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About 8 years ago, I thought that China needed some public relations help.  The West was not giving it any credit, and no one was quite paying attention.  While I spent a couple of years in business school, I founded a club that focuses on business opportunities in the Greater China region, with my eye in China.  I remembered having to justify why the club has a place for existence, and that it will have a lasting existence.  I remembered having to explain why we are not looking to start a Chinese culture club, but a China business club.

Then the Olympics came along.  I started writing this blog before the Olympics, and then I had a hard time keeping it up.  I was suffering from China exhaustion.  The hype was incredible – suddenly China was the darling of the world.  Look, they can get thousands of people dancing totally in sync!  But more importantly, look at how much money they have.

After that, we have the global meltdown.  Global ex-China.  Suddenly, China is not only interesting –  maybe, just maybe, they have it all figured out better than we have.  Perhaps democracy is not the best solution afterall.  Look, the Chinese can build highspeed railways overnight – they are clearly better than we are.  Even Obama said so.  The power of having autocratic control.  We envy.

I’m not suggesting that we need to start China bashing.  The ruling party deserves a lot of credit for moving the country forward.  And I do hope it will continue to do so for decades.  It is true that the majority of the people are moving forward in a way they have not experienced before.  I think, however, that both the Chinese  and the West are starting to make excuses for the Chinese government for unacceptable behaviors (in areas of human rights and freedom of speech).  It’s tolerable or even expected as long as the country is moving forward.  This has always been Chinese government’s argument.  That the sacrifice of a few is necessary for the good for the country.

For me, the pendulum is starting to swing the other way.

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Engineers running a country

With all the news about the 60th celebration, everyone, including Scott Adams has China on his mind.  His latest blog post is rather thought-provoking.  An excerpt below:

The bad news for China is that their up-and-coming leaders have backgrounds in law, economics, and history. In time, the lawyers will start passing lots of laws that individually make sense while collectively strangling the business sector in red tape. The economists will all disagree with each other, and the historians will be planning for the past. So China is pretty much doomed. But they had a good run.

Reading beyond the cynicism, I believe there might be some truth to it.  Engineering training focuses on problem solving and rational thinking and empirical experiments.  There is one absolute truth and the mission is to find it.  Liberal arts and social sciences emphasize critical thinking, historical evidence and idealogies.  It is about making arguments to support a model or a theory.  And of course, you got to pick your position first.  You’re either Keynesian or monetarists or austrian.

So yes, it will be interesting to see whether China will continue to be ran on a formula going forward.  I suppose either approach has its benefits and limitations (the engineer in me talking).

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Chimerica

Christopher Clarke wrote a very nice piece published in the Yale Global Online titled: US-China Duopoly Is a Pipedream

Here’s the exerpt and the jist:

In short, Sino-American economic symbiosis has come to look more like a mutual death grip in which neither side dares make a precipitous move for fear of going over the cliff with the other.

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This year in particular, I find myself spending more time reflecting on what happened 20 years ago.  I ponder whether with all the progress China has had over the past two decades, June 4th could have repeated  itself.  Disturbingly, I find myself thinking that it could.  Not in the same way or same form, but in the same spirit.  

I am worried that China’s economic strength will deterioriate rather than enhance the advancement of human rights.  I worry because Chinese citizens seem to have adopted the view that sacrificing the freedom and happiness of a small group of people for economic prosperity is the right thing to do. 

I am afraid not that June 4th will be forgotten, but that June 4th will be viewed as a positive.  I am worried that China’s economic progress will make the suppression of individuals justifiable or even encouraged.

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Here is a  reflective piece on the Tiananmen Square incident 20 years ago. 

On that note, I am planning to read Zhao Ziyang’s memoir just recently released called Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang.

Update: there are some good coverage this year.  Here are a couple from the Financial Times: West miscasts Tiananmen protesters, and Netizens use strength in numbers.  And here’s one from the Asia Times: Forget Tiananmen, thus spake Confucius

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Jackie Chan’s recent remarks has gotten him quite a bit of press.  Apparently the actor went on some rantings about his personal political view that “Chinese needs to be controlled”.  There were some debate about whether “controlled” is the appropriate translation and he might have really meant “regulated”.   Where he got the most heat, however, is for saying that HK and Taiwan are “chaotic” due to “too much freedom”. 

Chan’s remakrs have spurred strong criticisms from HK and Taiwan, some suggesting that Chan should be stripped off his various “ambassador” responsibilites.  What’s ironic about this is that while this is all in the name of defending freedom/democracy, they are, at the same time, squandering it.  Social pressure and self-censorship is a powerful and dangerous force. 

I hope Chan will not bow to social pressure and apologize for expressing his opinions.   We shall see.

Update: NYTimes just published an article on this as well.

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Scott Adams on China

I just want to put in a link to Scott Adam’s blog (the creator behind Dilbert for those who care).  It is China in Dilbert’s eyes if you may.  Here is the link, and here is an exerpt. 

First of all, there are 1.3 billion Chinese, but only 73 million of them are members of the Communist Party. The party has a monopoly on power. They decide who gets to run for office. The Communists manage a vast bureaucracy that apparently has provisions for weeding out the idiots. I make that assumption based on the fact that the country functions at all, given its size and complexity. Check out this chart of the Chinese government.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Chinese_political_system.jpg

Although the Communists run the show, I assume most citizens have the right to join the party and work their way up the ranks. So merit appears to be important in their system. Obviously any big political system will have its share of corruption and favoritism. It’s unclear to me if China is better or worse than the United States on those measures. But I imagine that getting caught with your hand in the public till in China means death. Here it means reelection. Advantage China.

Chinese citizens can vote for their local leaders, at least from the slate of candidates deemed appropriate by the party. And those local leaders in turn select higher level leaders, and so on. Is that less fair than the political systems in so-called democratic countries? Philosophically, it might be less fair. On a practical level, that’s not so clear.

Bear in mind that Scott is the creator of the comic below (source: http://www.dilbert.com):

Dilbert Strip

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