Page 2 of 2 Is China drinking its own Kool-Aid?
By Peter Lee
Three huzzahs for business-friendly good governance that kicks China in the
behind! Well, two huzzahs, maybe. Because it looks like China was simply the
most conspicuous and politically advantageous manifestation of rather
widespread foreign malfeasance in the Zambian copper sector:
will negotiate larger stakes in projects with foreign mining firms and plans to
revamp tax collection to improve transparency and maximize benefits for itself,
the minister of mines said.
"We would like to increase our shareholding to at least 35 percent in all the
projects, but that will depend on how well we negotiate with the mining firms,"
Mines Minister Wylbur Simuusa told Reuters in an interview.
Foreign mining companies operating in Zambia include Canada's First Quantum
Minerals, London-listed Vedanta Resources Plc, Glencore International Plc,
Barrick Gold, Brazil's Vale and Metorex of South Africa. 
perhaps it's premature to look for a wholesale exodus of
Chinese from Zambia, let alone the African continent, accompanied by some
ecstatic backfilling by the West's finest multinationals.
China's biggest problem is not that Taiwan, Myanmar and Zambia have declined to
deliver political endorsements of China's economic penetration.
It doesn't appear that the government's efforts to promote a new ideology of
economic growth and national unity inside China have succeeded, either.
The government's over-reaction to the threat of Jasmine Revolution provocations
indicated that it didn't have any good ideas for keeping the political lid on
beyond the tried-and-true "knock 'em down and lock 'em up" if economic growth,
nationalism, and US$40 billion in expenditures for the Beijing Olympics failed
to do the job.
The government's difficulty in forging a social consensus was also demonstrated
by its efforts to combat "rumors" on the Internet.  In particular, the
Chinese security apparatus appears to be utterly flummoxed about what to do
about microblogs, which were permitted, presumably with a certain amount of
trepidation, in 2010 and promptly exploded as a platform for personal
It's one matter to enforce socialist discipline on the Internet manifestations
of conventional outlets. It's another thing to grub around the personal
microblogs of millions of citizens.
The government effort is quixotic, but not just because "information wants to
As a cursory review of the Internet as practiced in the United States
(including Yahoo! Comments, one of the 21st century's grimmest monuments to
inhumanity), lazy, inaccurate, slanted, and bigoted posts delivered with the
advantage of anonymity is what makes the Internet go. Cleaning up the Internet
is like looking for champagne in a sewer.
The Chinese government's idea that its problems with the Internet will be
solved when it can persuade 500 million users to deliver information accurately
and responsibly is charming in its naivete. It's also a bit alarming.
China has come through some major challenges. When Deng Xiaoping visited the
United States in 1979, he could scarcely scrape together sufficient cash to
give a decent account of himself and his entourage on the trip. Now China sits
on $2 trillion in foreign exchange.
It can probably handle the international challenge of a fading but resilient
West and an increasingly obstreperous domestic constituency. But will it? Will
China's leadership rise to the challenge?
Howard French pointed to what he considered a salient characteristic of the
Chinese elite circa 2011: hubris.
"Among all nations, I think China is
doing the best at getting resources from countries and putting back into those
countries," Zhou [Xiaohua] told me. "Can you find any other country that is
doing better?" Several minutes later, when I asked the ambassador what the
Americans had contributed to Zambia, he marked a long pause and then fairly
sneered, "You employ local people and put them as observers at each and every
polling station. What else? I haven't seen any roads being built by them, any
schools, any hospitals that really touch people, that can last, that can serve
society for long. Maybe training election people is your biggest contribution."
What struck me most about his remarks was the infusion of a kind of creeping
hubris that I've seen on numerous stops in my research among Chinese diplomats
and business executives. It allowed Zhou little space to consider Zambian
perceptions of his country or of their own needs. 
"Chinese popular perceptions" for "Zambian perceptions" and you get an idea of
It is more important to consider the problem of Chinese hubris, which appears
to be shared both by Zhou Xiaohua - who is China's Mr Africa, an experienced
and highly skilled diplomat - and the notoriously smug and incurious heir
apparent to the whole China shebang, Fifth Generation princeling Xi Jinping.
China's doctrine of economic development as the road to national happiness and
world peace, when viewed in the light of the Arab Spring and the rebuffs China
has suffered in its rather limited circle of economic and geopolitical allies,
looks like a threadbare model of international relations and national
development that does little more than provide a fig leaf for headlong economic
Is allegiance to this model blinding China's leadership to important social and
political trends - and the need to tweak or discard the model if necessary?
It's a pretty big deal if China can't handle the democracy vs authoritarianism
Democracy is unlikely to be a simple "win-win" panacea for China.
Especially post Arab Spring, anybody who discounts the possibility that
democratization in China would not lead to a declaration of Taiwanese
independence and an explosion of populist and secessionist activity in Tibet
and Xinjiang despite/because of the influx of Han immigration and whatever
growth and economic aid numbers the government has chalked up - plus gleeful
hooting and incitement by the Western democracies - is whistling past the
The case could be made that a Chinese republic would do quite well even if
shorn of two-thirds of its landmass, just as Vaclav Havel's Czechoslovakia bid
a casual adieu to its eastern half when Slovakia was declared an
independent state and the Czech Republic came into being.
But nobody is making that case, as far as I can tell. The Chinese government
doesn't want to go there, and it seems Chinese dissidents don't even want to
admit it's there - understandable, since raising the issue probably means a
quick ticket to the pokey for sedition, in addition to spoiling the whole
feel-good democratic vibe with awkward questions.
Between the shared fantasies of "peaceful development" and "democracy" China
has a lack of viable political answers. And building Olympic stadiums in
Beijing or soccer stadiums in Zambia is unlikely to provide a solution.