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    Greater China
     Oct 15, 2011

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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:
Zambia 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. [5]
So 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. [6] 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 expression.

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 be free".

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. [7]
Substitute "Chinese popular perceptions" for "Zambian perceptions" and you get an idea of the problem.

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 growth.

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 hand-off/trade-off successfully.

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 imperial graveyard.

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.

1. China's Peaceful Development, Xinhua, Sep 6, 2011.
2. Hu frets over Taiwanese election, Asia Times Online, Oct 4, 2011.
3. In Africa, an Election Reveals Skepticism of Chinese Involvement, The Atlantic, Sep 29, 2011.
4. Zambians send a 20-year government packing and warn the Chinese they could be next, Foreign Policy, Oct 12, 2011.
5. Zambia eyes 35 pct stake in mine projects: Minister, Reuters, Oct 13, 2011.
6. Rumors are a Cancer that Threatens the Internet and Society, China Digital Times, Oct 1, 2011.
7. In Africa, an Election Reveals Skepticism of Chinese Involvement, The Atlantic, Sep 29, 2011.

Peter Lee writes on East and South Asian affairs and their intersection with US foreign policy.

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