(Part II of my reactions to Ho Pin’s NYT op-ed.)
China bashing is annoying to anyone who has lived there.
NOTE: I wrote about fifty ledes to this story. Most were a little over the top, which, in the end, I felt weakened my overall criticism of these knee-jerking jerks about to be de-pantsed in the lunchline. So, I just left it with a simple understatement.
Ho Pin is a China basher. Thus, I find his article rather irritating for its lack of– er– balance (reality?). But, I will give him this, he did a masterful job of following the formula for that perfect 10-part China-bashing bullshit cocktail.
Here are the ingredients (in Ho’s words):
1. “Even though China has used market reforms to transform itself into an economic powerhouse, the government lives in constant fear of unrest.”
2. “Wealth and opportunities have been snatched by a few politically connected individuals. Corruption is rampant, and the gap between the rich and the poor is widening.”
3. “Hu has resisted calls to reform China’s political system. Instead, he has reverted to the Mao-era policy of creating mammoth state-run enterprises and allocating billions of dollars to a security apparatus that routinely cracks down on dissent.”
4. “Economic growth has offered Mr. Hu a temporary reprieve.”
5. “The economy is showing signs of stalling, the real estate bubble could burst and the financial system is being undermined by unregulated and corrupt lending. Meanwhile, protests against corruption and social injustice are intensifying…”
6. Chinese Leader XYZ “should grasp the importance of free speech, and… work to regain the trust of intellectuals.”
7. “Without free elections, a free press and independent judges, the government can’t fulfill its promise to stamp out corruption and build a fair and just society.”
8. “Even though he will rule the world’s most populous nation and faces no official political opposition, he lacks the legitimacy accorded democratically elected officials.”
9. “The recent uprisings in the Arab world have made Chinese leaders keenly aware of their own vulnerability.”
10. “The trend is irreversible. As the insatiable greed of corrupt officials and unfair economic practices further exacerbate public anger and hatred, a large-scale crisis, set off by events like an economic meltdown or a protest by peasants or migrant workers, could occur.”
Here’s the truth: You could regurgitate this same stale argument for any country in the world– particularly the United States.
Let’s debunk this thing one point at a time.
1. The Chinese government does not live in “constant fear.” Far from it. If one has been paying any attention, he’ll see Chinese leaders are walking around with their chests puffed out like proud little peacocks these days. Bullying neighbors at sea. Balking at UN resolutions. Dominating the global climate change agenda. And still chugging along at 8.5% economic growth. Are national level leaders afraid of peasants? Afraid of factory workers? Hardly. Do they tolerate people going against the line? No. Does that make them paranoid or just assholes? It is a mixture of both, much moreso the latter. To envision hu Jintao hearing of some farmer protest and cowering in a closet is way off base.
2. Yawn. A country whose wealthy elite are in bed with politicians?! You’d never see that happen in the US! Find me a country where this isn’t the case. Find me a superpower where the gap between rich and poor is shrinking. Might just a small part of this stem from the fact that an obscene percent of Chinese were in poverty 20 years ago and are no longer today?
3. Hu didn’t listen to a bunch of other people with their own interests– including, for many call-makers, seeing a weaker China– to change the course of his country in the midst of a never-before-seen historical rise to dominance. Hmmm, wonder why. “Mammoth state-run enterprises,” I assume, refers to Hu investing heavily in state-run programs during the global economic crisis in 2008-2009. How did China make out during that whole ordeal? Oh yeah, basically unscathed. And, of course, it’s not like the US nationalized a bunch of failing industries by investing billions in bailouts.
4. The idea that the economy is the only thing holding China together dismisses a rather strong sense of cultural and national identity that one could argue was very viable even during the major humiliations of the 20th century.
5. Yawn. “Economy is fragile. Bottom could fall out at any minute. Number of protests rising.” There are more than a few countries willing to switch economic forecasts with China right now. Ask the PIGS. And, again, could one not say the same thing about the US?
6. Oh, wait, how could I forget! The oppressed Chinese “intellectuals!” The only smart people in China are pro-Washington and anti-Beijing! How could I have forgotten this? I mean, let’s stretch an unbelievably huge blanket over lawyers, professors, scientists, artists, and anyone with a higher education by just assuming they all hate the government that provided them the opportunity to reach a point that 20 years ago would have been considered a pipe dream for 99.99% of all Chinese. And let’s tilt the scales in the favor of the intellectuals at the expense of the silent majority, because paternalism of the developing world always works wonders.
7. “Stamp out corruption!” Let’s go to war with it! War on Corruption! War on Drugs! War on Terror! War on the Boogeyman! When are people going to realize that some things are always going to exist at a certain level. Corruption is one of them. Dare I say, it’s as old as mankind. Someone lies. Someone cheats. Is China not cracking down? Why don’t you ask the former mayor of Shanghai or the former director of Chongqing’s Justice Bureau? Oh, yeah, you can’t– because they’re dead. Maybe Ho would be better served studying failed corruption crackdowns by looking at the US energy industry, military contractors, and financial institutions.
8. What exactly constitutes political legitimacy? What if a democraticall elected body has a 10% approval-to-86% disapproval rating, like, oh, say the US Congress? Does that make their leadership legitimate? What does it say for a democracy where 86% of people don’t approve of their leaders? I wonder what that poll would look like if we were to ask the Chinese how they feel about the CCP.
9. Here’s another surprise for Ho, the Arab uprisings have next to no similarity to the situation in China right now. What led to the Arab Spring? Inept leadership, massive unemployment, lack of access to education, and a general feeling that there was no hope for a better future. Not the case in China. Not even close.
10. In the land of Couldashouldawoulda a lot of things could occur. Sure, there could be an economic slowdown in China. Sure, there could be more protests. In fact, I think both things will happen. I think they will happen in a lot of places. I think they are just as likely to happen in the US. I also think people like Ho Pin need to realize what a sinking Chinese ship will pull down with it. Point in case, Egypt.
There are an astounding number of blowhards who yearn to wax poetic on the injustices of a monstrous China. I just want to know what utopia they live in and how I can get there.