Category Archives: China

The China wave

PROFESSOR Zhang Weiwei is not particularly well-known around the world. An author and former translator for the Chinese supreme leader Deng Xiaoping, Zhang is, however, a very important figure in China.

He has written a ground-breaking book, The China Wave – which has not, as far as I can make out, been translated into English – about China’s way of approaching development and one that is attracting great interest in his home country.

In an interview with the one news service that seems to have a knack for ferreting out the interesting and the newsworthy – Al Jazeera – Zhang made some very interesting observations.

In the West, whenever China is discussed, there are plenty of Western “experts” on call who offer opinion after opinion, many of which are, frankly, silly and born of a lack of education. Western news services seem to fight shy of calling on the Chinese themselves to analyse their own country.

Zhang’s point of view, is, in this context, refreshing, simply because he turns the lens on aspects of China which nobody so far has even thought relevant.

For example, one of the West’s preoccupations is that in a few decades China could well become the most powerful country in the world; with that as background, Western countries are forever postulating how China should become a democracy.

But Zhang points to an aspect of this democracy debate that has never been highlighted – if China had had a one-man one-vote system, he says, the country would have had a peasant government given its population structure. Such a government would be very nationalistic – and would probably go to war with Taiwan. Or even with Japan.

Is that what the West wants? Certainly not, says Zhang, and that is a very good reason why China needs the kind of government it has at the current time.

Another argument that the West uses against China is the question of individual rights. Zhang points out given China’a past – when right from the 1800s the longest period of internal stability has been eight or nine years – the average Chinese values internal stability much more. For the last three decades, there have been no invasions or internal uprisings in China and from the Chinese point of view that is much more important than the freedom to protest.

The West often tries to pass off its system of government – where accountability comes at the ballot box every three or four years – as superior to that in China where a nine-man politbureau is the supreme decision-making body. But as Zhang points out, the basic criterion for any member of this body is that he or she should have been a successful governor of a province for at least two terms. And as he points out, these are provinces which often have four or five times the population of an European country.

Zhang even has a little dig at the US here, pointing out that under such a system as this, a man like George W. Bush would never have been chosen as a leader.

As to Western fears of Chinese expansionism, Zhang is quick to point out that Beijing built a great wall to keep others out; in other words, its main preoccupation is internal social stability, not taking over and running the affairs of others.

He emphasises the value that China places on its past, the fact that people always look to history to understand the present and the future. Despite the fact that Mandarin has been in use for nearly 3500 years, he points out that the teachings of Confucius can still be read and understood by the average educated school child. This is in stark contrast to the fact that even a professor at an English university often cannot understand the works of Shakespeare as they were originally written.

Thus, China has a vast store of historic cultural wealth in its vaults that it can draw on and use while deciding about its future. This is not available to the West.

Zhang also points out that while the West is prone to laud its systems as superior, there has been no job creation in the US since 2008. By contrast in China, every year for the last three decades, there has been growth and job creation at every level, down to the smallest unit under governance. Why should China then adopt Western systems which have been shown to be inferior?

In short, Zhang shows that it is often more useful to look at the East through its own eyes, rather than consistently yielding to the big mistake of trying to measure Eastern achievements with a Western tape measure.

Burma: the gold rush has begun

THE push for democracy in Burma by the West has been going on for just one reason: resources.

Burma has gold, copper, tungsten, timber and oil in abundant quantities. All these years, the political situation and tight economic sanctions have not permitted exploration by Western companies. But now oil companies in the US are straining at the leash and waiting anxiously for the change to fly into Rangoon.

The Americans have already lifted some sanctions on Rangoon even though the only move towards a less rigid form of government has been an election in which the National League for Democracy was allowed to contest 45 of 664 seats. But what little has happened will be enough of an excuse for the Western carpetbaggers to start pouring the gates of the airport in Rangoon, the first real godl-rush since military rule was clamped on the country in 1962.

The Europeans are due to review sanctions on the country later this month and companies like BP and Shell are likely to be among the first companies to head for Burma once sanctions are, as expected, eased.

Nevertheless it looks like the generals who ran the country this long are now ready to put their hands out for American and other currencies. Like Suharto was encouraged to take over and divide the spoils in Indonesia in 1965, there will be a big auction in Burma too.

The American involvement in Afghanistan has turned out to be a total loss in terms of mining concessions and this makes the clinching of deals in Burma even more urgent. China and India have been the two big winners in Afghanistan and Canada picked up a solitary concession.

