Sublime and Beautiful

Mearsheimer Is Right about China…Well, Mostly

Posted in Uncategorized by chaoren on April 18, 2011

I recently read an interesting article by John Mearsheimer entitled “China’s Unpeaceful Rise“. In the article Mearsheimer takes a characteristically provocative stance. He dismisses any possibility of China growing robust while remaining the benign giant of East Asia. Rather, Mearsheimer asserts, China will seek hegemony in its region just as the U.S. did in the Western Hemisphere more than a century ago.
Although I appreciate Mearsheimer’s use of the United States as a hegemon case study, his overreliance on the single example mutes his otherwise incisive thesis. To me, the case for China’s unpeaceful rise could be made more cogently by pointing to the country’s outmoded political system. Authoritarian governments are flawed in many ways; and the 21st century, as we have seen, isn’t a hospitable milieu for such anachronisms. To put it tritely, history is not on the side of China’s Communist Party. It seems inevitable that the CCP will go the way of all Chinese dynasties. Corruption, irresponsiveness to its public’s needs, and outright incompetence will lead to the CCP’s demise either from within China or from outside the country. The latter possibility predicates a stronger China than currently exists. Hence, China’s rise, or more precisely China’s rise with the CCP at the helm, is what will lead to conflict. If China does not maintain its strong economic growth, the CCP probably won’t have the means or confidence to become involved in a serious international conflict (although, if it were in its death throes, it might use war as a means to distract its citizens from its own weakness).
At some point I will write more about this. I just wanted to give kudos to Mearsheimer for being ahead of the game. He published his China article in 2006 which was long before it became popular among political scientists and China hands to jump from the ‘economic engagement will solve everything cult’ to the ‘oh crap! What have we been doing for the past thirty years?! club’.

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Chinese Communist Party: Change is for Democracies

Posted in Uncategorized by chaoren on September 17, 2009

These days, communist China is beginning to look a lot more like its imperial predecessor. The People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) awesome wealth and power have transformed its once formidable foes like Taiwan and Japan into cowed tributaries of yore. Now, it is no longer considered shrewd to speak of changing the Middle Kingdom. Scholars and politicians who used to pontificate about slowly molding China in the image of western liberal democracy have learned a harsh lesson: you don’t change China—China changes you.

Hall of the People

During the early years of China’s economic reforms, the country was seen as a humble backwater. Its plucky ambition attracted only benign curiosity from the West, akin to the curiosity adults bestow upon a child playing by himself. In time, this mild curiosity gave way to amusement and ultimately to intense interest and concern.

Today, Eastern and Western states alike shift their eyes from the United States to China, trying to decide with which power to cast their fate, asking: which is the true Rock of Gibraltar?

Judging from recent political developments in Taiwan and Japan, East Asia may well have already chosen its favorite: China. In March 2008, Taiwanese voters elected Kuomintang (KMT) candidate Ma Ying-jeou President of the Republic of China. Ma’s victory and his party’s overwhelming success in the 2008 legislative elections were pleasant news to the ears of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials. The KMT, once the archenemy of Communist China, had morphed over the years into a more tolerant, less Red Scare-crazed political organization. By 2008, it had become a veritable pussycat compared to Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). The KMT promoted engagement and eventual reunification with mainland China, while DPP firebrand and two-term President Chen Shui-bian spearheaded his party’s provocative pro-Taiwanese independence stance. Evident by the outcome of the 2008 elections, the people of Taiwan were prepared to bridge the Taiwan Strait and strengthen ties with a government they once sought to eradicate. It wasn’t Beijing’s charm that drove the Taiwanese towards its colossal neighbor. It was a mixture of economic opportunism and political fatalism.

When trying to instill a sense of responsibility in others people often recite the adage: no one can make you do anything. The saying is true enough and does a superb job of emphasizing freewill and self-control but it fails to address the fundamental problem of coercion. Granted, theoretically speaking, no one can force another to do something; however, one can do everything in one’s power to make a person’s life extremely difficult if they refuse one’s wishes. China has for years been squeezing Taiwan in such a way. It hasn’t forced Taiwan into its fold per se. However, communist China has worked tirelessly to preclude the Taiwanese people from choosing independence. At its crudest the PRC has resorted to harassing and intimidating Taiwan.

