I will end the year here by simply including the opening extracts from 6 China related articles that I have found – in the last few days – to be worth dwelling on. The articles offer more than just a closing down of the year in review; they add a bit of context to what we might expect coming up over the year ahead – or longer term.
‘For a European these days, thinking about the future is disturbing. America is militarily overstretched, politically polarized, and financially indebted. The European Union seems on the brink of collapse, and many non-Europeans view the old continent as a retired power that can still impress the world with its good manners, but not with nerve or ambition. Global opinion surveys over the last three years consistently indicate that many are turning their backs on the West and – with hope, fear, or both – see China as moving to center stage. As the old joke goes, optimists are learning to speak Chinese; pessimists are learning to use a Kalashnikov.
While a small army of experts argues that China’s rise to power should not be assumed, and that its economic, political, and demographic foundations are fragile, the conventional wisdom is that China’s power is growing. Many wonder what a global Pax Sinica might look like: How would China’s global influence manifest itself? How would Chinese hegemony differ from the American variety? Generally, questions of ideology, economics, history, and military power dominate today’s China debate. But, when comparing today’s American world with a possible Chinese world of tomorrow, the most striking contrast consists in how Americans and Chinese experience the world beyond their borders. …continue reading
‘I am eager to read Chinese news accounts of the life and death of Vaclav Havel, whose central message might be summed up as the necessity for individuals everywhere to cast off their apathy and assume their rights – and agency – as citizens: http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/world/2011-12/18/c_131313633.htm The death of this figure of major importance to the history of the late- and post-Cold War world will inevitably generate talk that is heavily focused on Europe, just as the attention of the Western media and foreign ministries tended to stay almost exclusively bracketed on this region (with China, for a time, serving as a crucial exception) as the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union crumbled.
Scarcely noted around that time, were citizens’ democratic uprisings in Africa (Benin 1990-’91, Mali and Zambia ’91) that opened history’s door for a new era of participatory representative politics around the continent. I say scarcely noted by the press, but also scarcely heeded by Western chancelleries, which judged such events to be small beer when compared to the exciting things happening in more “important” places elsewhere. Little diplomatic energy was invested in supporting this early wave of African democratization. In part, this was due to the fact that it seemed to violate tenets of conventional wisdom in political science, and hence diplomacy, which held that democracy could not take root in countries that did not have a substantial middle class.’ …continue reading
[vpn/proxy required] ‘For years analysts have warned of a looming real estate bubble in China, but the predicted downturn, the bursting of that bubble, never occurred — that is, until now. In a telling scene two months ago, Shanghai property developers started slashing prices on their latest luxury condos by up to one-third. Crowds of owners who had recently bought apartments at full price converged on sales offices throughout the city, demanding refunds. Some angry investors went on a rampage, breaking windows and smashing showrooms.
Shanghai homeowners are hardly the only ones getting nervous. Sudden, steep price reductions are upending real estate markets across China. According to the property agency Homelink, new home prices in Beijing dropped 35 percent in November alone. And the free fall may continue for some time. Centaline, another leading property agency, estimates that developers have built up 22 months’ worth of unsold inventory in Beijing and 21 months’ worth in Shanghai. Everyone from local landowners to Chinese speculators and international investors are now worrying that these discounts indicate that “the biggest bubble of the century,” as it was called earlier this year, has just popped, with serious consequences not only for one of the world’s most promising economies — but internationally as well.’ …continue reading
‘In Vaclav Havel’s essay “The Power of the Powerless,” the central character is a grocer who hangs a sign in his window: “Workers of the World Unite!” Havel wondered: “Why does he do it? What is he trying to communicate to the world? Is he genuinely enthusiastic about the idea of unity among the workers of the world?” On the contrary, he concluded, the grocer’s slogan is the lament of a double life, a public substitute for the truth that he bears only in private: “I am afraid and therefore unquestioningly obedient.” The grocer’s silent concession, Havel wrote, is “one of the thousands of details that guarantee him a relatively tranquil life ‘in harmony with society,’ as they say.”
Twelve years later, on New Year’s Day, 1990, just days after being elected the first president of post-Communist Czechoslovakia, Havel delivered a famous speech and returned, I notice, to the political implications of produce: the doomed regime, he said, cultivated “special farms, which produce ecologically pure and top-quality food just for them” rather than send “their produce to schools, children’s homes, and hospitals.” To a reader in China, Havel’s focus on the symbolism of “special farms” has a certain resonance. …continue reading
[vpn/proxy required] ‘One of my favorite journalists, Peter Ford of the Christian Science Monitor, has a report on some new and bound-to-be-controversial blog posts published on line over the weekend by author/race-car-driver Han Han. Apparently the essays are being denounced by many in the online community — for not being pro-democracy enough. The essays are on three of the government’s least favorite subjects: “On Democracy,” “On Revolution,” and “On Wanting Freedom.”
‘The outspoken Mr. Han reaches more than a million followers and readers whenever he sounds off, which gives him a degree of leeway that the Chinese censors do not grant to everybody. And his popularity means that all of a sudden the sensitive subjects he broached have moved out of the shadows of intellectual or dissident websites into the glare of the Chinese Web’s most visited portals. Han is all for increased freedom of expression. “I believe I can be a better writer, and I don’t want to wait until I am old,” he says. But he is ambivalent about democracy in China because he doubts whether enough Chinese people have sufficient civic consciousness to make it work properly, and he is against a revolution because “the ultimate winner in a revolution must be a vicious, ruthless person.”’
This is the old argument, is China ready for democracy now? It may seem disappointing that Han Han has, in effect, toed the party line, namely that China is not ready and that any dramatic change would only lead to something worse. But I can well see where he’s coming from. What, after all, can fill the void that would follow if the CCP were ousted from power in a fair election (if there could ever be such a thing in China)?’ [the comments section adds to the article] …continue reading
‘The idea of Asia extending a helping hand to Europe has been around ever since the G20 summit in Cannes, France in early November, when world leaders failed to organize exceptional contributions to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that could help support the eurozone. The hope was revived, however, by European leaders at their latest debt crisis summit in December. Of course, there is something shocking in the idea that Asia should help rescue the eurozone. Europe is remarkably rich by world standards — and not only in income terms. According to data compiled by the consulting firm McKinsey, Europe accounts for 30 percent of the global financial market, compared with 12 percent for Japan and less than 8 percent for China.
It thus seems strange to wonder whether Europe can rescue itself without a helping hand from distant and, in the case of China, considerably less wealthy countries. Furthermore, the politics of helping Europe is dicey in Asia, as countries such as South Korea and Indonesia remember all too well that Europe’s advice at the time of the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s was (except for limited direct assistance to South Korea) “go ask the IMF.” Yet Asia may nonetheless need to come to the rescue, either directly or, most probably, by equipping the IMF with the means to step up its operations in Europe. Why?’ …continue reading