Reader Question: China's Reponse to the Nobel

I'm back from England by way of Northern Ireland.  My speech in Scotland was canceled  due to a severe snow storm that has all of Edinburgh and Glasgow turned into a sheet of ice.  People are sleeping in their cars on the interstate, I heard of a man not leaving his home for 4 days, and it's not even safe to walk on the streets.  Both my hosts and I decided it would be best to not even try navigating these dangerous streets.  Flights were very disrupted all over the UK due to the major freeze the country is feeling.  I'm glad to have arrived back in Berlin late last night and be with my family now through the holidays.  We'll re-schedule Scotland another time.  Thanks to the people at the International Christian College for being so understanding.

Consequently, I spent a lovely day in Belfast, Northern Ireland, had to re-book through Amsterdam, that flight was delayed, and then the flight to Berlin was delayed.  This was the last major work trip of 2010 and I'm pretty shot.  In fact, I need to just spend a couple of days getting my mind off of things and do some Christmas shopping before it kicks into high gear again in January.  So I will save my England post for later.

A loyal reader that worships this website (as all 3 of you loyal readers do) asked me to comment on the following article about Liu Xiaobo winning the Nobel Peace Prize--and China barring him or anyone related to him going to Oslo to pick up his award and give a speech.  Article here:

From the article:

It is a measure of China’s worrying brittleness that it could not take the Nobel Committee’s decision on the chin and argue the case for its authoritarian system of government and the political stability it brings to a country barely three decades out of dictatorship.

It is a stability, the country’s mandarins argue, that has generated two decades of unprecedented economic growth which the democratic world has been only too happy to share, notwithstanding the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, to whose victims Mr Liu has dedicated his award.

The real world is a complicated place. Democratic nations like ours believe that China would be more stable if it adopted many of the reforms that Mr Liu and his fellow signatories advocate in their Charter 08 petition, starting with the release of political prisoners like Mr Liu himself, but including a separation of powers and the rights to freedom of speech and association.

But as China has showed so clearly in recent weeks, it is still a relative adolescent at the top table of world affairs, which is why it would be wise not to crow too much over tomorrow’s loss of face.

I tend to agree with this.  I continue to believe that China has done a pretty great job at navigating its entry into a globalized world beginning with the creation of the Special Economic Zones in 1980.  I, for one, think that it was a good thing that the Tiananmen Democracy Revolution of 1989 failed.  The students involved in those protests were horribly naive--and the whole thing began as a protest over cafeteria food.  A nation as diverse, complicated, and populous as China would not have been well served by an immediate transition to complete democracy. Obviously I lament the massacre and the torture or inhumane conditions put on protesters.

Most likely, China would be in a more anarchical (and poorer) state today had those democracy activists succeeded.  For the Chinese, the Collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 was validation that they were right.  Both China and Russia--with large land and large populations were not remotely prepared for that kind of transition.  The average Chinese peasant (and China was still overwhelmingly rural then) would never have been able to make appropriate decisions in the voting booth.  China and Russia need strong central governments or they will fall apart and that will be OUR problem whether we live in Europe or the Americas.

China's path has been to pursue economic reform first--and then, in time--allow forms of democracy (more at the lower level).  We have to keep in mind that China is 4,000 years old, not 200 years old like the United States.  And it is a Confucian society.  And it has four times the population of the United States in a land that is not very supportive of large populations.  China has to import its rice.  In other words:

A few points about China from my perspective:

China is too complicated for Western style democracy right now. Perhaps one day they will be--but I would guess that this would need to follow the path of Mexico or Japan where when a 2nd political party emerges, it loses every election for a few decades until the country is really stable enough to have that 2nd party win.