Beijing has been especially crafty in its political marginalization of Taiwan. Through a series of cunning Cold War political maneuvers, in 1971, Beijing succeeded in stripping Taiwan of its United Nations membership and replaced the island nation as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. How, you might ask, did the CCP execute such an astounding feat? The answer is quite simple: it waited patiently. No, the PRC didn’t undergo a rapid liberal-democratic makeover. The CCP didn’t moderate its politics or lessen its human rights abuses. Chairman Mao’s party only needed to bid its time until the world was willing to give it what it wanted.

By 1971, the political milieu in which the CCP operated had changed greatly. During the 1960s, numerous newly independent third world countries were admitted to the UN General Assembly. China courted these countries and cultivated them into a support base for its UN membership bid. Thus, the PRC gained the votes it needed to wage its coup. Plenty objected to allowing Chairman Mao’s mad experiment in communist statecraft into the ranks of the UN’s supreme governing body. But what could be done? The PRC had the numbers it needed to impose its will; so the opposition stood by impotently as they were defeated by their own beloved democratic process.
Ironically, the PRC’s UN victory took place in the midst of Mao’s infamous Cultural Revolution, one of the darkest periods in modern Chinese history. Unfortunately, irony is lost on those blinded by the fog of war. The Nixon administration, caught up in Cold War power politics and struggling to extricate its country from a sticky situation in Vietnam, looked to its new Security Council colleague and saw a potential partner—what it should have seen was a cold opportunist.

In the years after the Second World War, Sino-Soviet relations soured to such an extent that the two communist powers ended up in a series of brief but bloody border conflicts in 1969. Aware that its two great Cold War foes had turned on one-another, U.S. National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger and others in the Nixon administration, being the realists that they were, thought that they could win the allegiance of China and thereby shift the Cold War balance of power in the United States’ favor. Of course, as history has been written: the Nixon administration’s China diplomacy was an indubitable success—it helped to isolate the Soviet Union even further, and it delivered China from the dark recesses of the communist underworld to the light of liberal democracy. Even today, to say that 1970’s U.S.-China rapprochement was a resounding victory for U.S diplomacy is to speak the gospel truth. In actuality, the U.S. sold itself too cheaply and set U.S.-China relations on a dangerous course.

The Nixon administration’s dealings with China were the beginning of a deeply flawed negotiating pattern with the PRC that has seriously undermined the interests of democratic states the world over. The pattern has been one of give and take: the rest of the world gives and Beijing happily takes. U.S.-China trade, the foundation of U.S.-China relations, has been skewed horribly to benefit the PRC at the expense of average Americans. The U.S. trade deficit with China has ballooned over the past decade without U.S. officials taking any serious actions to rectify the matter. All the while, the PRC has utilized unfair trade practices including currency manipulation, investment restrictions, and appallingly lax labor and environmental regulations to suck money from foreign coffers. Of course, U.S. officials won’t admit that they have been steadily losing ground to a Mandarin-styled oligopoly; they won’t even acknowledge that China has made a mockery of its World Trade Organization membership—which China was able to gain with the support of the United States. Rather, U.S. officials have tended to argue that China is a backward country that can benefit enormously from Western tutelage. But China should not be mistaken for postwar Japan; South Korea; or Taiwan. The PRC is not eager to emulate foreign populist political systems nor is it in a position to have such systems imposed on it. On the contrary, the CCP has fashioned its own quasi-democratic one-party political system that cannot realistically support true democratic reform. Therefore, real catalysts for change will have to come from outside, not inside, China’s current political system. This means that efforts by the U.S. and other democratic countries to change China by working with the CCP are futile at best and extremely counterproductive at worst.

By no longer questioning the legitimacy of the CCP as a governing power, the world community obviates any leverage it might exert on the PRC. The Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989 was a missed opportunity for democratic states to band together and demand democratic reforms in China. Likewise, the weak response of the world community to the 2008 Tibet unrest heartens the CCP in its claim that the strife of China’s minorities is an “internal issue” and only concerns the Chinese government. It is blatantly obvious by now that China’s economic strength is making it less and less susceptible to foreign influence and, conversely, more influential with other states. The supposed win-win trade relationships China has been developing with other countries may well be the CCP’s underhanded means of subjugating its adversaries. Currently, states are too preoccupied with economic issues to consider China as anything but a trade partner. But China is more than—a market—a lender—a supplier—it is an economic and a political actor. So, when China signs trade pacts with Taiwan and ASEAN there is more than money at stake.

