Friday, June 09, 2006

Tenditiously hectoring Japan about China----part 1

What is the hell is Japanese right wing yelling--or alternately, muttering ominously--about?

In terms of economics, the Communist Party of China is on a treadmill. It has abandoned its legacy of socialist egalitarianism in pursuit of national development.

In China's most advanced coastal provinces, life for the middle classes is approaching the levels of the poorer middle-income countries. In the rural areas, however, the levels of development have scarcely changed since the beginnings of the 20th century.

In an attempt to create tens of millions of new jobs a year, the government has turned a blind eye on excessive investment in productive capacity.

In order to keep its exports competitive and its factories humming, the People’s Bank of China buys $200 billion of U.S. securities a year, in essence lending Americans $200 billion every year to buy China’s products—a bill that will come due someday when the government has to repay its citizens the renminbi it borrowed to buy dollars.

The only hope for China is to grow rich enough fast enough that the breaking waves of corporate and government red ink do not drown the economy.

Growth at such a breakneck pace carries its own costs in terms of the destruction of the environment, both within China and around the globe, and demand shocks to the energy and minerals sectors of the global economy.

In terms of politics, China is locked in ice.

Its first and greatest problem is the Party's uneasy relationship with the People's Liberation Army. "Power flows out of the barrel of a gun," Mao Zedong warned, "Our Principle is that the Party commands the gun, and the gun must never be allowed to command the Party."

However, the PLA is very much an independent actor, with its goals potentially superceding those of the civilian leadership.

Chief among these is a hysterical sensitivity about Taiwanese independence. The PLA's first listed goal--before even resistance to aggression or defense of national sovereignty--is the halting of separation and the promotion of reunification (Defense White Paper, Chapter II: National Defense Policy). The PLA even violates China’s official atheism in declaring the halting of separation its "sacred duty" ( 神聖職責 ).

It swears:
"We will never allow anyone to split Taiwan from China through whatever means. Should the Taiwan authorities go so far as to make a reckless attempt that constitutes a major incident of 'Taiwan independence,' the Chinese people and armed forces will resolutely and thoroughly crush it at any cost." (DWP, Chapter II)
The second political problem is the integration of democracy into the Chinese system.

Direct elections of village headships were announced to great fanfare in 1993. However, elections only succeeded in exposing a previously hidden rural reality: the local party secretaries, working hand in had with local toughs, kept order through intimidation and force.

A problem Chinese writers have been complaining about since...the fall of the Han Dynasty.

Now as for the "we'll just have to be patient and await the democratization of China" trope--that's another kettle of fish.

Color me skeptical. A greenish skeptical.

Political scientists of a certain stripe map out an inevitable course for China: as China's economy evolves, an educated middle class reaches a critical mass. At this point the combined demands of civic groups and individuals for autonomy presses on the dictatorship--a structure that only appears omnipotent, but is indeed riven with factionalism and self doubt. Pressure from the mass of society instigates the dictatorship's collapse and its replacement with liberal democracy.

The rise and collapse of dictatorial regimes in South Korea, Taiwan and Southeast Asia --and their replacement with elective democracies--point the way for China.

On the surface.

It takes a special soul to forget the roles the United States Navy and U.S. influence played in smoothing the East Asian democratic transitions.

For countries wrapped up in the broad security blanket of the United States, democracy is an evolutionary process--the answers for questions of national survival and economic destiny are provided. For countries outside the U.S. embrace, lacking U.S. tutelage and U.S. protection, democracy is a revolutionary process--often ending in chaos, corruption and in the final stage, militant, radical populism.

Wishing democracy on China is a bad idea. A democratic China is as likely to devolve into uncontrolled, planet-shaking horror as transform into a stable, responsible global stakeholder.

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