THE ROVING EYE The Google-GM summit
By Pepe Escobar
None other than Zbigniew Brzezinski, eminent United States foreign policy guru
and the man who gave the former Soviet Union "its Vietnam", thundered via the
New York Times that the current summit between presidents Barack Obama and Hu
Jintao is "the most important top-level United States-Chinese encounter since
Deng Xiaoping's historic trip more than 30 years ago".
Dr Zbig could have extended his hyperbole to the cosmic geopolitical shifts
operating these past 30 years, not to mention 40 years, if one considers the
historic meeting between Richard "Tricky Dick" Nixon and the Great Helmsman Mao
Zedong in 1972 in Beijing.
But it's really thanks to the Little Helmsman Deng's visionary
"crossing the river while feeling the stones" policy, sold to the proletarian
masses as a blunt "to get rich is glorious", that China is where the action is
in the early 21st century.
And that brings us to the current Google-GM summit. Yes, for the toiling global
masses, this is what it's all about. China is like Google. You just can't live
without it. If you're searching for something, anything, you hit Google. The US
is like General Motors. With so much to offer on show, from the practical
(Hyundai) to the glamorous (Aston Martin), who in his right mind wants to buy a
car from GM? (OK, successful entrepreneurs in Chengdu do buy made-in-China
Buicks, but that's another story.)
Nothing paints the overall picture so starkly as the mad scrambling that has
been going on for weeks by every single Wall Street CEO to assure a seat at the
- imperial - White House state dinner in homage to Hu. It's already one of the
defining marks of the young century - sturdy Anglo Saxon advocates of laissez
faire transformed into ardent defenders of Chinese-style authoritarian
capitalism. What else? After all, China saved Western turbo-capitalism -
fulfilling the Little Helmsman's plans to the letter. Not to mention China
controls 21% - and counting - of all US Treasury debt, and the Chinese central
bank is swimming in 25% of the world's reserves.
Hu for his part, acted - what else - imperially; the top two on his guest list
are the mayors of San Francisco and Oakland, the first two Sino-Americans to
govern US metropolises. Quite a few red-blooded Americans also would kill to
sit at this table. After all, 44% of them, according to a recent Pew Research
poll, believe that China's gross domestic product has already overtaken
Americaís (when in fact this may happen anytime between 2018 and 2027).
Perception is indeed reality.
Feel free to bask in my glow
Dr Zbig is fundamentally correct on US-China relations when he warns about "a
drift into escalating reciprocal demonization". He's also correct in denouncing
the deteriorating US infrastructure as "merely a symptom of the country's slide
backwards into the 20th century". But buckets of Moet can be bet that any of
those Wall Street CEOs fighting to get crumbs from Hu's table are not exactly
losing sleep over how the US domestic economy, jobs base and infrastructure can
be revitalized - not to mention investment in education.
As a side effect of the Wall Street-provoked financial crisis, China has
embarked on a slew of infrastructure projects. Unlike China - where the central
government really rules - Washington has been asking US banks to lend. But the
banks, as everyone knows, don't give a damn.
For all the usual media platitudes about a "tense" relationship, there won't be
any strident summit talk about the yuan's competitive devaluation. Secretary of
the Treasury Tim Geithner himself has admitted that Beijing has devalued the
yuan, in real terms, at around 10% annually.
Neither will Obama have much leeway to press China on North Korea. South Korea
may want reunification. Japan fears it like the plague - imagine a powerful,
dynamic, unified Korea further plunging Tokyo into global irrelevancy. What
Beijing wants is the current status quo.
And then there's the Chinese response to the Pentagon's "full-spectrum
dominance" doctrine - China's new J-20 stealth fighter crossing the blue winter
skies above Pentagon supremo Robert Gates last week. Gates quickly went
pre-emptive on the record to stress that the Chinese won't master the
technology before 2020. But that's not the point - as the frenetic spinning of
a split between the party and the army in China was also not the point.
Any Hollywood public relations expert would admit that the J-20 photo op was a
showstopper. It was a carefully coordinated co-production between the Chinese
Communist Party and the People's Liberation Army. And the MC was none other
than Xi Jinping, sure to be the next top Chinese leader when Hu steps down in
2012. When you have the USS George Washington dropping into your
backyard once in a while, you better come up with some stealth. And China's
first aircraft carrier is the next blockbuster, scheduled for 2014.
Princetonís John Ikenberry defines the US as a "liberal leviathan". Where does
that leave China - as an "authoritarian leviathan"?
Anyway, the word in Washington is that the White House National Security
Council team - coordinated by National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon - is
seriously trying to come up with a credible China strategy. But it's unlikely
that an overall framework encompassing all the burning issues concerning this
Group of Two will emerge from the summit.
Ian Morris, professor of classics and history at Stanford, starts his splendid
book Why the West Rules - For Now (New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
with a fictional account of Queen Victoria, in 1848, kowtowing to Qiying, the
envoy of Emperor Daoguang, at the East India docks in London, and paying her
respects to imperial suzerainty. Of course history dictated otherwise. But, the
Chinese would say, taking a cue from the Wall Street CEOs salivating over Hu,
let's wait a few more years and then we'll talk. Meanwhile, the world will keep
going the Google, not the GM way.