Taro Aso and Yukio Hatoyama

The recent general election in Japan is a perfect example of how China has used trade to gain political power. For decades, Japan’s center right Liberal Democratic Party produced prime ministers that have for the most part either outraged or mildly offended Beijing. But, this summer’s elections brought a new party and a new kind of prime minister to power. The victorious Democratic Party of Japan and its president the new prime minister of Japan, Yukio Hatoyama, appear ready not only to support strengthening ties with China (as did previous Japan’s previous prime minister, Taro Aso) but to reduce Japan’s military cooperation with the United States. Prime Minister Hatoyama and his party are committed to reorienting Japan towards Asia which some have equated with turning Japan’s back on the United States, its greatest ally. This may seem an abrupt shift in policy but it has been a long time in the making. Japan’s trade relationship with China has been growing for years. China has supplanted the U.S. as Japan’s largest trade partner and the political consequences are now becoming manifest.

In essence, the United States’ flawed China strategy can be described as all carrots and no sticks. The danger for the U.S. and other countries is that the CCP has gained so much economic and political clout that it now holds most of the cards. Before when the U.S. had relatively more power than it does today, U.S. officials made too many concessions to China. They were content to believe that they could tolerate the PRC’s human rights violations, bad trade practices, unwarranted arms build-up, and general bad neighborliness in the international community because trade, they thought, was the panacea for all of China’s ills. First wealth then freedom became the mantra in Beijing and Washington. Unfortunately, wealth and freedom are not inextricably linked.

The China of today must be a rude surprise to the naïve scholars and government officials who once claimed that the CCP’s authoritarian rule would be demolished by China’s growing middle class. Karl Mark famously called religion the opiate of the masses; however, in China, money is the drug of choice. China’s middle class is more interested in accumulating wealth than accumulating civil liberties. Powerless peasants and remote ethnic minorities are the only people left that persistently challenge their illegitimate authoritarian government. Foreign powers like the United States now tread lightly when nearing the PRC’s turf. At present, the U.S. is carefully trying to decide whether honoring its commitment to protect Taiwan by selling it more than $6 billion worth of military hardware is worth incurring China’s wrath. The prospects of the dealing going through don’t look good especially considering that President Obama is scheduled to visit Beijing in November and a cooperative China seems to be vital to the United States’ economic recovery. So the CCP’s intransigence wins again. China’s influence in East Asia grows stronger, its economic ties tighten, and freedom—once a major issue, and then an afterthought—becomes an after-afterthought.

China’s Attempt at Transparency, Nothing Conclusive on Carrier

Posted in Uncategorized by chaoren on April 25, 2009

Courtesy of

This week, China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) celebrated its 60th anniversary. Delegations from 29 naval forces took part in the celebrations in Qingdao harbor which lies approximately 830 km south-east of Beijing.

The theme of the four-day event was “Harmonious Ocean.” Chinese navy commander Admiral Wu Shengli expounded on the theme stating, “the ocean is the common home to navies of the world. It is the responsibility of every navy to protect maritime security while establishing a peaceful and harmonious maritime environment.” In the spirit of such naval harmony, a fleet review was held on Thursday of 21 ships from 14 foreign navies. The host country showed off 25 of its naval vessels and 31 aircraft.

Mystery Revealed

Possibly the biggest story of the military gala was the display of China’s Xia- and Han-class nuclear-powered submarines. Although many military experts were anticipating the unveiling of China’s most advanced nuclear-powered submarines, the Jin- and Shang-class subs, a glimpse of any Chinese submarine is rare. Chinese officials purportedly displayed the submarines to allay foreign countries’ concerns about the growth of China’s naval power and its lack of transparency.

Submarines are a perfect metaphor for the secretive nature of China’s sustained arms buildup. But they also represent a material challenge to the U.S. Navy’s power in East and Southeast Asian. The stealth and destructive capabilities of submarines offer China an asymmetric advantage that could put the U.S. Navy’s dominant position in the region at risk.

Courtesy of

In October 2006, a Song-class diesel-powered Chinese submarine stalked the U.S. aircraft carrier U.S.S. Kitty Hawk in the Pacific Ocean. The submarine was only detected by U.S. naval forces after it surfaced within torpedo range of the carrier. It was a chilling revelation to the U.S. military. The incident showed that China could threaten its multi-billion dollar aircraft carriers with vessels that cost a fraction of the price.