The Americans apparently believed they were entitled to get something, despite the mess they created in the country; Pentagon officials have even been heard complaining about it, claiming that they had done a lot for the country and got nothing in return! Which gives one a good idea about American naivety.

The Burmese people are dirt-poor and probably willing to work for less than the Chinese; China has already got a headstart in Burma and will be looking to consolidate. Thailand is another country which is looking to make some moolah in Burma. And one can’t discount India poking its nose in too.

Desperate US gets set to take advantage of Asia

AUSTRALIA is putting itself in a dangerous position by agreeing to be the meat in the sandwich between the US and China.

The US, realising that it cannot stand up to developing powers on its own, has devised a deal called the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement; this enables the US to act as a parasite and live off eight other countries.

But over and above this, the US wants to use Australia as a proxy staging ground for displaying whatever military might it has left and trying to hold off China from claiming its rightful place as the supreme power in the Asia-Pacific.

Australia has good relations with China which buys a huge amount of mineral resources from Canberra. Australia needs China and China needs Australia. Yet China is careful to try and cultivate others sources; it has built up good ties in several African countries where there is a promise that there may be mineral resources to exploit. Exploration is being funded by Chinese companies and the country has plenty of monetary reserves to continue making inroads into Africa.

The US has no currency in Africa. Indeed, it has never been able to make a success of any of its foreign adventures. The US has invaded more than its fair share of nations but has always been forced to leave with the invaded country in a mess. Iraq and Afghanistan are but the latest examples of this bungling.

Australia is a medium-level power. It is affluent because of its mineral wealth but quite foolish when it comes to looking to its own interests. Prime ministers and others are dazzled by the US and cede whatever Washington wants without thinking whether it is in Australia’s own interests. Many of these politicians, coincidentally, end up with good jobs at big American companies after they are thrown out of office by the voting public.

There is no doubt that China wants, peacefully or otherwise, to retake Taiwan. Will the US sit idly by if that happens? What will Australia do? Will it, by then, have adopted a more pragmatic attitude towards Beijing? Or will it still be following the old foolish policy of asking “how high?” when America says “jump?”

No matter what nice words people use to dress it up, you cannot trade with a country and at the same time ally yourself with someone else who is seeking to curb the power of that very country. One might as well try to marry a woman while spreading rumour and innuendo about her parents.

The US is a fading power. It has yet to accept this reality and figure out that the world will soon belong to China, India, Russia and Brazil. The Middle East will have its own centre of power as it has much of the world’s remaining oil reserves. America has no money to project power any more; high time to realise this and at least try to sort out domestic problems.

The tragedy of Sri Lanka

AS THE Sri Lankan government twists and turns and manouevres in order to try and prevent a war crimes investigation being ordered by the United Nations into its conduct during the war against the Tamil Tigers in 2009, the first definitive account of the conflict has emerged.

Former UN spokesman in Sri Lanka, Gordon Weiss, has written a book titled The Cage which gives a detailed and powerful account of the tragedy as it unfolded.

Weiss had to tread a difficult path as he wrote the book; given the oath that he took as an UN employee, he was unable to divulge any material that came to him in that capacity. Despite this very difficult obstacle in his path, he has done an extremely credible job in tracing the history of Sri Lanka that has a bearing on the country’s current position.

The Tamil Tigers, formed in the early 1970s, became the most powerful of the groups fighting for a separate state for their people and were known for the reign of terror that they imposed. They killed anyone standing in their way and massacred both Sinhalese and Muslims to enforce their writ. They were also not loath to kill their own people, if those people happened to be standing in the way of their supreme leader, Velupillai Pirapaharan and his ruthless ambitions.

The Tigers made a number of miscalculations. They reasoned that no state would resort to the type of bloodthirsty and ruthless tactics they employed, no government would indulge in the kind of indiscriminate killing that they carried out. The Tigers forgot that the state had twice put down rebellions, by Sinhalese youth in the shape of the Janata Vimukti Peramuna, in 1971 and again in 1989, in a singularly, bloody-minded manner, killing all and sundry and in a pretty gory manner too.

The Tigers also thought that India would act as a bulwark if things became really bad – after all, the main powerbroker in the Indian Ocean had broken a siege of the Tamils in the 1980s, at a stage when the Sri Lankan army had them cornered. India, of course, has a Tamil population to which it has to cater, given that the main Tamil party in India is in coalition with the ruling party at the federal level. And finally, the Tigers failed to realise that in the post-2001 world, countries are less inclined to regard breakaway groups as romantically as they did in the past.

