Friday, October 27, 2017

China Rising

While the eyes of America have been focused on America’s dysfunctional political scene, the eyes of the world have been directed at China. There, president and party leader Xi Jinping has enshrined himself as the nation’s supreme authority, on the same plane as Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.

We must mention, if only in passing, the political curiosity of seeing Mao, a man who brought untold misery to China, a man whose economic policies have been very largely repudiated, continue to hold the position of revered leader. Perhaps the Chinese are using him as a symbol for national unity, but otherwise it does not make a great deal of sense.

By elevating the status and stature of Xi the Chinese are stepping forth onto the world stage. They are asserting a more important role for themselves as a player in world politics. Having spent the post-Mao era building their economy and creating wealth, they are getting ready to assert leadership in the world. As Fareed Zakaria notes, they are ready, first to assert an equal place with the decadent and dying West. Eventually, they expect to take a larger leadership role themselves.

Some have noted that China is becoming more authoritarian and less democratic. Anyone who imagined that the movement of world history would lead to more liberal democracy has been shown, in the immediate, to have been mistaken. Not only in the reading of history but also in the reading of Hegel. The endpoint of the Hegelian master narrative of history never was and never could be: liberal democracy.

People have also noted that Chinese leaders lack diversity. We did not see very many women or minorities among the leadership cadres. Since America and Western Europe seems wedded to the notion of diversity, this tells us that China wants to go its own way and does not want to follow the West down the path to self-deconstruction.

Zakaria analyzes the situation:

In his speech last week to the 19th Communist Party Congress , Xi declared that China is at a “historic juncture,” entering a “new era” that will be marked by the country becoming a “mighty force” in the world and a role model for political and economic development. He asserted that China’s “political system ... is a great creation that offers a new choice for other countries.” And he insisted that the country will defend its interests zealously while also becoming a global leader on issues such as climate change and trade.

Note the importance of climate change. Obviously, China has no intention of tanking its economy in the name of a reactionary effort to repeal the Industrial Revolution. It is happy to play along. It is happy to sign treaties it will not honor. And it is more than happy to sell solar panels to the West. 

Please do not expect the Chinese leadership to be fighting against global warming. After all, they have enough trouble with the pollution in their own country. And they understand that said pollution is not being caused by carbon dioxide.

Importantly, Xi wants to put the relative isolation prescribed by Deng behind him:

Ever since China abandoned its Maoist isolation in the 1970s, its guiding philosophy was set by Deng Xiaoping. At that time, China needed to learn from the West, especially the United States, and integrate itself into the existing international order. According to Deng, it should be humble and modest in its foreign policy, “hide its light under a bushel,” and “bide its time.” But the time has now come, in Xi’s view, and he said the Middle Kingdom is ready to “take center stage in the world.”

From our perspective, it matters most that the Chinese do not want to copy the failed policies they see at work in the West. While Western Europe has coddled Islamist extremists, China has taken a much harsher and less tolerant attitude to the Muslims in its midst. While Western Europe and America has been doubling down on diversity and has gotten themselves caught in identity politics, China has promoted those it felt were the most competent. And where American cultural elites are trying their best to ensure that their children cannot compete in international academic competitions, China is continue its authoritarian educational ways, the better to produce some of the smartest students.

Of course, Zakaria tends to blame Trump, but the shift has been going on for decades now. It certainly dates to the moment when we started having Baby Boomer presidents. Thanks to the last four presidents and to its American political dysfunction, America has been losing standing and stature in the world:

Countries such as Australia, the Netherlands and Canada now all have a more favorable view of China than of the United States. Many of the countries surveyed — including Germany, Chile and Indonesia — have greater confidence in the leadership of Xi than that of Trump. China has aggressively sought to improve its image in the world, spending billions on foreign aidpromising trade and investment, and opening Confucius Institutes to promote Chinese culture.

Meanwhile, consider how the United States must look now to the rest of the world. It is politically paralyzed, unable to make major decisions. Amidst a ballooning debt, its investments in education, infrastructure, and science and technology are seriously lacking. Politics has become a branch of reality TV, with daily insults, comebacks and color commentary. America’s historical leadership role in the world has been replaced by a narrow and cramped ideology. Foreign policy has become a partisan game, with Washington breaking agreements, shifting course and reversing policy almost entirely to score political points at home.

The shift in reputation that we are witnessing around the world is not so much about the rise of China but rather the decline of the United States.

Were it not for the fact that Zakaria seems to want to blame it all on Trump, the point would be well taken. He does not recognize that Trump did grasp the fact that America is in decline. And that he wants to end that decline. Whether he is temperamentally suited to repair the damage done by his predecessors remains to be seen. Now, if only he could stop tweeting!

Of course, Trump does not support an ideology. While some complain that Trump has gone back on agreements, i.e. deals, signed by his immediate predecessor, it should also be noted that his immediate predecessor circumvented the Senate’s authority to ratify treaties… thus making the treaties an expression of the will of a single individual, not a commitment by the nation.


JP said...

The first thing that I do when looking at the "Chinese Century" issue is try to find demographic data, since that's the future that is already here.

If China really does have a fertility rate of 1.05, I don't think that "China Rising" is really in the cards over the long term. This number really did surprise me. I was under the impression that it was 1.5 or so.

I'm not sure what the real fertility rate in China is, but this 1.05 number is really bizarre to me and it was the first I had seen a rate for China listed that low.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Last I heard they were revising the one-child policy.... the era of the second child is dawning....

Tonestaple said...

Except doesn't China have a severe imbalance between girls and boys because boys were given such a preference during the one-child decades? They can revise policies all they like but if they don't have women available to carry the babies, it won't make any difference at all.

I find the shortage of females scary mostly because men get into mischief if there are no women around to exert a civilizing influence.

And in other news, when I was considering tidying up the blogs in my favorites list, I found this: So all the "growth" in the world won't make any difference if there's nothing behind it but more borrowing. Not that we're in much better shape but at least we haven't been building ghost cities for the sole purpose of using up construction materials. As far as I know.

Ares Olympus said...

Stuart: Please do not expect the Chinese leadership to be fighting against global warming. After all, they have enough trouble with the pollution in their own country. And they understand that said pollution is not being caused by carbon dioxide.

This is not clearly true, even if Trump thinks GW or CC is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese.

Here's an article that shows China may have believed climate change was a hoax perpetrators by the west to keep them poor. Apparently our reverse psychology is working on China, our electing Trump, (Leader of Pittsburgh not Paris) has convinced them that they can finally play the good guys and show what leadership looks like, while hopefully profiting by being able to produce the cheapest cleanest solar energy anywhere. They've certainly out competed us - all that's left is to clean up their own cities, at least of the soot, even if the CO2 keeps coming.
Shortly after Donald Trump won the presidency, Xi told him in a call that China will continue fighting climate change “whatever the circumstances.” Though the new U.S. president has staffed his administration with skeptics such as Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, China released data suggesting it could meet its 2030 Paris targets a decade early. “The financial elites I talk with,” Shih said, “they think that the fact that the Trump presidency has so obviously withdrawn from any global effort to try to limit greenhouse gases provides China with an opportunity to take leadership.”