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China Rises

I came across an item, written by Jared Diamond, on the New York Times website recently.  Although it was a few years old, it struck me that if it was correct then it is probably as relevant now as when it was written.  Just to satisfy my curiosity I looked further and sure enough dug up more items which fitted in with the first.  Of these the most notable is an article written by Michael Pettis on his blog, China Financial Markets, entitled The difficult arithmetic of Chinese consumption, published a little later in 2009. In essence most of these articles  talk about the rise in consumption of China, of the problems which may arise from this and how they should be dealt with, but looking at the figures used I couldn’t help wonder if they were not looking at the situation the wrong way round.

Let me explain what I mean.  In 2008 the gross domestic consumption of the PRC [Peoples Republic of China] was $1.2 trillion – that is, two digits followed by eleven zeroes. By comparison consumption in the UK [United Kingdom] in the same year was $1.4 trillion and in the US [United States of America] was $9.4 trillion.  All big numbers to get your head around.  So it seems that Britain consumed slightly more than China but quite a lot less than the US, but then that is a bigger and more wealthy country.  But are these reasonable comparisons?  If, instead of using total consumption, we compare consumption per person possibly we might have a more reasonable figure to look at, after all there are substantial differences in population; 1,300 million, 304 million and 60 million for the PRC, US and UK respectively.  After dividing the figures these are the rates per capita for the year 2008  –

PRC     $923

UK       $23,333

US       $30,921

Think about it for a moment.  On average a British citizen consumes 25 times as much and a US citizen 33 times as much as the average person in China.  This may not sound much of a difference when compared with, for instance, the income of the wealthiest family in Britain with the poorest family but these are averages, not extremes.

For a moment let’s turn the situation on its head.  If the rate of consumption in China were the same as that in the UK it could only support a population of 51,428,571 and if it were the same as in the US the population would be only 38,808,510.  How does that compare with the present PRC population of 1,300,000,000?

Turning the figures round yet again and dividing the total consumption of the UK and the US by the consumption rate of China will give us some idea of how many people can be [financially] supported in these two countries – in Britain 1,516,666,666 Chinese consumers and the US 10,183,332,484 Chinese consumers.  These figures are nonsense, of course, as they represent more people than live in the entire world and more than the whole world can probably support –  but what if certain countries decided they wanted to live as we do?

I think you get my point, that with such a huge disparity between countries we cannot expect to continue, unchallenged, living such an extravagant lifestyle as we do now.  Sooner or later our standard of living will change. Downwards.  As to what the answer is, invade their countries [again], nuke the buggers, or bring a bit of moderation and realism to the western world, who knows,  that’s a question for the political leaders and experts to decide.

Related posts – “Future Masters

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Bring ’em on

Actually I’m not sure if China is preparing for a sports event, i.e. running around in circles, jumping over obstacles, throwing things, generally fooling around and having a good time, or about to go to war. Reading websites such as the China Daily [CD] and the Shanghai Daily [SD] you might be excused for believing the latter and that China is under threat of imminent attack.

“Missile launchers have been assigned to the Bird’s Nest National Stadium. Any perceived threats to Games venues from the air will be shot down.” in this bulletin.

“The Navy will ensure security at sea as the coastal city of Qingdao hosts sailing events.
Special task forces have also been trained to deal with nuclear or biochemical attacks.”

Nothing is being left to chance; land sea, air, nuclear, biological or chemical attacks have all been planned for and will be dealt with summarily. There is obviously a very powerful enemy afoot.

Sniffer dog patrols are out on duty as far way as Anhui province. Road security is stepped up, as shown in this bulletin, and in the Shanghai Daily report referenced above –

“From the beginning of next week every vehicle coming to Beijing will undergo a security check.

Hundreds of check points will be set up at the road entrances to Beijing, ring roads and downtown to ensure a safe Olympic Games.

Each vehicle entering the capital during the Games will be checked electronically and by sniffer dogs.

