November 29, 2018
What times we live in! Before making too great a fuss about these “times,” I readily admit that during my 80 years there were many occasions that could be labelled critical. I can not make the case that today’s challenges are the most threatening of the 21st century, but they are big enough to grab our attention.
How big an issue would be the replacing the world’s richest and most powerful country by what is now the second richest and powerful? I am referring to the United States and China.
What I think about China has been informed very recently by the Sunday New York Times special feature entitled “China Rules.” Surely that big section will find its way to the internet.
The modern China story has these parts which I oversimplify..
In 1948 the Communists ousted the Nationalist government. Mao Zedong became the chairman of the Communist Party. The Nationalists evacuated to the island of Taiwan.
Mao shaped and reshaped China from 1949 until his death in 1976. China was closed to other countries. The party control of all things led eventually to the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in which China’s research and educational systems were paralyzed. Student bands of “Red Guards” searched and destroyed anything considered bourgeois—anything representing capitalism, religion, tradition and the West. Most of China’s cultural heritage was destroyed. Mao’s rivals within the party were purged. Intellectuals and people with “counterrevolutionary” backgrounds were dragged from their homes to endure fatal “struggle sessions,” sent to labor camps or detailed to custodial work units.
In 1978 Deng Xiaoping, as next party chair, began a series of economic reforms that led to less government control of business and landownership. He allowed Chinese to study abroad to bring home information to advance China’s development. He allowed foreigners in. KFC opened its first store in 1987.
The United States and other free-world countries made a significant assumption that Chinese people, on learning about free enterprise, would eventually want China to become a democracy. Sure enough, this loosening of government rules led to a popular yearning for more freedom which tragically ended in 1990 in a government crackdown of protestors on Tiananmen Square in which up to 10,000 protesters were killed and/or imprisoned. Thus the Communist Party communicated its intention to retain control. The free-world’s assumption took a blow.
However, despite the Tiananmen Square “massacre,” the government not only allowed people to establish businesses, it also welcomed foreign investment so long as government rules were followed and all forms of criticism of the government halted. In 2001 China was admitted to the World Trade Organization. Immediately money began to flow into China as businesses worldwide (yes, many from the United States) took advantage of Chinese wages and know-how to produce less expensively what consumers in the free-world wanted to buy.
Again the assumption by the West that China would become freer and also a cordial partner in economic development was given new force. China would become like the rest of the world. But this assumption has not turned into reality. While China has become a productive nation, in many ways more advanced than any other country in its standard of living, use of electronic gear, in its construction, transportation, industry, in its making millionaires and billionaires — while China has become a nation of power, it has NOT moved toward democracy. The state remains in control. The public does NOT criticize the party. (One of my grandsons visited China this past summer. He became immediately aware that no one, no one, publicly opposed the Communist Party.)
The free-world and particularly the United States is becoming critical and fearful — critical of China’s stealing of intellectual property and company secrets, fearful of Chinese clout around the world as it invests in countries and places heretofore of no interest to the United States. China can now make its own alliances, control its own destiny, and upset the current pecking order of national powers.
All of this provides background for President Trump’s attempts to reduce China’s industrial clout by imposing tariffs on Chinese products. The United States’ is newly anxious about China’s military exercises in nearby seas that US would claim rights on.
U.S. is now king of the mountain. President Trump is a nationalist, intent on this country’s superiority. Will China, by sheer size and power, replace the king of the mountain?