Page 1 of 2 THE ROVING EYE 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
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
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.