Bush's Asia tour swept
through Beijing with much fanfare, but what can really be accomplished between
the two figureheads of two huge and influential nations? Naturally, it will
be up to the negotiators, diplomats, and private sector to follow up on the
platitudes and build upon what is in effect the most important relationship
of the 21st century.
A recurring mantra of China discussions is the theory of a "peaceful rise."
Excellent for China, no doubt, taking into account the meteoric rise and fall
of some of the more violently disposed nations of the past, Germany and Japan
being the most recent examples. But the rise is not the issue: what comes after
the rise is what has the Pacific Rim and, most notably the U.S., worried.
What will China be doing in 2020? This question keeps China pundits and strategists
at their desks typing
away. Will China be a force for peace and global integration – a global
banker and manufacturer bringing prosperity to the long-suffering poor of the
One could look at the individual in China and draw some harrowing conclusions:
Take if you will the big boss who rose to the top peacefully through many a
lazy-Susan dinner and many, many shots of baijiu. Now he owns houses
and cars, runs a staggering array of connected yet disparate companies, and
oversees a small army of relatives, friends, employees, and important relationships.
The majority of these bosses run red lights with impunity; cheerfully cheat
peasants out of their land and competitors out of their innovations and businesses,
bringing in thugs if need be; flout the nonexistent laws of this land daily;
establish autocratic fiefdoms in the spirit of the warlords of old; and generally
run roughshod over every and anyone in their path.
These bosses face the perpetual fear of decapitation from higher-ups, including
the strike-hard bureaucrat of the day, himself bribed into action by those the
big boss cheated in order to reach his current position.
Many Chinese themselves express doubts about the government's commitment to
peace once China has established itself as the preeminent power in Asia. Look
to the Spratlys,
Japan, and Taiwan for emerging conflicts that will become full-blown once China's
fears are ameliorated.
For those with experience doing anything in China, the words "peaceful
rise" sound painfully synonymous with "best price for you."
But are big bosses anything to fear for the biggest boss of them all?
Platitudes vs. the Eye of the Tiger
Take, for example, intellectual property rights.
Any law prohibiting copyright infringement and outright thievery is absolutely
unenforceable in China. Millions and millions of people would be out of jobs
if these laws could be enforced, for one. Not just the vendors, but the guards
that look the other way at Computer City, the doormen who allow the goods out
of the factory, the managers who lose commission on the extra goods produced,
the factory owner whose income is supplemented by the overproduction on a Nike
order, and the vast web of hands and pockets involved in any single operation
– like the software-copying wizards, who by now run hi-tech labs staffed by
high school and college kids who play games on their down time.
The problem is societal – reaching deep into the neighborhood.
The problem is educational – when students rely on rote memory to pass a test,
can one possibly expect innovation?
The problem is related to population – any new idea in China is pounced upon
by an exponential number of opportunists who steal a business plan, an idea,
a logo, whatever it takes. Because in a dog-eat-dog world, whatever brings home
the bacon is good.
And with no legal recourse, for Chinese victims and foreign victims, the impunity
of the thief becomes the brilliance of the businessman. Success is admired,
period. We'll deal with the lawyers later – a couple of wire transfers and they'll
University professors are cheap. For a few thousand dollars, they will take
whatever product they are presented with to the lab and come back to the client
with an analysis of the ingredients needed to reproduce the same product.
The problem is not going to be solved through high-level meetings and press
Instead, the army of negotiators, diplomats, and private-sector representatives
need to inform their clients, U.S. companies, that "Yes, you will be robbed,"
and "No, the Chinese government cannot help you."
So Bush's comment that "Our people should be treated fairly" is delusional.
U.S. companies should use those educations the Chinese are falling over themselves
to get to counter thievery in an innovative fashion.
Look to Intel in Sichuan for ideas: Building
two factories is but one phase of their operations. Intel also has a program
offering computer services to backward Sichuan towns like Deyang, Mianyang,
and Meishan – even the isolated
panda reserve. Is there a market for computer services in these quasi-peasant
towns? Yes. When these kids grow up and think "computers," will they
associate that with the name Intel? Definitely.
The training industry is exploding in China, particularly in Shanghai, where
global firms rub shoulders with mainland wannabes. The reasoning is multi-faceted:
Chinese employees making twice what they would make with a Chinese company will
associate success with a certain method of doing things. U.S. CEOs born and
bred on the American Way will be able to control and monitor their employees
much easier according to their own system than through the opaque windowpane
of a joint venture.