Bus passengers traveling to Beijing will have their ID cards and belongings checked from July 20.

If just one passenger fails to show a valid ID card, the bus and all its passengers will be refused entry to the city.”

The government has taken its fight against terror overseas and set up a cooperating body, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation [SCO] with neighbouring countries – Russia, Kazahkstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. The first thing to notice about them is that they are all pretty dodgy regimes and all have little or no regard for basic human rights; not exactly the sort of freedom-loving partners most western governments would want to line up with.

If all this were just for show then why fuss over it, but the PRC government seems to be taking its own propaganda very seriously indeed – one might almost be lead to think it actually believes it – and these measures could cause a lot of hassle for any visitors to Beijing. Just take the last statement in the SD report regarding the possibility of a passengers being refused entry because one ID card/passport doesn’t look quite right. A whole busload of people brassed off in one fell swoop. That’s efficiency for you. There is more than ample scope for rubbing people up the wrong way and knowing the government’s enthusiasm and skill in these areas it is more than likely there will be a few toes trodden on in the coming weeks. But the most exciting little gem is the promise of a reward for anyone who provides information “about a planned terrorist attack, possible sabotage by an illegal organization, such as the Falun Gong, murder of Olympic-related personnel or foreigners, or some other major crimes“ [notice how the scope widens with each phrase] see CD again. The bulletin says “The tip-off must include accurate and detailed information“, but offering money on this scale [a minimum of 10,000 yuan and a maximum of 500,000 yuan] may be just a little too tempting. Here is an ideal opportunity to settle old scores with anyone you dislike and line your pocket at the same time. Let’s see how many ‘denouncements’ are made this summer and how many victims of this scheme end up behind bars as terrorists.

This question has been asked before but it needs to asked again, and again, and again until we have a real answer, otherwise how can we take China’s War on Terror seriously. What evidence, beyond the political rhetoric, is available to show that “’the three evil forces of terrorism, separatism and extremism” [Mr Chen’s words] really do exist in China? None, so far. Maybe one day the government will surprise us by showing police records, photographs and paraphernalia relating to these incidents, but until then we must reserve judgment. Just one more little question; according to the governments own reports, most of these alleged gangs are armed, principally, with knives, so are anti-aircraft missiles, naval deployments and one of the biggest land army mobilisations that has been seen for years [there are as many personnel tied up with this operation as the USA deployed in Iraq] really justified?

Welcome to Beijing 2008.

Related posts  A question of security

A question of security?

The PRC government is making an effort to systematically clear out foreigners residing and working in China, particularly those in Beijing. That the clear-out is widespread is not disputed and no one with a non-Chinese skin is safe no matter how long they have lived in China and no matter what they are there for. For any government to expel illegal immigrants is not unreasonable; there are expatriates living in China with no visa, expired visas or inappropriate visas, so they should not be too surprised when the PSB comes knocking on their door, but this goes much further. The rules regarding the issue of visas have been changed drastically and extensions to existing visas and residency permits are becoming very hard to obtain. Read through almost any blog written by an expatriate in China and you’ll soon get a feel of the problem. What is not so easy to ascertain is why this is happening.

The process started, in a low key way, some time last year when the PRC government began rounding up and deporting evangelists and missionaries [foreign evangelists are illegal in China], as reported on several websites, click here for one of them. Then early this year foreign students in Beijing were told they would have to vacate their quarters during the summer months. At the time a few people thought this a little odd, while others, myself included, felt there was probably a rational explanation somewhere and this was nothing to fuss about. During the Spring the process was extended to illegal migrant workers from neighbouring countries such as North Korea. Several of these ended up in the UK as asylum seekers as they dared not return to face Kim Jong-Il’s regime; several passed through the reception centre not far from where I live. Since then the net has spread and no one seems to be beyond its reach.

