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    Greater China
     Dec 18, 2009
Page 1 of 2
Dancing the revolution away
By Pepe Escobar

BEIJING - Red Detachment of Women sounds like a cheap exploitation Hollywood flick. In fact it's a 1964 ballet, one of the "Eight Model Operas" of the National Ballet of China (NBC) and a monster hit during the 1960s Cultural Revolution. Chairman Mao Zedong loved it. The plot is a howler; country girl is abused by evil landlord until she escapes and reaches full blossom by joining the glorious revolution.

The NBC is celebrating its 50th anniversary. It's one of the top ballet troupes in the world, on a par with the best the Bolshoi, Paris or New York have to offer. So Red Detachment of Women was back in all its splendor in Beijing this week - a revolutionary Wizard of Oz complete with the reeducation of capitalist roaders, psychedelic cartoon sets and, of course, girls with guns. The


great gonzo master Hunter S Thompson, if alive, would have freaked out.

What better than tripping with girls with guns to celebrate China's current post-revolutionary ballet? Even Russian legend Rudolf Nureyev wouldn't be able to keep up. In 2008, there were the Beijing Summer Olympic Games. In 2009, the spectacular parade - including lots of post-modern girls with guns - celebrating the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic of China. In 2010, there will be the Shanghai Expo.

And then there's China overtaking Japan as the world's second-largest economy. China overtaking Japan as the biggest automaker in the world. Shanghai overtaking London as the world's second-largest financial hub before 2020 (according to a recent survey among 600 global businessmen). China becoming the top economy in the world not long after 2020. The list goes on as the center of economic power and global geopolitics swings from the West back to Asia, after a short intermission of 200 years.

Just like Red Detachment of Women, China's new ballet involves discipline, education and hard work. Unlike the 1960s, it also involves pride in China's ancient civilization and a relentless drive for modern technology. But above all, it is propelled by the same stamina of no-holds-barred nationalism.

I wanna be converted
During United States President Barack Obama's recent visit to China, it was quite a sight to follow his gleaming motorcade alongside a deserted Chang'an avenue at night, policed at every 10 meters, like a scene in a Hollywood blockbuster choreographed by Michael Mann. But nothing would compare to the scene at the state dinner when the People's Liberation Army band played I just called to say I love you. Once the Chinese Communist Party has lifted more than 400 million people out of poverty within one generation - the greatest source of its legitimacy - they can surely deviate from martial themes to a little Stevie Wonder.

What they cannot allow themselves is to not worry about Washington's fiscal and financial mess. Premier Wen Jiabao has been losing sleep over China's enormous US holdings, especially what concerns those staggering US$2.27 trillion of foreign exchange reserves - two-thirds invested in dollar-denominated assets.

China's colossal reserves anyway are relative. When the yuan is fully convertible, they will allow China's Central Bank to honor conversions into foreign exchange from both Chinese and foreign companies. For all the fuss in the US, convertibility is inevitable. Beijing says it will happen before 2020. But it could happen as early as 2015.

Why 2015? Hu Xiao-Lian, the respected head of the aptly named SAFE (State Administration of Foreign Exchange) was switched a few months ago back to the Central Bank in a special department to oversee the yuan's convertibility.

Until then, China will be dancing a triple-bill ballet. Using the yuan in regional exchanges; using its reserves to ink agreements with Asian central banks, in what is called an "exchange swap"; and struggling to create a new global financial system based on a basket of currencies.

China has already inked deals with five countries - South Korea, Malaysia, Belarus, Indonesia and Argentina, plus its Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong. Fellow BRIC member Brazil is next. (BRIC comprises Brazil, Russia, India and China.)

In terms of regional exchange, it's still a minuet. It only applies to Chinese companies based in Shanghai and in the four cities of the Pearl River Delta, the "factory of the world": Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Dongguan and Zuhai. And as countries ago, apart from Hong Kong and Macau, it applies only to the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations. It's still early days for the process, because the yuan is still indexed to the US dollar; thus these exchanges still depend on the US dollar.