China is fragile, democracy is messy. China is a country trying to balance an over-heated (bubble) economy, a rapidly ubanizing society, levels of pollution that are nearly unfathomable to us, widescale corruption, and a growing disparity between rich and poor, and imbalanced ratio of men to women, and a rapidly aging population (just to name a few).  The amount of crisis points that Chinese leaders have to deal with would boggle the mind of any other country. China's technocrats are smart and they have made consistently smart decisions.  China's party can make the difficult choices that a democracy like the USA and India cannot.  China's aggressiveness in dealing with the environment or infrastructure cannot be matched by the USA and India where politicians have to answer to the local people.

While it's great that there was a democratic wave in the 90's--a lot of these democracies are stuck (like Ukraine and many of the Central Asian Republicans) unable to form coalitions do deal with the most pressing problems.  Democracy (Iraq and Afghanistan and Haiti proving to be perfect examples) is inherently messy and I'm not sure China can afford that mess right now.  It is a far more fragile country than people realize.

Most Chinese are happy and proud of China: While living conditions in China are difficult for many people, living standards have improved so dramatically over the past few decades that from their perspective, an authoritarian government providing 10% economic growth per year is not such a bad thing.  Of course there is corruption, poverty, and many other problems, but what Westerners don't realize is that when I was born (not long ago) Chinese were eating tree bark and drinking horse urine to survive.  The argument that China's government is super evil works in the West---it's not so convincing to people that are now buying homes, getting cars, and even if they are poor--are eating three meals a day of real food.

China is not likely to take over the world. As you all know, I spent the last couple of years traveling all around the world and everywhere I went---I mean everywhere (from Chile to Zambia to England) people are absolutely convinced that China is going to rule the world.  Well, historically, in times when there are large geo-political shifts, the country that people think will become the new superpower does not.  Instead, something comes a long and derails their progress (France in the late 19th century, Russia in the 1940's, and Japan in the 1980's come to mind) and they hit a wall.  Then an unexpected nation (like the United States) ends up becoming the new superpower.

The reasons why China will NOT become the next great undisputed superpower are many in my book.  For starters, no nation has become a superpower with an aging population.  China may have doomed itself with its one child policy.  It has about 10 to 15 years before it has to deal with a severe shortage of workers and an abundance of retirees.  At the same time, China is in a massive economic bubble and all of this government mandated spending on infrastructure is going to lead to corruption and waste, and ultimately a big economic downturn.


Yes.  While I'm not convinced that the Nobel folks really appreciate the complexities China is facing, China does need to be pressured into acting responsibly.  I think this is the best of both worlds.  I think China is being smart by NOT allowing this Liu to receive the peace prize.  And I think the Nobel committee is right to put the pressure on China.

As China re-colonizes Africa, they are giving Africa a second opportunity at building up infrastructure, schools and businesses.  However, China's way of going about it is full of exploitation as well.  Entire closed colonies of Chinese are forming all over Africa.  I reported here on this website (Chinatimes) about how I learned in Uganda that the Chinese are involved in all sorts of building projects--but unlike in China--where a skyscraper goes up over night--in Africa they take their own sweet time building themselves deeper and deeper in to the governments of Africa.  And they don't morally care much about how corrupt or evil the governments in Africa are.

China is also very lax in doing its part to bring peace to troubled regions (most recently North Korea) or use their military to guard sea lanes or help global commerce in other ways.  So China does need its feet held to the fire at times.

The Nobel will go to a dissident.  And the news of this will be blacked out in China.  For a country as large, complicated and young as Modern China (1980-present) this is probably how it should be for now.

Note: I wish democracy were easy.  But I think we will see a big scaling back of democracy between 2015-2030.  At my old website I had an article I wrote called "the Future is Singapore" which basically argued that we are headed for a world of the "Corporate State" where prosperous countries are very inner-connected, and tightly regulated.  A world where people freely give up their rights, and even democracy for security, stability, and most of all prosperity.  I think Huxley's Brave New World and Orwell's 1984 will merge and segregate themselves from countries like Afghanistan that can only exist in chaos.  That's my prediction.  It's a long article, but if anyone wants to read it send me an email.