Curiosity surrounding Chinese submarines has mounted as the PLAN fleet has swelled and its activities have increased. According to information recently released by U.S. Navy intelligence, China now has more than 50 attack submarines and Chinese submarine patrols doubled in 2008.

Concerns about China’s mysterious nuclear submarines might not have been erased by their presentation at the celebrations. At least, the public finally got to see stealthy Chinese naval vessels that have been the source of so much anxiety.

The Looming Aircraft Carrier

If the unveiling of China’s submarines was the biggest story of the anniversary celebrations then the biggest story that wasn’t was China’s aircraft carrier.

Military analysts and Chinese officials have long been talking about the possible construction of a Chinese aircraft carrier. Some experts even believe China might produce–or already be producing–multiple aircraft carriers the first of which could be commissioned by 2015.

China’s intent to build a carrier is clear. In March, Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie announced that China would not remain the sole world power without an aircraft carrier. However, no formal announcement regarding plans for an aircraft carrier was made during the anniversary celebrations.

Chinese officials all the way up to President Hu Jintao, who is also chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, have tried their best to reassure the rest of the world about China’s good intentions. The “defensive nature” of China’s military was often mentioned during the four-day event. Concurrently, officials have asserted their country’s right to expand its military power and build aircraft carriers.

Although some might see China’s message of peace and its pursuit of weaponry as contradictory, Chinese military officials see the two as mutually dependent. Zhang Xiaolin, a professor with the strategy and research office of the PLA Navy Command College asserted in an interview with Chinese state media, Xinhua, that, “The PLA Navy will not alter its nature of peace, even if it has aircraft carriers.” Zhang added, “China has chosen to rise peacefully. Only a mighty military power can guarantee such a peaceful rise and contribute more to the maintenance of the world peace.” However, there is more to China’s arms build up than peace and security. Prestige is another driving force for the country that some experts have described as “insecure.” Chinese Admiral Hu Yanlin was quoted in China Daily as saying, “building aircraft carriers is a symbol of an important nation. It is very necessary.” Admiral Hu is not alone in his opinion, many government officials have made similar comments on the matter.

Lots has been said in promoting the building of a Chinese aircraft carrier about prestige and security. A few Chinese officials have even mentioned fighting pirates and protecting shipping lanes. But no one has definitively outlined China’s plans for its future aircraft carriers. U.S. Admiral Gary Roughead told reporters in Qingdao that, “it is not clear what the intent is of the use of an aircraft carrier, I would say that it may cause concern with some of the regional navies and nations.”

Aircraft carriers are meant to project a country’s power well beyond its borders. Being that China hasn’t had a serious military conflict in over three decades; and, historically, most of its military conflicts have been land wars with its neighbors, it is hard to see why China feels the need for aircraft carriers.

China’s perplexing pursuit of aircraft carriers aside, the U.S. Navy and other foreign navies are stepping up their cooperation with the PLAN in order to strengthen ties and head off potential problems with the rising power. The thinking behind such cooperation might reflect the old adage: keep your friends close and your enemies even closer.

Who Gave the Clown a Mic?

Posted in Uncategorized by chaoren on April 23, 2009

Courtesy of

In case you haven’t heard by now, Chinese action star Jackie Chan made a complete fool of himself at last weekend’s Boao Forum for Asia in Boao on China’s island province of Hainan. While participating as a panelist in one of the forum’s discussions entitled “Imagine Asia: Tapping into Asia’s Creative-Industry Potential,” the martial arts legend was asked about censorship in China (hardly a surprise considering that Chan’s latest film “Shinjuku Incident” was banned in China). Chan didn’t respond with the superior incisiveness one would expect from a speaker at a world-renowned international forum that draws current and former heads of state as guests and orators. Instead, Chan made a gross display of pandering to China’s authoritarian government, the Chinese Communist Party (CPC), in which he insulted Chinese the world over. He questioned the merits of freedom saying, “I’m not sure if it is good to have freedom or not […] If you are too free, you are like the way Hong Kong is now. It’s very chaotic. Taiwan is also chaotic.” Then, as if he hadn’t fully expressed his allegiance to his CPC shepherd, Chan deepened his disgrace by stating, “I’m gradually beginning to feel that we Chinese need to be controlled. If we are not being controlled, we’ll just do what we want.”

