Russia exploited in a free for all signed off on by Russian "Westernizers." Putin's circle appears more level headed,thinks in strategic terms, and adds a strong "Eastern" dimension to policy.

Russian academic and political circles I talk with follow US elite opinion carefully. They noted the Council on Foreign Relations study that reeks of the Cold War.
http://www.cfr.org/publication/9997/

They have read Brzezinski's books and notice the geopolitical narcissism of his Jamestown Foundation and its Flathead-Neocon linkages.
http://www.jamestown.org/board.php

They have examined the public White House national strategy statements, particular as they relate to Eurasia, and so forth.

So is it any wonder Russia is developing the Asian dimension of its global strategy?

"We have recently come to the greatest dawn in Russian-Chinese relations," Putin told Chinese President Hu Jintao at two-way talks here Saturday - words reinforced by four billion dollars in new bilateral trade deals this year alone.

He assured his Chinese counterpart that whoever takes the reins of power in Russia's March 2008 presidential vote, "there is no doubt that Russian policy toward China will not change in the coming years."

On his way to Sydney, Putin oversaw a billion-dollar deal to sell arms to Indonesia, and on Friday he signed an agreement that will let Russia buy an estimated one billion dollars' worth of Australian uranium a year.

Top officials from Russian state gas giant Gazprom were also on hand looking for new resources and markets.

"It's no secret that we want to be the biggest supplier of natural gas to the Asia-Pacific region," Gazprom deputy chairman Alexander Medvedev said." ETC. From AFP story:
http://mnweekly.ru/politics/20070913/55275630.html

Per France, Sarko and his circle are French Neocons which is why they are so tight with the US Neocons and assorted Flatheads.

Meanwhile, the blood and treasure meter is running on Iraq and I suppose will on Iran. At this time, I foresee no significant change in US foreign policy by whomever takes the White House in 08. The policy will be essentially drawn from such proposals as found in:
http://www.wws.princeton.edu/ppns/

Chatham

DH-

I've yet to find good and informative blogs on China like this one and Juan Cole's are for the Middle East. There seems to be too much background noise; it's easy for people to go over there, live well, and call themselves experts. If you are interested, I found the article below very interesting, and though I don't agree with the author on everything I think it's better than most I've found. Have a look:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A25564-2005Mar10.html?nav=rss_world/asia/eastasia/china

Indeed, it is a fascinating subject. If you have any other articles to share as well, I'd be happy to look at them.

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