We Live in Interesting Times

Sorry, Paul Krugman. According to the World Bank’s report there is a global rising middle class:

…growth in developing countries will reach a near record 7 percent this year. In 2007 and 2008, growth will probably slow, but still likely exceed 6 percent, more than twice the rate in high-income countries, which is expected to be 2.6 percent.

On how globalization will shape the global economy over the next 25 years, the report’s ‘central scenario’ predicts that the global economy could expand from $35 trillion in 2005 to $72 trillion in 2030. “While this outcome represents only a slight acceleration of global growth compared to the past 25 years, it is driven more than ever before by strong performance in developing countries,” said Richard Newfarmer, the report’s lead author and Economic Advisor in the Trade Department. “And while exact numbers will undoubtedly turn out to be different, the underlying trends are relatively impervious to all but the most severe or disruptive shocks.”

Unfortunately, I can think of some doomsday scenarios that would provide those disruptive shocks: the unnatural disasters provided by the death-dealing Islamists come to mind. Were they ever to coordinate their murderous intentions, the reverberations could spread to include the world’s economy. However, it’s not likely they have the organizational structure in place — at the moment — to bring off a major catastrophe, at least major enough to have a deep effect on a global level.

Meanwhile, apocalyptic dreams of the Ummah coming to pass are much more 7th century airy-fairy bloody tales than are the plans the Chinese have for the rest of us. In a recent essay Rowan Callick suggests that we “excise” the Middle East and look at what China is doing:

This might seem a very odd exercise if you live in the USA or the Middle East. But for those of us in the rest of the world, it’s pretty natural. Simply excise the Middle East, and look at what’s happening in most other places. One word will do: China. That’s what’s happening.

While the USA is preoccupied with the Middle East, it is “losing” the rest of the world. The entire developing world, as well as the industrial powerhouses of East Asia, are already starting to view China as not a mere potential rival to the US but as a new super-power already.

The forced resignation of John Bolton as America’s United Nations ambassador reinforces the perception that Washington will be hors de combat for a couple of years, with a lame duck president competing for domestic influence with an isolationist Congress.

This is helping stimulate Beijing’s voracious engagement in trade deals of every kind. Its diplomacy is focused and relentless. And its “non conditional friendship” approach is loved by Third World leaders irritated by the attempts of Western countries, international agencies and non government organizations to bring them to account.


From a Washington perspective, this might appear darned unfair, as the US is almost alone leading the war on Islamist terror in the thankless heat of the day, on behalf of most of the rest of the world.

It is indeed unfair. But for many complex reasons, the crucial need for the war on terror is little understood elsewhere, and most European opinion leaders — including those from Britain — that remain influential internationally are exulting in the USA’s being humbled.

Meanwhile, most of the problems, the vanities, the cruelties of the rulers of China are conveniently sidelined as it is vaunted as not merely the Next Big Thing — a sort of globalization-meets-internet-age super new wave — but as the Now Big Thing. Call this ungrateful, naïve, greedy, unintelligent, amoral, short-sighted, disloyal, opportunistic — and you’d be right. But it’s next to impossible to turn it off.

China Central TV has just finished broadcasting a lavish 12 part historical series on “The Rise of the Great Nations.” The message is clear, in a country whose diplomatic catchphrase is its “peaceful rise” — we’re next.

The most interesting aspect of China’s inroads does not lie in its economic tsunami. Have you heard of the Confucius Institute? If not, you will soon. Forget the local mosque. The coming attraction is much older than anything extant in the West or Middle East:

– – – – – – – – – –

Confucius Institute is a non-profit public institute which aims at promoting Chinese language and culture and supporting local Chinese teaching internationally through affiliated Confucius Institutes. Its headquarters is in Beijing and is under the China National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language. After establishing a pilot institute in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, in June 2004, the first Confucius Institute opened on November 21, 2004 in Seoul, Korea and many more have been established in other countries, such as the U.S., Germany and Sweden, where Chinese enjoys an increasing popularity. The first Confucius Institute in South Eastern Europe was opened in August 2006 in Belgrade, Serbia. The Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China estimates that, by the year 2010, there will be approximately 100 million people worldwide learning Chinese as a foreign language, and it plans to set up 100 Confucius Institutes worldwide.