As work [‘Z’] and business [‘F”] visas have expired renewal has been denied or the application process made so long and tortuous people have given up and gone away. When ‘Z’ visas have been issued they have been limited to single entry only. Travel visas [‘L’], which once were available in a variety of formats have been reduced to one type only, 30 days, single entry. The days of multiple entry visas are over for now. One very odd rule of thumb has emerged, no one born after 1984 has been granted renewal of a ‘Z’ visa. So if you are a tourist and just wish to make one visit of 2 or 3 weeks this summer, no problem, but if you require anything else be prepared for a long wait and possible disappointment.

If it were just the ne’er-do-wells, who occasionally land up in China, who were affected I would have no qualms and might even applaud the government but this simply isn’t the case. This report on the Cup Of Cha weblog gives a general outline of the picture and this, this and this report from Simpson’s Paradox details the departure of, first, two of the blogger’s friends and not long after, her boyfriend’s sudden departure which will be followed soon by her own. Another well-known blogger has had to return to his home country to go through the visa application process, to the amusement of one or two of the commenters, as detailed in this report on The Opposite End Of China blog. A 71 year old man who who has been running his own company in China for several years has had to leave at short notice, as reported on the Wall Street Journal. And this report on the TIME magazine website outlines the problem and details a few more cases. Root around on the web long enough and you will accumulate a list as long as your arm of expulsion stories.

Another clearing out process has been taking place which doesn’t involve foreigners but could be equally relevant to this question. Dissenters and other trouble makers have been locked up, petty dissenters, petitioners and other undesirables who were a regular feature of the Beijing streets have been moved as far away from tourist areas as possible. This has all been part of the campaign to tidy up the streets and make them more agreeable for western eyes. Walk along any city centre street in Beijing and how many beggars do you see? See Ben’s Blog.

One of the effects, which I find hard to believe was intended, has been a downturn in international tourist traffic. Bookings this year are lower than for the same period last year and even for the month of August itself the figures are not good – see this report on the Economist website.

As to why this has happened we can only theorise. The official reason is ’security’. Whether this makes any sense or not doesn’t seem to matter as the Chinese authorities are determined to put on a show of strength, as shown on this China Daily report. Some of the measures shown are ideal for TV/Photo-ops but not a lot use for dealing with real terrorism or civil disturbances. In previous months the PLA and police have been hard at work undertaking training exercises and now it all comes to fruition in the form of a massive mobilisation and a string of spectacular displays of Chinese strength and prowess. Click on to any Chinese media website [e.g. Xinhua, QQ news] and you will see propaganda photos showing the PSB, PLA, PLAN and almost anyone else who wears a government uniform, going through their paces valiantly defending the motherland and fighting off the evils of the outside world. The PRC government claims to be fighting insurgents in the far west province of Xinjiang in the form of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement [ETIM] which in turn is claimed to be linked to Al’Qaeda. While resentment against the governing Han people does exist amongst the Uygur people of Xinjiang no-one seems to know if ETIM itself genuinely exists. Early this year Xinhua reported a raid on an ETIM gang in Urumqi – click here – and during the spring an airline hi-jacking/sabotage incident was reported – click here. A search on the internet will produce alternative reports of the same incidents but in not one of them is there one item evidence, photographic or otherwise, cited or referred to to prove that these incidents occurred. Even the Xinhua reports themselves, usually published some time after each incident, are devoid of any reference to evidence that the incidents took place. One incident was purported to have taken place in a residential neighbourhood and was said to have resulted in several deaths, but none of the neighbours knew anything of it. All of which calls into question just how real terrorism in China is. Even if it were real, in what way does expelling foreign residents make the Olympic games any more safe? Or is it, as some suggest, just an excuse for a continuing crackdown on anyone the authorities don’t like?

