Monday, July 30, 2007


China is the next big kahuna.  Putin has the missiles and nukes, but China has going for it the same thing as Barack Obama: freshness.

Before I turn seriously - or semi-seriously - to China, I want to make two points that seem to have escaped the pundits this week as they wallowed in the breath of fresh air/blast from the past controversy:  the question on the YouTube debate was phrased thus:  “Would you be willing, in the first year of your term, to meet with” leaders we don’t like?  Now, “would you be willing” would seem to imply that the questioner thinks this would be a good idea, yet most of the comments I heard emphasized the American public’s preference for caution.  The second thing that no one mentioned was that Hillary is not “experienced” in change, while anyone familiar with Obama’s career as a community activist understands that he has been all about change.  To be about change you have to think outside the box, not think better than other people inside the box.
Now to China: for months we’ve been hearing about China’s sloppy food industry.  No one mentions that at a similar point in our development, at the turn of the 20th century, we committed the same crimes: China hasn’t yet had its Teddy Roosevelt and its Upton Sinclair to legislate and enforce food standards and safety.    This is not our fault but our ethnocentricity could reserve some surprises.

The other day I was in a Social Security office.  Anticipating a wait, I grabbed a free newspaper from a display shelf.  Guess what?  Although its title was “”The Epoch Times,” it was a Chinese publication.  In the place of the New York Times' motto “All the news that’s fit to print” was the phrase:  “A fresh look at our changing world”.  The front section was devoted to international news, the second second was entitled “The City”, and focused on New York.  In total, sixteen full-size pages in all, with color photographs and very little advertising.  But if you think this is a Red Army fifth column, think again: it’s Taiwan.  The front page carries an article entitled :”Chinese Regime infiltrates U.S. campuses”, a special report on the victims of Katrina, Egypt’s condemnation of the Gaza ‘coup’ and a world Wildlife Report on desalinization of sea water, judged environmentally unsound.  Following several pages of varied international news, there is a sports page and a page devoted to various critiques of communism.

A product the USIA could admire.

Not surprisingly, the August issue of “In These Times” reviews a book by Joshua Kurlantzick entitled “Charm Offensive”,  which chronicles China’s increasingly sophisticated use of soft power.  A former student of Joseph Nye, Kurlantzick spent four years in China and writes that the country has been “traversing the developing world, offering to grow trade ties, build road, schools and hospitals, mostly in a bid to gain access to much-needed raw materials an win friends at the U.N.”  He adds that the key desire of the Communist Party leadership “is to articulate China’s growing power in a non-threatening way and to dampen the growing concern over what the Middle Kingdom’s resurgence will mean for the world economically, militarily, environmentally and culturally.”

The reviewer points out that the U.S. did the same after World War II, and that “China’s Peaceful Rise” as the official slogan goes, has resonated in many nations in direct proportion to the deterioration of perceptions about the U.S.   The reviewer also recognizes that this “dazzle them” approach obscures more painful truths, such as China’s continued arms sales to the Sudanese government.  But the most significant thing the article points out is that China’s economic success is fraying he notion that democracy is necessary for economic growth.

A piece in the July 14th Economist titled: “ One household, one vote, a novel approach to conflict-resolution”, reports on a novel vote by Beijing slum residents to offers of proper housing by developers eager to cash in on their locations. The media referred to the vote as a veritable referendum, incurring the wrath of officials who cling to the notion that referendums are not necessary in a state where the party represents the will of the people.  That’s par for the course; but get this:  one commentator argued that property rights were a core human right that could not be taken away for democracy! How’s that for the student outdoing the master? (For the record, twice as many people voted to accept the offer as refused it.)
Last but not least - and my apologies for the length of this entry -  the June 23rd Economist reviewed a book about Pakistan’s military business, entitled Military Inc., Like the Chinese army,  the Pakistani military runs important big businesses, having a virtual monopoly on road-building and cement production and heading one third of the country’s heavy manufacturing companies.   One of the justifications is that soldiers make better managers than civilians.

If you’re wondering why this sounds familiar, think Halliburton, Bechtel, Kellog-Brown and Root.   That brings us neatly back to the YouTube debate and the question about getting our troops out of Iraq: Joe Biden warned that we’d also have to evacuate the civilians on the roof.  Hillary Clinton may know how to do that, but maybe Barack Obama wouldn’t have them there in the first place.

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