When these employees eventually leave to create their own companies, in doesn't
matter if they cut and paste from their former employers: they will be working
according to a method understood by other foreign firms, thereby creating a
business culture more agreeable to the Western palate.
Of course, this is not taking into account the brilliance of a young Chinese
eager to learn the Western style just to be able to turn the tables and be armed
with two swords: Chinese duplicity and U.S. efficiency.
But then again, what are the 20-something foreigners learning during their
stays in China?
Take, for example, the trade deficit of $200 billion.
Does anyone truly believe making Chinese products more expensive will enable
U.S. companies to compete? Is price the sole comparative advantage for us to
settle on in this complex economic relationship?
Chinese companies are already realizing that doing business solely on price
will never give them the brand recognition or reputation for quality and efficiency
needed to compete globally. Only new technologies, a trained workforce, and
a determination to succeed can bring about the results desired by the mainland
kingpins longing for a bite of the global pie.
Businessmen will take whatever they can get away with – the attitude of entitlement
foreigners carry about will not work in China. Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba,
took what he saw and created something new for the Chinese market. He will fight
to the death against Google because he does not see himself as entitled to the
Chinese market just because he is Chinese. And Google will learn that they are
entitled to nothing in China just because the rest of the planet "Googles"
instead of "Alibabas."
Alan Greenspan derided "protectionism" as a source for America's
economic woes – which basically means government interference in private affairs,
such as the anti-China trade bill Congress is mulling over for next year. America's
advantages over China are too numerous to go into here, but a short list would
include: a powerful
military, a better education system, established corporate giants, an overall
living standard China dreams of, and restive, talented youth just itching to
prove their mettle.
Instead of looking to China's dubious few advantages – cheap people and the
willingness to oppress and steal – U.S. strategists who fear the rise of China
should look closer to home and make use of the vast resources America commands
and revel in the competition!
Human Rights, Religion, and Geopolitics
What has China done for the U.S. lately in terms
of North Korea?
Despite the administration thanking China for bringing this joke of a nation
back to the chatter table, China has little to gain from relieving the U.S.
of this thorn. North Korea, ridiculous as it is, keeps the U.S. and Japan spending
time, money, and effort on military technologies and fruitless diplomatic missions.
U.S. aims would be best served by removing its soldiers from South Korea, thus
removing any reason for North Korea to target them. Make China deal with these
freaks! If the problem becomes one China must solve, watch how quickly Kim kneels
before Hu. As long as the U.S. remains involved, North Korea will wrangle concessions
with their threats and China will continue to drag its feet.
If it's face everybody is worried about, imagine what a tactical retreat will
do to China's face when they realize they have to deal with this thorn. North
Korea is China's answer to Taiwan – dramatically juxtaposed are the multilateral
vs. unilateral approaches to each problem and the strength of the rhetoric.
Ironically similar are the piles of cash made by weapons producers capitalizing
on each problem.
Hu's comment on Taiwan? Never, ever, ever will Taiwan become independent.
Ever. Got it?
Bush's comment on North Korea? Could you please talk to this guy for us?
Last but not least, take Bush's and Rice's stances on human rights and religion.
Of all the topics one could discuss in China with success, the U.S. government
chooses human rights. This amid bombings all over the planet in the name of
freedom, and our own black legacy during our not-so-peaceful rise from 13 squabbling
colonies to a transoceanic superpower.
Taxi drivers, being a safe barometer of local opinion, talk of human rights.
Chinese intellectuals, disenfranchised and almost to a man broke, talk of human
rights. Hypocritical Hong Kong and Taiwanese, doing quite well in their modernity,
thank you, talk of human rights.
Beijing, as expected, sees all this talk as naught more than a fifth column
within the nation – a tool meant to pry away any hopes of prosperity in return
for freedom, which in China translates into chaos. And this,
unfortunately, is how China deals with chaos, with or without approval from
When the U.S. broaches the topic, Chinese platitudes are somewhere between
"peaceful rise," "best price for you," and "never,
ever, ever." Result? Bush's most dramatic achievement was making it to
church on time, as documented
by a sneaky Chinese blogger.
Amid all the jabbering about human rights and
pirates, did anyone notice Bush's next stop? That's right, Mongolia, possible
site for America's newest peacekeeping
presence in Asia: The Center
Are China's fears about encirclement really just bluster? Or is the Bush administration
struggling forward in the quest for universal human rights?