16/07/2008 - 22:00

Danger in approach to China

16/07/2008 - 22:00


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Because Western Australia's resources boom springs largely from China's economic expansion there's a danger that, in Australia at least, China will be judged solely on its economic performance.

Because Western Australia's resources boom springs largely from China's economic expansion there's a danger that, in Australia at least, China will be judged solely on its economic performance.

State Scene consequently offers some rarely publicised considerations, those of several insightful observers of that rapidly developing but unhappy land.

China today is, and promises for some time to be, at a crossroad that its leaders seem incapable of confronting in a wise and just manner.

Those leaders are in charge of the intellectually bankrupt Communist Party of China (CPC), which has monopoly control of the People's Liberation Army, People's Armed Police, the entire governmental structure, judiciary, education, religion, media, sporting, and more.

The party is thus overseeing an expanding economy - based primarily across its coastal provinces - but has deliberately put urgently needed democratic reforms on ice.

What those leaders won't confront is the fact that ongoing political reform is a crucial ingredient if economic reform is to succeed.

In other words, they're guiding China down a path towards either enormous upheaval or, alternately, an indefinite dominance by a super-Orwellian state apparatus.

Neither scenario would be a pleasant outcome; but whichever transpires will have consequences for WA's economy and, quite separately, for Australia.

Despite this, Western politicians, business writers and businessmen tend to only see what US writer and one-time Los Angeles Times Beijing correspondent, James Mann, calls the 'soothing scenario', which has at its core the belief that the richer China gets, the sooner it will become a democracy.

Mann, in his bestselling book, The China Fantasy: How Our Leaders Explain Away Chinese Repression, says that's silly wishful thinking.

And Professor Dong Li, formerly of Shanghai International Studies University, during an address titled, 'What Hasn't Changed in China that Should Worry Us? Wealth, Authoritarianism and an Uncertain Future', delivered last month in Blenheim, New Zealand, says likewise.

"Contrary to the theory that economic development and accumulation of wealth will lead naturally to political democratisation, as China becomes increasingly wealthy and technologically savvy, the CPC is spending tens of millions on an all-seeing electronic surveillance system and strengthening its grip on the society," he said.

"CCTV cameras are installed in internet cafes and even school classrooms.

"In the southern boom town of Shenzhen, 200,000 surveillance cameras have been installed, and over the next three years as many as two million will be installed in that city.

"And these cameras will be linked with other forms of surveillance: the internet, phones, facial-recognition software and GPS monitoring to form an ambitious nation-wide surveillance plan, called 'Golden Shield'.

"When this project is completed, Chinese citizens will be watched and listened to around the clock.

"China will become a super police state - George Orwell's 1984 will prove to be lacking in imagination."

Another scholar, He Qinglian, in her best-seller, The Pitfall of Modernisation, and published in Hong Kong, exposed corruption and the sordid side of China's economic growth - something Westerners visiting China rarely note.

Interestingly, The Pitfall was initially hailed by China's leadership which was then struggling against continued endemic corruption, a shaky banking sector, embezzlement of public assets, and high unemployment, seeing all this as a warning to everyone.

But she quickly lost favour because so many in the CPC - whose friends and relatives received favoured inside runs to acquire business opportunities - regarded her writings as a threat to their cosy crony wheeling-and-dealing lifestyles.

However, before the CPC and their crony capitalistic pals moved against her, Qinglian had written several articles that further highlighted the deep problems arising from inequity and injustice that's now institutionalised and so endemic across China.

So displeasing were her disclosures to these vested interests within China's Leninist monopoly party and crony capitalist elites that she fled abroad and now lives in the US.

Her writings were denounced as 'inciting antagonism between the different strata of Chinese society'.

However, Mann, Li and Qinglian aren't the only ones highlighting what is really happening in China.

There's also Dr John Lee of the Sydney-based Centre for Independent Studies, whose recent research paper, 'Putting Democracy in China on Hold', highlights how China's universities and students are now complicit with the CPC - a far cry from 1989 when the Tiananmen demands for democracy were ruthlessly crushed by the army.

Dr Lee says the CPC's leadership rightly concluded that the reason Leninism collapsed, firstly in Poland and then across the entire Soviet bloc, was because those parties lost contact with their intellectual elites.

Remember, behind Gdansk electrician and Solidarnosc leader, Lech Walesa, sat advisers such as historian Bronislaw Geremek, former Communist Jacek Kuron, and Catholic author Tadeusz Mazowiecki.

"In contrast [to Eastern Europe's Leninist parties], the CPC has conducted a tireless and largely successful campaign to remain relevant and get academics and students on side," Dr Lee writes.

"The first step has been to preserve its economic relevance.

"The regime has gone to great lengths to maintain control of the major levers of economic power and this control is at the heart of an economic structure that entrenches the role and position of party members in the Chinese economy and society.

"Vast resources are directed toward the creation and enrichment of the educated classes.

"There are over 10 million Chinese students in universities and around 140,000 Chinese students studying overseas - many in the best universities in America, Europe and Australia.

"Students who want to get ahead do much better by working closely with rather than independently of CPC officials and state-run institutions.

"For example, the best students are offered special stipends by the regime while academic appointments are made by CPC insiders.

"Scholarships are handed out by CPC-staffed committees."

Since the 1989 killings and crackdown, the CPC has tightened its grip - boosting the armed police force is just one sign of this - by entering into an alliance with the increasingly wealthy crony capitalists it created, and the favoured academic and student elite it carefully nurtures.

He Qinglian calls this China's 'iron-triangle' of power.

Furthermore, China's coastal provinces now have a middle class, estimated to number 65 million, that has a vested interest in the new CPC-crony-capitalistic/intellectualist 'iron-triangle' retaining power forever.

Where, however, do China's impoverished 800 million or so peasants and 100 million floating migratory workers who eke-out a living inland and on the edges of China's new booming cities fit in?

Good question.

Many believe these classes - incidentally, the word 'class' is no longer highlighted by the Communist party now that a huge and growing proletarian class exists - are a time bomb waiting to explode.

The party has decided China's developmental path will be a crony capitalistic and anti-democratic one, with a mollycoddled and carefully supervised intelligentsia.

It's quite fanciful to predict that democracy will eventually emerge from that brew.

If the 'iron-triangle' ever loses its grip over China - as Tiananmen threatened - anything could happen.

And if that does, WA's economy would certainly feel the full blast.

James Mann says a more likely outcome would be the calling in of the armed police by a shaken 'iron-triangle' and the creation of a governing structure even more authoritarian that the already hard-line Communist party order.

Furthermore, the party has set about casting China's shadow far and wide via so-called soft diplomacy - like the Confucian Institutes that it's negotiated on to university campuses worldwide, including Australia - and increasingly via links to several of the world's nastiest regimes - Zimbabwe, North Korea and Sudan.

Sudan, for those who have forgotten, is where Prime Minister Kevin Rudd visited (when a Labor opposition frontbencher) on behalf of Beijing-based AustChina Technology Ltd as a paid consultant.

- Last week, State Scene referred to Attorney-General Jim McGinty's opposition to the "new right" faction of the Labor Party. This should have read "right faction".


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