But back to the expulsions. If security is not the real reason for this, what is? Millions of tourists are expected to arrive in Beijing during the Games and along with them will be thousands of news reporters. The authorities want them all to see China at its best and to this end they have been beavering away for several years preparing the infrastructure, the amenities, environment and the people. Over all these elements the government has some degree of control and the authorities have good reason to feel reasonably confident about the preparations, e.g. the people have been put through many re-education programmes, such as how to queue in a civilised manner, how to not spit, how to clap harmoniously, etc, but the one thing the government cannot control is the foreign population [said by some to be around quarter of a million in Beijing]. To speak to a native Beijinger [北京公民] a reporter will probably need an interpreter, and the native Beijinger will probably already know what he must [and not] say to foreign reporters. To speak to a foreign resident would not be quite so irksome – and finding foreigners is remarkably easy, just stand in the high street of any large city and see how easy it is to spot the laowai amongst the surrounding sea of jet black hair and tanned faces – and if the questions were to become too probing who knows what might be said and then reported? Could there be a risk here? So, to present the world with a picture of an unflawed harmonious society the way ahead is to make sure that the only people available on the streets are re-educated natives and first time tourists, that way there will be no embarrassing stories to deal with.

北京欢迎您

Beijing welcomes you.

Alternative Olympic Games

Many thanks to Beijing Olympics Fan for alerting us to this webpage of wonders on the Mental Floss website.

The sports/activities/antics [delete as required] depicted on this page, each with a demo video clip, beat diving, dressage, and most other Olympic sports hands down. Shame upon BOCOG for not selecting wife-carrying [if you really think this is a time-waster just take a look at the prize] as an alternative event to hurdle racing and underwater hockey surely beats synchronised swimming every day of the week. Some of the names are self-explanatory, such as underwater hockey but others take a little thinking about. Ga-Ga for instance isn’t something that happens to grannies and granddads but is a form of Dodgeball, played in an octagonal pit. And for all the tired and jaded baseball watchers out there pesapallo is just what’s needed to turn a rather repetitive mediocre activity into genuine entertainment. No more neat and tidy circuits of the diamond to score, instead the players run an apparently random zig-zag route to make their points. It looks quite chaotic but apparently there are real rules [somewhere] and they are just as precise as those of the original game. Almost on a par with Extreme Ironing – now there’s real sport for real men [and women]. 🙂

A step nearer . .

So the Olympic flame has arrived on the top of Mt. Everest/Qomolangma/ Zhūmùlǎngmǎ Fēng/珠穆朗玛峰/jo-mo glang-ma ri/Sagarmatha/सगरमाथा or whatever you want to call it – a mountain by any other name is just as steep.

Here is a page on QQ news, translated by Google-analytics, with a few more photos of the event.

No protests were reported.

The ‘b’-word

blindman.jpgThe ‘b’-word has been mentioned in the press. Again. At the time of Mr Spielberg’s disengagement with BOCOG there was some talk of boycotting the 2008 Olympics in protest over China’s involvement with Darfur, but it then faded away. Since the recent troubles in Tibet the topic has been revived and the notion is now being discussed amongst some European political circles. I’ve said once before that not going to the 2008 Olympics seems rather foolish after going to all the trouble of awarding the games to Beijing in the first place and I still feel the same way so perhaps a little clarification is necessary.

 

 

Does anyone remember the 1980 Games, held in Moscow? That year the USA persuaded many other countries [about 60, I believe] to join it in boycotting the Moscow games in protest at the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. The games went ahead as planned; the only disappointment for the spectators was that the records were not pushed as far forward as might have happened if everyone had participated. The conflict in Afghanistan continued for another 10 years and the only people to have been affected directly from the action were those athletes instructed by their countries to not participate. Did the boycott achieve much? Well, the following Olympic games in 1984, and held in Los Angeles, were boycotted, tit for tat, by the Russians and that is the only result I am aware of. Not long ago Prime Minister Brown boycotted the EU Conference in Lisbon as President Mugabe [of Zimbabwe] had been invited to attend. I’m unsure what Gordon Brown hoped to achieve by that, teach Robert Mugabe a lesson and scare him back home perhaps, tell Europe that Britain and Zimbabwe don’t mix maybe, I can only guess. What I do know is that he scored a resounding silence with this fatuous gesture. So much for the power of the boycott.

