06 July 2012

... and again on China

There is a continuing discussion of China on the web. I have commented on a piece today by Prof Pei Minxin, at the wonderful Project Syndicate web site. Pei is known for arguing that China is going to fail, variously.

My comment as follows:

Elsewhere Prof Pei has spoken of China's government as a statistical outlier in its longevity among autocracies.

China is also an outlier for its population size and consequent governance issues, its poverty and the historically unique rate of revolutionary change and its climb from poverty since 1978. 

There are problems with generalisations for the whole country. I was saying to people in the 1980s that the Chinese coastal strip contained at least four equivalents of post-war Japan, not like the 'little tigers' of Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore, but on the scale of Japan itself; same picture more dramatic now. While other parts of China are less developed. 

The discussion in Prof Pei's later paragraphs about problems of accountability might be put in context of the way things have gone in western economies in recent times. There has not been much on offer for China as exemplary (or successful) political or commercial conduct in the US or EU or Russia, or India in the reform era from 1978.

I have argued elsewhere that Chinese leaders work with more freedom, plan with more freedom than currently evident in many western democratic systems or academic institutions. 

I am not aware of any thread of political desire in this generation (or the next, the graduates mentioned) to break up this unprecedentedly large country, apart from some elements in minority populations. 

If we say there are problems for the rich and productive in China in getting more deeply into the markets of less developed parts of China, compare the EU dilemma, Germany needing to sustain and build its poorer and 'less well governed' fellow EU members if it is not to lose its own wealth. 

Mind you, I worry about my country's 20% GDP dependence on exports.
.. while having more confidence in China's government to address big new issues than I have in the capacities of my own country's political system, let alone those of the US. We need to think about ourselves when doing this too-common rough-up of China.

Yes, there are dinosaurs in the Chinese system, I recognise them because they are familiar locally. But there needs to be something more than this kind of statistical chartism, some more refined political examination, to really claim that China is on the verge of collapse. 

I am concerned not least because arguing in the United States about China in this way has for decades fed adversarial ways of thinking about China, which do nothing to lead towards positive outcomes. Feeding the kind of thinking that still imagines Reagan brought down the Soviet Union. Construction of collaborative connections with China by the US, Japan and others including Australia, is of the utmost importance for global security. We will all do better if we shift from zero sum gaming, make room.