Saturday, February 6, 2010

China On The Verge of 4708, But Still a Teen in the Real World

This month, a huge swath of humanity will mark the beginning of the the Lunar New Year. The Chinese New Year as it is called, dates from 2600 BC, when the Emperor Huang Ti introduced the first cycle of the Chinese zodiac making this year number 4708.

Americans were first introduced to this celebration when Chinese immigrants would usher in the lunar new year in  boomtowns across the American West, as described in Chinese on The American Frontier by Arif Dirlik. My own introduction to this holiday came from my maternal grandmother who grew up in 19th century Sacramento and related tales of  her much anticipated family trips to Sacramento's Chinatown, to enjoy the firecrackers and a parade complete with dragons and a claxon of gongs and drums.

Year of the Tiger

This year, February 14th, marks the year of the Tiger alongside the western culture celebration of St.Valentines Day. The firecrackers and parades of my grandmother's day have given way to celebrations in major cities across North America. In the Vietnamese communities this celebration is known as Tet, something that for older Americans congers up memories of the winter of 1968. When one adds up the number of people who mark this as the beginning of a new year, they total over one and a half billion Asians, with another half billion all across the planet, partaking in the celebration.

This past couple of weeks has seen more rumblings of friction between China and the United States. Those rumblings stem from Google taking a stand on internet privacy in China and gained momentem when the United States announced they were selling military hardware to Taiwan. Other sites have covered this story in great detail, perhaps none better than this The Age of Cyberwars from Steve DeAngelis. The other big story seems to be China's emerging naval power. This next post comes by way of Information Dissemination and is one of the most informed analysis of this complicated issue. Contributor Feng, ends his post with these comments.

In general, I think we have entered a phase where the Politburo has to be more vocal against US government and companies for support toward Taiwan and Tibet, because the public and the military demand it. Politburo can no longer accept explanations like "the previous administration did it" or "these weapons are only defensive" or "we have to do it for political reasons" and remain quiet, because it has to satisfy the local population and the military too. At the moment, the retaliatory actions will remain mostly air like in previous occasions, but they will be a lot stronger in the future if US decides to sell an offensive platform like F-16 to Taiwan. Basically, the balance of power between the two nations is shifting and the Chinese responses against perceived US snubs are only going to get stronger.

Read the whole post to learn why China feels justified in their response.
The Recent Row Between China and the U.S.

I also have been taking note of what appears to be an increase number of posts related to China coming from Tom Barnett. At first I just thought it was coincidence, but when I went back and rechecked. over half of the posts since February 1st, have had China as the subject. All are insightful and worth going back and scaning Tom's views and then plan to visit often to keep up on his cutting edge comments grounded in both logic and understanding for both the United States and China as they try to grown into an adult relationship, much as we did with Great Britain a century ago. One post that captures Barnett's talent for cutting through the crap in this column from World Politics Review, where Barnett blows away the smoke, and reveals the real story behind the mirrors. It begins.
If the 2008 Olympics were China's big coming-out party, and 2009 the year that Beijing merely managed to save global capitalism with its rapid -- and accurate -- stimulus package, then one might assume 2010 holds even better things in store for the People's Republic. After all, just about everybody now recognizes the "superiority" of China's authoritarian capitalism over the West's free market variety.
And yet, already the backpressure is building, as evidenced by the "Google wars" over Internet freedom, Western resentment over Beijing's perceived bullying at the Copenhagen climate change conference, the Obama administration's determination to follow through on Taiwan arms sales despite China's threats of "consequences," and none-too-subtle noises from the U.S., the EU and other BRICs over the yuan's piggybacking on the dollar's recent decline.
If anything, Beijing's "smile diplomacy" seems to be faltering. Over time, all that the world has come to see in that oddly frozen expression are the sharp teeth and ravenous appetite behind it. Unsurprisingly, our pundits -- and much of the blogosphere -- are stampeding like spooked cattle in a closed pen. First, they dash off to the far wall, seeking escape in frantic declarations that all power is shifting from West to East and that China is on the verge of capturing the entire century. But once they dead-end there, they turn and storm back in a frenzy, predicting "clashes" and demanding all manner of confrontation.

So what are we to make of China's growing loss of face? Why is the West, and especially the United States, suddenly so perturbed by this particular moment in China's decades-long rise?
Read on to find why Barnett says Why China Will Not Bury America.

My own personal take on China's growing nationalism and sense of power came during my recent visit. Her behavior reminded me of an 18 year-old who upon reaching this plateau, thought they had all the asnwers, only to find that selfish singlemindedness leads to no good.

Here are a few things I noted. During our visit we took a trip out to the Great Wall, as we left the Beijing and headed north on the Badaling Highway we became engulfed in a traffic jam of Los Angeles purportions. As we crept along, my wife finally asked the driver what the problem was. He responded it was traffic headed to an air show celebrating the founding of the Chinese Air Force. The temperature was hovering in the twenties, but hundreds of thousands of Beijingers were braving the cold and traffic to check out their countries hardware close up. National pride is up alongside a growing consumer society that vies for all the objects lusted after in America and Europe. But is this a true reflection that China is ready to step onto the world stage?

Snow day Beijing style

That very week, Beijing was struck with a huge snowstorm that caught the city unprepared. Worse, the storm was blamed on government efforts to control the weather by lacing clouds over Mongolia in an effort to produce rain. The citizens of Beijing complained so vocally that the government was hard pressed to sooth their anger. When the next storm hit two days later and things were even worse, the local media joined in, which caused the Beijing municipal government to make a point of demanding that the low level officials responsible for the experiment be prosecuted. The Politburo responded that a formal investigation would occur and those responsible would be punished. This all sounds reminiscent of how the ancient emperors would decry, "Off with their heads" when something went wrong.

I had my own run in with Chinese censorship when I found out that my blog access was blocked, as is Facebook and Myspace. If you are Chinese and want to social network your only choice is Baidu the Chinese sponsored clone of Google. Their search site even resembles Google. My email account was okay, so with the help of a good blog friend Dan, I was able to gain access to a hole in the famous bamboo firewall and visit my beloved blog.

Snow Village by Dapu

The trip to see the Terracotta Warriors ended up giving me a brief view of village life. As we left the museum and headed back to Xian, we were diverted off the main highway by a convoy of visiting diplomats. The route back snaked through a series of small villages set amid farmland that had not changed since an emperor sat on the throne in the Forbidden City. Twenty kilometers later we were back at our hotel in the cosmopolitan center of Xian, a century and a half from those villages that represent the 700 million Chinese who scare the hell out of the Politburo.

City Centre Xian, China
Great challenges for China have almost always come back to haunt her time and again. She expands and contracts on the fortunes of her people and above all realizes that the potential for turmoil within her borders trump the desire and ability to rule the world. As Mark Twain so aptly said about historical recurrence "History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme."; can be quoted with a good measure of certainty when looking back through Chinese history.

1 comment:

Dan tdaxp said...

Great post! And Happy Year of the Tiger! :-)