Tuesday, October 16, 2007

China and America

Behold the power and glory that is China!

ND Batra

Earlier the salesman pitch used to be: “You cannot afford not to be in China.” But now corporate CEOs are so eager to apologise to China for its own egregious behaviour. Last month Mattel’s executive vice-president Thomas A Debrowski delivered a well-structured diplomatic apology: “Mattel takes full responsibility for these recalls and apologises to you, the Chinese people, and all our customers who received the toys.” It is just like a rape victim apologising to the rapist: Pardon me for tempting you, sir.

Cleverly staged mass media propaganda and lobbying by people in high places, including some of the top CEOs of major US corporations and university professors, has helped the Chinese authorities in blurring facts with fiction, creating the perception of China’s relentless and inevitable rise as a global superpower. China fascinates corporate America with its myth of bountifulness but more so with its ruling party’s collective mind that controls the obedient masses that produce cheap goods for American markets and whose 1.3 billion worker-consumers would one day buy every branded product made in the United States.

You have heard the drumbeat, repeated ad nauseam, which China has come to believe that since Americans cannot do without its cheap goods, so why to worry about intellectual property thefts, currency manipulation to fuel exports, humongous trade surplus, defective toys, and tainted food products.

Consider, for example, 2008 Olympics, which the Wall Street Journal childishly put it as an event “to refashion the Olympics from a sports and merchandising extravaganza to an engine of political and social change.” That’s expecting too much from an organisation like the IOC that has been paying little attention to its own widespread problems, bribery scandals and drugs, for example.

If human rights were the deciding factor in determining the choice of the host city for the Games, Moscow under the Soviet Union and Berlin under the Nazis would not have been selected to host the Olympics.

China will be showcasing the Games in spite of its abominable record of suppression of human rights of the people of Tibet, the followers of the banned spiritual movement Falun Gong, political dissidents and scholars rotting in its jails without recourse to a fair trial.

In an Op-Ed piece in The New York Times, Slavoj Zizek wrote last week that in Tibet, the Chinese authorities “in addition to military coercion, they increasingly rely on ethnic and economic colonisation. Lhasa is transforming into a Chinese version of the capitalist Wild West, with karaoke bars and Disney-like Buddhist theme parks... in a decade or two, Tibetans will be reduced to the status of the Native Americans in the United States.” He forgot to mention gambling casinos, drugs, booze, and obesity.

Doing business with China is more important than human rights, though Americans along with rest of the world go on paying lip service to the problem. Trade and the Olympics had no civilising effect upon the Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union; therefore, to expect a miracle to happen in China because of the Olympics in 2008 or increasing international trade is puerile and silly. Rising prosperity would not force China’s Communist Party to give up its monopoly over power and become democratic. Since Deng Xiaoping took the road to capitalism, replacing communist brutality with capitalist brutality, about three decades ago, China’s economy has been opening up and growing rapidly with its gross national product (GNP) rising to more than two trillion dollars. The rate of annual economic growth has remained above 9-10 per cent.

Made-in-China goods, apple juice, toys, shoes, electronics, and even golf clubs and handguns are found in every shopping mall of the world. Huge economic benefits are expected from the 2008 Games because it has necessitated an investment of billions in infrastructure and information technology to modernise and showcase Beijing for the events. Millions of tourists who would pour into China, perhaps take a train to Lhasa and visit the Three Gorges super-dam, nonetheless, are expected to remain silent observers.

The Deng Xiaoping market economy revolution unleashed China’s vicious capitalist energies, but not without the help from the outside world, especially the United States, which magnanimously opened its markets to China.

Today China is a healthier, better-fed and better-educated nation than most other developing countries but it remains a closed society ensconced in pollution.

Who needs freedom? That’s why George W Bush never preaches freedom to China though he repeatedly asks that it should let its currency rise. China feels that it can compete with the best, but can it tolerate the noise and chaos of an open society like the multicultural and multiracial United States, where the people demand accountability from their political leaders? Beijing with the help of Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, and Cisco has been trying to expand its control into the digital domain and expects to have the same control over cyberspace as it has over Tibet. The Internet might bring about tremendous political upheavals in China, so be warned: Don’t move my cheese. Large centralised political systems break down due to internal pressures triggered by communications technology, unless they have built-in capabilities for adjustment, which China does not have at present. And so it is difficult to say what might happen in China in the age of the Internet, satellites, cell phones and hosts of other wireless, digital, and interconnected sensing devices that are becoming available. China wants to control the uncontrollable, the digital generation swapping billions of text messages on cell phones, the generation that could self-organise itself into a smart mob. Look at Myanmar’s recent Buddhist monk uprising, which must be giving the Chinese rulers sleepless nights.

The authoritarian regime is getting ready to open its doors, skies, and cyberspace to a worldwide audience during the 2008 Olympics. But will it be able to close the skydome once the crowd is gone? Yes, of course, with the help form corporate America, which one day might become a dancing bear for China, if others follow Mattel’s obsequious behaviour?

(Dr ND Batra is working on a new book, This is the American Way)

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