 

Looking at this from a slightly different angle, in what way are the British public and other westerners getting involved in this matter. Are they boycotting Chinese goods? Refusing to buy anything with a ‘Made in China’ stamp on it? Are western businessmen withdrawing from deals struck with Chinese enterprises? Have our ministers refused to attend trade missions in China? Have we advised all tourists to not travel to China? No. Really? In fact, for the rest of the world it’s pretty much business as usual. So why must athletes be singled out to bear this message of disapproval to China and have their years of training and hopes sacrificed? At best this can only be described as an exercising of double standards, but at worst it is nothing short of gross hypocrisy.

 

In the b-camp there are some who are convinced the way forward is to stage an all-out boycott and there is some logic in this as only a boycott supported by the vast majority of participants could effectively stop the event from being staged, but there are others who take what they see as a more pragmatic and moderate view. Instead of denying athletes the opportunity to compete they say we should go ahead and attend, as planned, but boycott the opening ceremony. And if that wouldn’t teach them a lesson I don’t know what will!

Related posts – Xizang, Take Note.

 

Xizang

There seems to be many people jumping on the Free Tibet bandwagon, so true to form, a mini-demonstration has taken place in London, details here. I can only read what is available on the news reports but it all seems a little one-sided, i.e. everything is China’s fault. The impression I get is that many of the protesters are ill-informed and are as unaware of what is happening as their supposedly brainwashed counterparts within China.

 

Unfortunately, every party involved sees the situation one-way only which, I suppose, is not an uncommon human failing. The Tibetans see only bullying and repression, the Chinese see only unwashed and ungrateful natives attacking their enterprises, and for the human rights activists it is another opportunity to wring their hands in pious indignation, but this is far from being a one-sided problem. Add to the tensions, grievances and distrust a number of militants and trouble makers [Free Tibet, Tibet Youth Congress, Tibet Peoples Uprising Movement, most of whom, by coincidence, have never seen Tibet], then introduce an event which will focus everyone on the region and you have a recipe for trouble. There is an element of truth in what almost every party has to say in this dispute, and that applies to the positive as well as the negative statements but those truths only go so far and always stop short of the whole picture. Each party must take one step further and acknowledge all the problems and grievances which exist. Until a problem is acknowledged it cannot be solved.

 

The Chinese government is alleged to be exploiting Tibetan mineral wealth and the Han immigrants do seem to get most of the good jobs that appear. Meanwhile the Chinese government does provide an education system to bring the ethnic minorities into line with everyone else, but what often happens is that the minorities don’t seem to take up the opportunities which are there. I don’t know if this is the fault of the minorities or the fault of someone else, but I do know that in China if you are unable to speak, read and write Putonghua then you are seriously disadvantaged and for this to happen to someone living in China this means being marginalised for life. The PRC government has been in dialogue with the Dalai Lama but no progress has been made. There are militant elements at work among the rebels from outside China. All the above would appear to be true statements but none are the whole truth.

 

I’m not going to delve into detail of what should be done, that’s for the people involved, but without a sensible solution which satisfies every legitimately involved party, the best we can hope for is for the PRC government to keep a lid on things. But if that is all that is done then any underlying problems and injustices will fester and trouble will continue to erupt at intervals in this corner of Asia.

 

 

Here are some links to websites offering views, reports or insight into what is happening

China Matters – “A Tibetan Intifada“, “Black Days For The Dalai Lama

The Opposite End Of China – “Right Or Wrong“, “Loose Ends In Western China

Mutant Palm – “Engaging Chinese Netizens

 

And here are a few links to photo galleries on QQ news –

http://news.qq.com/a/20080322/000505.htm
http://news.qq.com/a/20080322/000668.htm
http://news.qq.com/a/20080321/000367.htm
http://news.qq.com/a/20080323/000406.htm

and an effort by the government to hit back on the propaganda front

http://news.qq.com/a/20080323/000337.htm

Related posts – Take Note.