Now I’m a big proponent of free speech, and I would never suggest that Mr. Chan not be allowed to speak his mind. However, I don’t think someone like him should be invited to speak at an event like the Boao Forum that deals with serious subjects of which his opinion is of no real value. Sure, Chan attended the forum under the guise of businessman. He is, after all, an entrepreneur and the Vice Chairman of the China Film Association, as was noted in the event program. But Chan is far from a world business leader, and any sort of substantive contributions he could make to discussions about the entertainment industry would be (and were as we saw) precluded by his interest in maintaining good relations with the CPC. Chan likes attention; he also likes doing business. Losing an audience and market like China by crossing the CPC is something Chan would never do. He is a spokesman for the government of Hong Kong, a major face of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, a huge donor to last spring’s Beichuan, Sichuan earthquake relief effort, and founder of two charitable organizations that operate in Hong Kong and mainland China. Clearly, Chan has invested a lot in his image as a patriot. Moreover, Chan has invested a great deal in his business ventures in China. He has a clothing line, restaurants, and fitness clubs to look out for. On top of all of this, Chan has his main business to protect: namely, filmmaking. China is a growing market for movies and Chan wants a piece of the action. Even with all of his patriotism he hasn’t been able to guarantee that all of his films will be shown in the mainland. So, when confronted with questions about censorship, arguably the single most important issue facing the Chinese entertainment industry today, how can anyone expect Chan not to parrot Communist drivel?

There is no excusing Chan’s comments–a fact the star may soon learn as he confronts outraged Chinese calling for boycotts against his films and live performances. He should be ashamed of having slandered his people in order to duck a sticky question and win favor with the CPC. However, the organizers of the Boao Forum should have used better judgment when selecting speakers for their event. Chan had no business speaking at the forum.

Hopefully some good comes of Chan’s reprehensible behavior. At the very least, the man ought to learn that he should be guided by morals, not the self-serving rhetoric of an authoritarian regime.

East Asia’s Ties: Invested in China in a Time of Trouble

Posted in Uncategorized by chaoren on April 2, 2009

When the global financial crisis began to take shape in the United States all eyes immediately turned to China to see how it’s economy would respond to the rapid deterioration of its largest market. A lot of discussion since the onset of the crisis has surrounded the extent to which China has or has not decoupled from the U.S. economy. The implication being the weaker China’s ties to the U.S. economy prove to be the better its chances are of maintaining its own robust economic growth. But there is more to the modern global economy than U.S.-China trade. In fact, one of the most intriguing stories of the last couple decades has been China’s accelerated integration with the highly-developed economies of East Asia. Although Japan remains the largest economy in the region, China is the fastest growing. In 2007, China surpassed Germany to become the world’s third largest economy behind Japan and the United States; and, if current GDP trends hold, China should claim the number two spot within the next few years–a fact that is not lost on its neighbors.

Image Courtesy of

As much as China has depended on the United States as a market for its products, the export driven economies of Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan have depended on China’s increasing consumption and cheap labor for much of their growth. This has meant a boon of foreign direct investment (FDI) for China. Japanese and South Korean companies have placed considerable bets on the continued strength and vitality of the Chinese market. Toyota Motor Corporation and Honda Motor Co., Ltd., Japan’s two largest automobile manufacturers, have each established joint ventures in China with extensive manufacturing and distribution operations throughout the country. But they are not the only Japanese enterprises putting down roots in the world’s most populous country. Companies as diverse as food & beverage colossus Suntory Ltd. and pharmaceuticals giant Takeda Pharmaceuticals Co., Ltd. have also set up shop along with thousands of other Japanese firms.

Japan’s FDI (balance of payment basis) in China during the mid- to late-90s was substantial and, after a precipitous drop off in 1999, it has increased every year since, save a small dip in 2006. According to preliminary figures prepared by the Japan External Trade Organization, Japan’s 2008 FDI in China totaled USD 6.497 bln more than 18 times greater than its total of USD 360 mln in 1999. However, in terms of percentage of total outward FDI, Japan’s FDI in China has been steadily declining since 2004.