In case there is one near you, here’s the U.S. list:

  • Chicago Public Schools
  • China Institute
  • Michigan State University
  • Palm Beach County School District, Boca Raton, Florida
  • San Francisco State University
  • University of Hawaii
  • University of Iowa
  • University of Kansas
  • University of Maryland
  • University of Massachusetts
  • University of Oklahoma
  • University of Texas

There are listings in the same Wikipedia link for Germany, Hungary, Japan, Australia, Mexico, Canada, Thailand, Sweden, New Zealand, and the UK.

Mr. Callick references Daniel Bell, a Canadian philosopher teaching in China:

The earlier rise of authoritarian, Confucianesque “Asian values” promoted by south east Asian leaders bit the dust, rightly so, when the region’s economies hit the wall in 1997.

But the concept is now returning with a vengeance, far more powerfully fuelled this time — by the leaders of China who are investing millions of dollars in a global chain of Confucian Institutes.

The view that this is already China’s cultural, political and strategic hour as well as its economic hour, decades before many observers had expected, is being echoed in new books such as “Beyond Liberal Democracy,” by the young Canadian Philosophy Professor at Beijing’s elite Qinghua University, Daniel Bell.

He champions as an alternative to liberal democracy, re-emergent Confucianism, that he sees embodied in the new Chinese leadership of Asia, encapsulated in Hu Jintao’s relentless slogan about building a “harmonious socialist society.”

However, despite Professor Bell’s encomium, all is not well on the Eastern Front:

Willy Wo-lap Lam, a renowned China analyst, says the Chinese regime’s treatment of the defenders of marginalised people — like blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng, his four year sentence for conspiring to disrupt traffic recently upheld — hardly promotes “community life.”

“Internationally, ‘harmony’ is supposed to mean the opposite of Bush-style unilateralism,” he says. “But it is just rhetoric. Beijing is aggressively trying to subjugate Burma, Laos and other client states, and its behaviour in Sudan is certainly not Confucianist, only creating ‘harmony’ for the murderous dictators there.”

Finally, just to make things interesting, Larry Kudlow has a link to a news article that says China is getting ready to attack North Korea. And it seems that China wants us to know about it, since the attack plan was leaked to those in a position to tattle to Western intelligence sources.

You’d think even the North Koreans were smart enough not to dis the Chinese. But, then again, maybe not.

We need to ask James Higham about this.

10 thoughts on “We Live in Interesting Times

  1. China has its own problems

    – the economy may well be somewhat of a bubble, afaik based mostly financed by and supported on trade with the US. Which is interesting.
    – The industrial development has taken place entirely without environmental concerns … thats not “tree hugging/spoted owl” environmental concerns, but multiple Soviet style “oops, we’ve poisoned the whole city of 1M people with heavy metals” disasters like Norilsk, we just haven’t heard of them … yet.
    – The communist party is dumping communism but keeping one party rule. Some people are getting very rich, the rest are getting screwed, and in the web wired world this is hard to hide.
    – Population structure has been desperately skewed by the one child policy. They are about to have a western/Japanese demographic crisis with more geriatrics than workers … without the advanced economic structures.

    The USSR/Russia pretty much tired all of the above at once, and they’re now dying out at a mind boggling rate.

    So what would a middle east/peak oil crunch do to China? Could be rather spectacular.

  2. Apart from the 20 million or so Chinese who are Moslem, and are already proving a problem in parts of the country, there is the business reality that China does not yet have in place the usual practices that facilitate and substantiate growth: no copyright laws, little financial accountability for companies and no protection for freedom of speech which helps along economic growth, to name only the most immediately obvious. The EU is living proof that you cannot get an economic structure up and running first and then graft a political system on to it. As for the Chinese language replacing English as the lingua franca of the business world, I believe more people worldwide actually speak Spanish than Chinese but Madrid hasn’t been the centre of the trade world since the 16th century.