But there are no doubts over the long-term objective, as put by Zhou Xiaochuan, the governor of the Central Bank of China and the de facto second most-powerful man in the country; the "adequate objective is to create an international reserve currency disconnected from individual nations and capable of being stable in the long-term".

Fierce critics like Andy Xie, former China specialist at Morgan Stanley, insist the health of China's economy is artificial - because it is moved by stimulus packages and cycles of speculative bubbles. Meanwhile, while the dogs bark the Chinese caravan inexorably dances away towards ever more auspicious growth.

Where the action is
It's a non-stop whirling dervish dance of expanding business and colossal infrastructure investment. Forget about the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven or the Summer Palace. The 21st-century Beijing dances to the rhythm of Beijing's central business district (CBD). Just under four square kilometers in Chaoyang district, this is China's Corporation Central, home to more than 15,000 companies and organizations, including 130 Fortune 500 companies, 203 foreign financial institutions, 36 regional headquarters, 167 global media organizations and the offices of NASDAQ and the stock exchanges of New York, Tokyo and Seoul. It's also home to CCTV and its fabled Rem Koolhaas tower, which the locals dub wei fang ("dangerous building").

The "concept" of a Beijing CBD was born less than 10 years ago. The Beijing municipal government included it in the city's 10th five-year plan (2001-2005). Eighty percent of the planned infrastructure, building and urban green space in this business-friendly steel and glass paradise is complete. The CBD's counterpart in West Beijing is Zhongguancun, a sort of mini-Silicon Valley. The CBD's success was so resounding that it will be expanded and effectively doubled in size up to 2016, all this respecting strict "low carbon" guidelines.

Then there's the planned 50-kilometer-long Hong Kong-Zuhai-Macau six-lane bridge - the longest sea bridge in the world, including a 29 kilometer oversea pass and a 6 kilometer tunnel under the South China Sea. Construction started this week. When finished in 2016, at a cost of $10.5 billion, it will take only about 25 minutes to go from Hong Kong to Macau.

Heaven up here
Chinese culture comes from a nomadic tradition followed by an agricultural tradition. Heaven was always worshipped because it was regarded both as a dominant force and a dependent means in terms of food production and human survival. Heaven and earth are one. Confucianism talks of "three basic substances", tian (heaven), di (earth) and ren (human). Taoism stresses "four great parts", tian, di, ren and the Tao ("the origin of heaven and earth" and "the mother of the myriad things", according to the Tao te king). Those faithful to monotheistic religions will be perplexed to know that the Tao precedes god in time and exists everywhere in space.

In China, tian as heaven and ren as human interact so closely that the concept of oneness between the two was already established at the time of Mencius (372-289 BC.)

The Communist Party has done all it can to find a palpable, easily accessible, "to get rich is glorious" translation of the Mandate of Heaven. For all of China's modern dance infatuation with Audis and Pradas and Omega watches, the West might as well go to sleep: China will not Westernize in the sense of a "socialist market economy" leading to Western-style democracy. The state in China is something else - the guardian of civilization; its utmost priority is to protect China's unity. Heaven and earth as one. But that also involves plurality.

There's no way to understand China without understanding the i-Ching. It's all about opposition and correlation - that's how the world works. A key example is how "one country, two systems" solved the contradiction of the return of Hong Kong from Britain to China in 1997 - still separated by a physical, administrative and economic border. The broader objective was to allow the reunification of Taiwan. 

Continued 1 2  

A radical empire looms (Dec 17, '09)

1. US silent on Taliban's al-Qaeda offer

2. US races against time over Iran

3. A radical empire looms

4. A heavy price for pushing troops too far

5. Iraq's oil auction hits the jackpot

6. Hyderabad fears return to basics

7. Who is paying for the beer?

8. Russia labors as neighbors do deals

9. Trail of Afghanistan's drug money exposed

10. Taliban offer alternative justice

(24 hours to 11:59pm ET, Dec 16, 2009)


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