Sri Lanka ensured that India would not act as an obstacle this time by bringing China into the picture very cleverly. The Sri Lankans first asked India if it would be interested in constructing a port in the southern Hambantota area; when India declined, realising that it might be obligated to Sri Lanka if it accepted, the Sri Lankans asked the Chinese who gratefully accepted. The contract was then expanded to include a naval base; when Sri Lanka went to China to seek weapons and influence at the UN level for its pursuit of the Tigers, Beijing was only too happy to oblige.

When India realised that China was cutting in on its normal sphere of influence, it agreed to provide Sri Lanka with intelligence that led to the destruction of many of the Tiger arms re-supply craft, thus depriving the Tigers of fresh stocks of arms. By doing this, the Indians once again hoped to get back into Sri Lanka’s good books.

In 2002, the Sri Lankan government had signed a ceasefire with the Tigers; at that point, the Tamil group controlled something less than the one-third of the island which was its maximalist demand for its own state. At this point, Pirapaharan could well have bargained and got at least two-thirds of what he had set down as his ambit claim. But he refused to budge and in 2003 announced that the Tigers were withdrawing from the ceasefire.

In 2005, the current president, Mahinda Rajapakse, came to power. A year later, having put his brother, Gotabaya, in charge of defence, the war began to eliminate the Tigers. Gotabaya was promised that political considerations would not interfere with this goal; in the 1980s, when India made food drops to the besieged Tamils, Gotabaya was a member of the armed forces and that memory remained with him.

The Rajapakses kept to their word. They massacred the Tigers and shot a number of leaders of the movement in cold blood as they were trying to surrender. They did not mind if there was collateral damage in the form of about 40,000 civilians killed by both sides. They had a goal and they were as bloodthirsty as Pirapaharan in their determination to achieve it, come hell or high water. They had a regular well-paid army which was not asked to fight with one arm tied behind; the Tigers did not have the number of troops to match as several of their hardened fighters had left the movement in 2002, confident that the struggle was over.

While the low-level war began in 2006, the government only formally abrogated the ceasefire in 2008. By May 19 the following year, it was able to declare victory and show Pirapaharan’s body on television. His twisted dream had come to an end, a lesson to all those fighting for separate states that one needs to compromise in order to achieve at least a part of one’s objectives.

When will the US economy collapse?

PRESIDENT Barack Obama recently did something that no other chief executive of the US has in recent times – he came around with a begging bowl to countries in Asia, asking them to increase their exports of American goods so that more jobs would be created in the United States.

Yet, no media outlet highlighted this fact, nobody bothered to note that if the US president was sinking this low then something must be seriously wrong at home.

Obama first went to India, a country that was once considered a Soviet satellite. These days, American firms rely on India to carry out many of their back-office functions at cut-prices. Lots of American companies have branches in India where a lot of their work is done, again at cut-prices.

So here was someone, who is often referred to as the most powerful man in the world, asking a poor country like India to buy more American goods. His next stop was Indonesia, again a poor but populous country, where he repeated his sales pitch.

The last time this happened was when Bush the elder went to Japan in the early 90s and tried to get that country to import more American cars. He was staring down the barrel of defeat due to bad economic conditions at home and finally ended up being a one-term president.

Obama is stuck with terrible economic conditions; he inherited a bad situation from George the younger, and made it worse by his own calls when the economic crisis hit in 2008. Now the US economy is dependent on China but Beijing is increasingly reluctant to continue as the main point of take-up for US dollars when the US continues to act in a way that threatens China.

Japan had a taste of what happens when one listens to US requests when it agreed to devalue its currency back in 1985 and leave things open totally to market forces; the Japanese economy has never recovered and has limped along ever since.

Now China is being asked to devalue its currency and float it so that the US can manipulate things to its advantage. Why would anyone commit economic suicide? The US is trying desperately to bolster any country it can as a counterweight to China and asking China to provide the means for it do so. All the money that comes in is spent on wars in foreign countries and building bases and maintaining them all over the world.

The US has for far too long maintained a high standard of living by exploiting other nations. Trade deals that favour Washington are one way of doing this – in some cases, other countries have been cowed into signing such deals due to subtle threats from the US. In many others, the leaders of smaller countries have sold out and feathered their own nests at the expense of their own people.

It looks like those days are now over and the time of reckoning has arrived. It will be only a few years before we see the eagle begin to crumble as its economic clout fades.