  3. The Chinese just want money & power. The Islamists want our souls.

    China clearly presents a threat to US global hegemony, but not necessarily to the survival of western civilisation itself. From my encounters with communist Chinese they have considerably more regard for, and even liking for, the West than for the Islamic world.

    Still, China is entirely self-interested. If there is a serious danger from China to western civilisation, it lies in China’s potential alliance with the Islamists for mutual perceived self interest. Currently this is confined to raw-materials contracts, as in Sudan. I think the big danger to the West is if China sees the West as a threat to China, and the Islamic world as an ally against Western power.

    This is what any sensible US foreign policy should prevent. The West & China have mutual interests and should be able to coexist peacefully. The Islamists want to destroy all secular nations and place the world under the rule of their One God. There will inevitably be US-China squabbles over territory, influence, human rights et al in the years ahead, but I believe it’s vital for the survival of *all* civilisation, Western _and_ Chinese, that neither sees the other as an existential threat. Two World Wars wrecked European civilisation. We can’t afford a third, not with China.

  4. On the occasions I have discussed things with Chinese nationals I am distressed by their jingoistic attitude. I hope they are not representative but I have no reason to think they are not.

    I recall the riots outside Japan’s embassy last year ostensibly to protest PM Koizumi visiting that Japanese war shrine. OK the Japanese army committed atrocities in China but they weren’t exactly gentle with American POWs and the US and Japan have put WW2 far behind in our relationship.

    The Chinese government has not and this is a problem. Well, let me rephrase that. The Chinese have put part of WW2 behind them, the American contribution.

    That one child policy that Fellow Peacekeeper mentioned has created more than just a potential labor shortage in the coming years. It has created a female shortage right now. Wife sharing and the sale of Korean women to Chinese men
    is already going on.

    It isn’t comforting to think what a Chinese government with 10 million or so extra men on its hands might get up to.

    So far China has bided its time but if it decides to make a military move on Taiwan the whole Pacific basin is going to shake. Japan might not go nuclear over the
    threat from a two bit North Korea but if China attacks Taiwan there will be serious consequences and our treaty obligations with Japan
    cannot be shirked.

  5. Personally, having just returned from a series of business trips to China, I was fairly impressed with the people, while finding the infrastructure a joke. The average bloke seemed to pay lip service to the regime and all its great plans, while getting on with life as usual; all the small businesses I saw were hard at it making money and smiling at the Hairy Foreign Devil who seemed interested in machine shops and scooter repair businesses which fitted into what I would term a fair sized cupboard.
    As far as the Confucius Institute, If they can offer conversational Chinese for businessmen and engineers (me) then I predict they will be a big hit.

  6. I’m completely puzzled the free pass the Chinese communists have gotten from administrations of both parties. Even Putin gets at least a tongue lashing every now and then, and he doesn’t even threaten to invade a US ally evey few years like China does. As for the “secret” of Chinese economic miracle, it’s quite simple. Imagine the US government passed a law saying the dollar will trade against foreign currncies for one fifth of what it is really worth. That would of course make US exporters supercompetitive in all other countries, while shafting any foreign company who wanted import their own products into the US. Well China has been doing this and getting way with it for decades now. Of course, it’s not capitalism, and neither is China a capitalistic country, but they got into the WTO nonetheless.

  7. China is not like anything else. It can’t really be categorized…maybe under the label “fascinating.”

    But it is determined to be the hegemonic king of the hill eventually, and I think it will succeed, but in ways we can’t imagine yet.

    BTW, it is making some progress on environmental “concerns.” Mainly because it can’t afford to kill off its workers.

    And those ten or twenty million single men who will never have the chance to marry or have a family are going to have a significant impact. The already repressive govt may have to become more so. Who else but Sparta ever had that many military-aged men at one time (relatively speaking)? I hear a lot of them are being trained to maintain the overland oil supplies that will be coming from Russia…as the latter implodes in the next generation or so.

    And don’t you wonder how much R&D is going on re alternative energy in China? Unlike the Beduoins, they are extremely bright, with a good university infrastructure.

    As I said, interesting times for all.

  8. BTW, fellow peacekeeper–

    Do you know any details of Walmart’s plans to build in China? It looks like a done deal, but I don’t have any specifics.

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