Some more China worries

The term “a G Zero world” was coined, a few years ago, by Ian Bremmer, CEO of the Eurasia Group in a book entitled: “Every Nation for Itself: What Happens When No One Leads the World.” He then created a web site called G Zero Media, which is, I think, generally, pro-globalization and anti-Donald Trump.

In a recent article on G Zero Media, Gabe Lipton, an associate editor there, says that “Just hours ago …[this was a week plus ago, on 18 Dec 18] … Chinese President Xi Jinping delivered a speech to commemorate an economic experiment that spurred one of the most staggering stories of economic growth in human history … [because] … On December 18, 1978, Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping announced an ambitious plan to “reform” and “open up” the Communist country’s tightly regulated state-run economy. In the decades since, hundreds of millions of Chinese were lifted out of poverty and the country’s share of the global economy rocketed from 3 percent to 19 percent. Deng’s bold changes transformed a poor agrarian country into an economic superpower … [but, he says] … if observers expected Mr. Xi to use the occasion to announce a fresh wave of reforms to liberalize China’s flagging economy, they were disappointed. President Xi’s message was at once steadfast and defiant. Amid a growing trade spat with the United States, Mr. Xi warned that Beijing would not “be dictated to” by outside powers. Despite a vague pledge to “reform what can be reformed,” he also was ominously clear that there are some things “that cannot and should not be reformed” … [thus] … Where Deng was a reformer, Xi is a different kind of leader entirely. Since taking power in 2012, Mr. Xi has concentrated more power in his hands than any leader since Mao Zedong, the founder of Communist China. He has used that power to strengthen the role of the state in China’s economy and society at home while asserting China’s role internationally. Where Deng’s worldview was framed by his adage to “hide your strength, bide your time,” Mr Xi has pledged to put China at the “center of the world stage.”

I have, several times, expressed my very real admiration for what, over the past 60 years, Zhou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping, Hu Jintao and, now, Xi Jinping and others have done to drag China from the depths of misery and poverty into a socio-economic level in which most Chinese people are, at least, lower working class. But their ‘way,’ a dictatorship, is not the only way to do that ~ look at India which is managing much the same thing, albeit more slowly, without being a cruel dictatorship. But I have also made the point that while the Chinese have worked social near-miracles, we, in the US led, liberal democratic West are not seeing the rise of a collegial partner, we are watching the rise of an earnest competitor ~ and not just, as Donald Trump seems to suggest, a business/trade competitor, but rather as serious competitor in the marketplace of political ideas and ideals, especially about governance, and I have noted that when (not if, I think) China rises to share global supremacy with America, or even to surpass it, that we will not like the outcomes.

Mr Lipton concludes by saying that: “China’s miracle of economic growth without political liberalization (or upheaval) compares favorably with the political challenges roiling Western democracies these days. Why shouldn’t China harness the full power of the state to become a superpower in technology, AI, and other advanced technologies? From Beijing’s perspective, grievances from the US and Europe about China’s trade policies and technology ambitions just look like efforts to prevent China from taking its rightful place in the world order … [but] … The trouble for Mr. Xi is that the domestic political environment is getting more difficult for him, rather than less. The economy is sagging, tensions over trade and technology with the US and other countries are intensifying, and the expectations of the world’s largest middle class (which Deng’s reforms largely created) are growing. By concentrating so much power in his own hands, Mr. Xi risks making himself solely responsible for the outcome, good or bad … [thus, he says] … Forty years ago, faced with an impoverished and isolated China, Deng took a huge gamble on reform and experimentation. Today, at the helm of a powerful and globally active China, Mr. Xi is defiantly doubling down on a more conservative and assertive vision – will it turn out as well?” I doubt it … I do not doubt China’s (and Xi’s) ability to manage and weather the “sagging economy, tensions over trade … [and] … the expectations of the world’s largest middle class,” but I doubt that the key issue, which, I believe, is the Chinese people wanting a greater say in their own future, cannot be overcome while still maintaining the Chinese Communist Party’s control over damned near everything. I have mentioned before that the Chines were, and still seem to be, much in thrall of Lee Kwan Yew’s and now Lee Hsien Loong’s success in leading a very conservative democracy that manages to achieve wonderful levels of prosperity while still maintaining the fundamental rights of the people, including the right to choose their own leaders. Somehow, sometime, and sooner rather than later, I think, China must find a way to listen to the people; Singapore manages that; Taiwan manages that; Hong Kong manages that; China does not … it must find a way to do that.

I worry that as civil (and economic) tensions grow in China, as I am sure they will, that Xi Jinping will look to foreign powers as an excuse.

My guess is that China will not turn on America, not militarily and not economically … the two countries are unlikely enemies because of the range and depth of their trade relationship. I suspect that Russia might be the chosen ‘excuse.’ China knows that Russia is a declining power; its birthrate is falling dramatically … except for one community: Russia’s Muslim population is growing at a high rate. Russia’s wealth is in resources and the resource treasure house is, mainly, East of the Urals, in Asia … China wants access to those resources and I believe that China wants to carve Eastern Russia off from European Russia and create two or three new client states.

But, right now, as 2018 draws to a close, we are being tossed about on the waves of the Sino-American trade wars.

Canada is, of course, only a bit player in the world, we may have the world 10th largest economy, but we are a small country, 38th in the world, far behind e.g. Brazil and Nigeria in population, and smaller than Italy, South Korea and Spain, and we have a military force that is, to be charitable, of negligible value in terms of combat power. We can, as I have mentioned earlier, commit to growing all three, but expanding our population to, say, 100,000,000 souls by the turn of the century is a project that we should undertake only with a firm, publicly supported, long term plan.

None of those things, not our stellar economic performance nor our military weakness nor the trade wars are Justin Trudeau’s fault … we have a strong economy because of e.g. C.D. Howe in the 1940s and ’50s, Mitchell Sharp in the 1960s, Michael Wilson in the 1970s and John Manley in the 2000s; we are militarily weak because of decisions Pierre Trudeau made in the late 1960s and early 1970s; Donald J Trump is just who he is … I think I understand why he favours a trade war, I just don’t think it’s going to turn out the way he wants.

What is Justin Trudeau’s fault is that we have too few friends anywhere. He alienated Trump at the G7 meeting; he turned relations with Australia and Japan sour in 2017 by shilly-shallying about signing on to the new Trans Pacific Partnership, and then came the disastrous trip to India … nothing more needs to be said about that, but he, almost single-handedly, by courting the Sikh separatist vote in Toronto, turned a once firm friend and an emerging great power into a hostile competitor. There probably was a work around to Sabrina Meng Wanzhou’s arrest. I agree with e.g. John Manley and others that the Government of Canada should never try to subvert the rule of law by e.g. warning Ms Meng to stay away from Canada, but such a warning could have been sent by e.g. Gerald Butts through one of the Chinese billionaires who attended some of Prime Minister Trudeau’s cash for access soirées when Mr Butts auctioned off opportunities to lobby the prime minister to the highest bidder … I’m sure Mr Butts has their phone numbers on speed dial.

Canada needs to rebuild its relationships with all of its friends, trading partners and with competitors, including America, China and India. While doing that it needs to maintain its economic clout in the world and rebuild its hard (military) power, too. That, I believe, will need new leadership at the top.

 

 

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