More telling than Japan’s FDI numbers are its import/export figures and no such figures are more symbolic than those of 2007. That year was a watershed in the history of world trade. It was the first year in modern Japanese history that China was its largest trading partner. Prior to 2007, the United States held that claim. Thus, Japan’s economic ties with China have grown tighter. And, having racked up USD 109.1 bln from exports to China in 2007, Japan will be hard pressed if its greatest trading partner cannot weather the current economic storm as finding new markets may be well near impossible.

South Korea’s need for China to keep steaming along may be even greater than Japan’s. Since 1988, South Korean companies have established more than 19,000 ‘New Overseas Enterprises’ in China. Of these enterprises approximately three-fourths have been established in the last eight years. The degree to which South Korea has staked its own future on that of its neighbor is astonishing. Although Japan has invested many billions of dollars in China, its total FDI for 2008 only represents 5 percent of its total outward FDI of that year. In contrast, over the past two decades nearly one-fourth of South Korea’s total FDI has been in China. Similar to Japan, South Korea is heavily dependent on the Chinese market for its exports. According to the Korea International Trade Organization, the total value of South Korea’s exports to China in 2008 was approximately USD 91.38 bln, nearly twice the total value of its exports to its next largest market, the United States. South Korea has changed its orientation so fast, turning away from the U.S. towards China, that its current trade structure does not resemble its trade structure of 10 years ago in least. In 1999, the U.S. was by far the largest recipient of South Korean exports followed by Japan and China. However, by 2008 China had leapfrogged the U.S. and Japan to become the largest buyer of South Korean exports.

Finally, even the Republic of China (Taiwan) has decided to hitch its wagon to China’s star. Despite tight government restrictions on direct investments in the People’s Republic of China, Taiwanese companies have, by both official and surreptitious means, invested heavily in China. Shu-Ching Jean Chen of states that “Taiwanese companies have been for some time the top investors in China, having stealthily channeled more than $100 billion worth of investment to the mainland indirectly, through third-party intermediaries.” Hence, the presence of Taiwanese companies and capital in China, while relatively inconspicuous, is significant. Moreover, Taiwan shares with South Korea and Japan a newfound dependence on the 1.3 billion consumers in China. A decade ago, China was only Taiwan’s seventh-largest trading partner. But, by 2008, China had become Taiwan’s largest trading partner and market for exports, buying up almost twenty percent of its total exports.

Japan has not thrown its lot in with China in the dramatic fashion of South Korea and Taiwan. The U.S. may no longer be Japan’s number one market but it still runs a close second and it remains the top recipient of Japan’s FDI. Regardless, it is clear that the balance in East Asia has shifted towards China. For the time being at least, decisions China makes will be as important (if not more so) to the economic well-being of the East Asia region as decisions made by the United States. Some might feel unnerved to realize that tremendous powers now lie in the hands of an authoritarian government. A certain amount of disquietude is justifiable. If the Great Leap Forward and the opening up of China’s economy have taught us anything its that things change quickly in a country with a highly centralized authoritarian government running the show. There is always the chance that the Communist Party will react hastily or inappropriately to the future economic problems that are waiting to hit China. In an effort to raise employment the Party might take protectionist measures which would most certainly hurt all the countries of East Asia. Or, in order to deflect attention from its shortcomings, the government might encourage or turn a blind eye to violent expressions of nationalism. Laid off workers in China have already began to show their anger at executives, as witnessed after lay offs at Panasonic Electronic Devices (Beijing) in late-February of this year (See Article). Anger over layoffs at a foreign company could very easily go from a workers’ rights demonstration to an anti-foreigner riot if the Party decides ‘it’s either us or them.’ The possible scenarios whereby China could make Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan regret ever having cozied up to it are countless.

To date, the Party has responded well to the financial crisis. It has sought to combat the financial crisis in a calm but proactive manner. In November of last year, China announced its USD 586 billion stimulus package. Unlike the U.S., China has also seen foreign direct investment as key to its recovery. Just last month the government, seeking to facilitate foreign investment, relaxed FDI rules. These are positive signs for all the nations of the world. It is vital to the international community that both the U.S. and China make good decisions as they try to work their way out of the current economic troubles. But it is extremely important to the countries of East Asia that China feels the weight of its responsibility as the emerging leader of the region and acts accordingly.

China’s Rise and the Diversity Factor

Posted in Uncategorized by chaoren on March 30, 2009

If you have lived in China long enough you have probably heard the ‘ethnic diversity spiel.’ It is usually given by a Chinese friend, colleague, or tour guide when any topic related to race is broached and it goes something like this: China has 56 ethnic groups the largest of which is Han. Then, almost without exception, the speaker proudly announces: I am Han.

