Watching China Grow

The Western China-related blogosphere sometimes seems to be split down the middle – pandahuggers and pandabashers. (Actually, I think it is a bit unfair to equate the Pandas and China in its current shape. Imaginative Chinese people make take offense from that because they think of themselves as self-strenghtening and rising while Pandas are kind of decadent, and the Pandas could take offense because they are nice.)

To me, China is no amiable country. I like many of its “small traditions”, including an attitude that makes many informal gatherings easy, happy, and comfortable (I like Chinese-style parties much more than Western-style parties), I like staying there from time to time, but I don’t like the big picture. I do wish China democracy and I do wish its people individual determination or self-determination, because I believe that’s what men and women are here for, but that doesn’t mean I’m sure that democracy will make China a force for good. I can think of the Communist Party as an organization that fuels nationalism because nationalism is useful to maintain its monopoly on power. I can also think of China’s leaders and elites as people who are sometimes afraid of that fuel. The Party controls the country to an extent few other political parties anywhere else do, but they also seem to be driven by the people’s nationalism. Even if they wanted to take a more relaxed approach towards Taiwan, I doubt they could afford to do that. The Communist party isn’t accountable to Chinese individuals, but it is accountable to the people whenever they turn into a mob.

Therefore I think it isn’t fun to watch China grow, but it is fascinating. It makes no sense to discuss if one should be happy about the existence of a country in the condition China is in – China is here, it is what it is, and it will make choices with good or bad impacts on itself and on the global landscape. Meantime, we have to make our own choices. If you ask a Cuban if he wishes America wouldn’t exist, you’d either get rather simple answers (either way), or he would ask you if you need to see a doctor – which would be a pretty adequate reaction. If you ask me if I’m glad that there is a country like America, I’d say that I count myself lucky that it is there, and so should all Europeans. (Looking at WW2 in the Pacific, China should count itself lucky, too.)

We should be aware that “opening up” wasn’t a Chinese heart’s desire in the 1970s. It was arguably the only way out from the calamities created in the decades before that. In the 1980s, a saying in official Chinese papers was that the world (this referred to the Western world in the first place, I guess) was invited to make contributions to China’s development. Any further contribution now is a contribution not only to China’s development, but to China’s rise. That’s what made me thoughtful during the past decade. Maybe it is also what made me decide that I shouldn’t spend too much time improving my Chinese language skills. I see that as a hobby rather than as an investment. When you invest, you need to know the project you are investing in. I believe that “knowing China” is difficult, given censorship and manipulation from a political center that cares more about its people’s thoughts than about their well-being. Some of the Chinese anger vented at the West may really be frustration caused at home, rather than from abroad. After all, it is easier for a Chinese national to criticize foreign countries than to criticize a local or central  leadership that is free to put him or her into jail without observing any judicial standards. As long as China is ruled the way it is, I see no way to know what drives people there in the first place.

Certainly, there are also useless ways of reacting to China’s rise. It is useless to criticize China for taking what it can get. When chief executives in Germany decide to transfer unique technologies to China and accept the risk or even likelihood of technological rip-off, that’s our problem to solve, not China’s.  If Western companies give in to an almost superstitious belief that you can’t do business anywhere if you can’t do business with China, that’s our superstition, not China’s. Western businesses’ terms of trade could be better (and still be useful enough for China) if they were generally more ready to return from negotiations with empty hands, rather than making a deal at almost all costs.

I’d say I’m neither too optimistic about China’s future role, nor too pessimistic. I live in my home country. I try to contribute here, and I’m enjoying my life. Here is where I belong. Maybe I’m skeptical about China.

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