The lesson the listener is supposed to draw from this factoid is that China is a diverse country. However, considering that more than 90 percent of Chinese are ethnically Han and the vast majority of the 55 other ethnic groups are concentrated in the peripheries of the country, it is understandable that the listener is rarely convinced.

China's 56 Nations: Courtesy of China Today

More to the point, the kind of diversity the Chinese talk about when describing their country is not the kind of diversity most outsiders think of. In countries like the United States, Canada, France and England with long histories of relatively open immigration, ethnic diversity tends to be interpreted to mean a population composed of first, second–sixth generation citizens from all corners of the globe. Walking the streets of New York, Paris, London, or Vancouver one sees people of all races and creeds–people who are not just residents but citizens of the countries in which they live. China’s metropolises, on the other hand, are quite different. Even in the most cosmopolitan cities of China you won’t find anything comparable to a Little Italy or a Little Havana. In the major trade hubs of Shanghai and Shenzhen you will see a fair number of Japanese, Koreans, Filipinos, French, Dutch, and Germans but virtually all of these people are expats. They live, for the most part, in a separate world from the locals. Many just come and go from the country on business. Others settle with their compatriots in little pockets around their respective cities. They send their children to foreign schools, shop at foreign grocery stores and generally socialize with other expats. However, the expats, as isolated from the general populace as they are, are the closest thing China has to true ethnic and cultural diversity as most outsiders would understand it.

So what impact will China’s lack of diversity have on its future development?
For years people have been watching China, speculating about its economic growth. Some have viewed China’s increasing wealth positively, often arguing that China’s economic growth will lead to more and more political reforms and eventually democracy. Others who are more skeptical of China’s economic might warn that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has no intention of giving up power and that a CCP desperate to hang on to power and flush with cash to fund its military is neither good for the Chinese people nor the international community. But what most everyone agrees is that China will continue to increase its power and influence.

Long before the global financial crisis and the slowdown of China’s economy, people began to question China’s development model. By most accounts China was set to keep growing for years and years and would almost certainly surpass the United States as the preeminent world power. But when people started to look beyond GDP numbers and really consider China’s social and political issues they found reasons to doubt the inevitability of its rise to preeminence. Now, many are wondering whether, in the long run, India will be more successful than China due its well established democratic system of government. Still, it seems a forgone conclusion that the United States will not be able to maintain its position a top the world hierarchy. Either the democratic behemoth or the communist giant will win out. How could the U.S. be expected to compete? After all what does it have that neither China nor India can easily acquire? The answer is diversity.

For centuries America has been at the forefront of social development. The country itself is the greatest experiment in social cohesiveness ever. Founded by immigrants, sustained by immigrants, the United States has experienced great social turmoil and been faced with enormous social challenges due to its unique history and demographics. Black marks like the brutal conquest of Native Americans and the enslavement of African Americans have and continue to test American race relations. Bigotry and racism are still very real problems in America. Yet the diversity of the American population is exceedingly the country’s greatest strength. It has given rise to a hotbed of creativity. A hotbed that has produced such remarkable things as jazz music, the internet and the atomic bomb.

Although certain minority groups within the United States may be disgruntled with the government, the U.S. has been much more successful at satisfying its citizenry than has the Chinese government its. While the threat of violence and even terrorist acts by disgruntled minority groups exists within the U.S., that threat pales in comparison to the threat the Chinese government faces from Tibetan and Uighur separatists. During the lead up to the Beijing Olympics China was plagued by domestic terrorism. China’s official media, Xinhua, reported that during August 2008, at least 23 security officers and one civilian were killed by Uighur separatists in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. Likewise, violent riots by ethnic Tibetans in China’s Tibet Autonomous Region, Sichuan and Gansu provinces illustrates the long road China has ahead of it to build a “harmonious society” with anywhere near the comparative racial harmony of America.

It is impossible to say if and when China will ever surpass the United States as the most powerful nation in the world. Maybe we are even wrong to be paying so much attention to China when it could be India that will prove more successful. Or, what if we have it all wrong? What if there is something to America’s social dynamics and, in the end, a special synergy causes it to spring up once again to lead the world? Perhaps we will learn something about power as we watch the drama of China’s rise unfold.

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