June 13, 2005

"WITH A BROW LIKE SHAKESPEARE AND A FACE LIKE SATAN" (via Frederik Jacobsen):

Who can stop the rise and rise of China? The communists, of course (Mark Steyn, 12/06/2005, Daily Telegraph)

Seventy years ago, in the days of Fu Manchu and Charlie Chan, when the inscrutable Oriental had a powerful grip on Occidental culture, Erle Stanley Gardner wrote en passant in the course of a short story: "The Chinese of wealth always builds his house with a cunning simulation of external poverty. In the Orient one may look in vain for mansions, unless one has the entrée to private homes. The street entrances always give the impression of congestion and poverty, and the lines of architecture are carefully carried out so that no glimpse of the mansion itself is visible over the forbidding false front of what appears to be a squalid hovel."

Well, the mansion's pretty much out in the open now. Confucius say: If you got it, flaunt it, baby. China is the preferred vacation destination for middle-class Britons; western businessmen return cooing with admiration over the quality of the WiFi in the lobby Starbucks of their Guangzhou hotels; glittering skylines ascend ever higher from the coastal cities as fleets of BMWs cruise the upscale boutiques in the streets below.

The assumption that this will be the "Asian century" is so universal that Jacques Chirac (borrowing from Harold Macmillan vis-à-vis JFK) now promotes himself as Greece to Beijing's Rome, and the marginally less deranged of The Guardian's many Euro-fantasists excuse the EU's sclerosis on the grounds that no one could possibly compete with the unstoppable rise of a Chinese behemoth that by mid-century will have squashed America like the cockroach she is.

Even in the US, the cry is heard: Go east, young man! "If I were a young journalist today, figuring out where I should go to make my career, I would go to China," said Philip Bennett, the Washington Post's managing editor, in a fawning interview with the People's Daily in Beijing a few weeks back. "I think China is the best place in the world to be an American journalist right now."

Really? Tell it to Zhao Yan of the New York Times' Beijing bureau, who was arrested last September and has been held without trial ever since.

What we're seeing is an inversion of what Erle Stanley Gardner observed: a cunning simulation of external wealth and power that is, in fact, a forbidding false front for a state that remains a squalid hovel.


The Yellow Menace always looms large in the Western mind and small in reality. You'd think folks who have barely gotten over their terror of Japan would at least consider whether they're kidding themselves about China.

MORE:
For Chinese, Peasant Revolt Is Rare Victory: Farmers Beat Back Police In Battle Over Pollution (Edward Cody, June 13, 2005, Washington Post)

By the time dawn broke, up to 20,000 peasants from the half-dozen villages that make up Huaxi township had responded to the alarm, participants recounted, and they were in no mood to bow to authority. For four years, they had been complaining that industrial pollution was poisoning the land, stunting the crops and fouling the water in their fertile valley surrounded by forested hills 120 miles south of Hangzhou. And now their protest -- blocking the entrance to an industrial park -- was being put down by force.

A pitched battle erupted that soggy morning between enraged farmers and badly outnumbered police. By the end of the day, high-ranking officials had fled in their black sedans and hundreds of policemen had scattered in panic while farmers destroyed their vehicles. It was a rare triumph for the peasants, rising up against the all-powerful Communist Party government.

The confrontation was also a glimpse of a gathering force that could help shape the future of China: the power of spontaneous mass protest. Peasants and workers left behind by China's economic boom increasingly have resorted to the kind of unrest that ignited in Huaxi. Their explosions of anger have become a potential source of instability and a threat to the party's monopoly on power that has leaders in Beijing worried. By some accounts, there have been thousands of such protests a year, often met with force.

The workers and peasants appear to have nowhere else to turn but the street. Their representatives in parliament do what the government says; independent organizations are banned in China's communist system; and party officials, focused on economic growth, have become partners of eager entrepreneurs rather than defenders of those abandoned by the boom. Most of the violent grass-roots eruptions have been put down, hard and fast. This report examines the origin and unfolding of one revolt that went the other way. "We won a big victory," declared a farmer who described the protest on condition that his name be withheld, lest police arrest him as a ringleader. "We protected our land. And anyway, the government should not have sent so many people to suppress us."

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 13, 2005 10:53 AM
Comments

My grandfather is terrified of China -- he sees them as an up-and-coming global economic hyperpower reminiscent of America after WWII. I've told him that I think his fears are overblown but it doesn't change his mind. He thinks the slave labor in the laogai and elsewhere gives them a distinct economic advantage. I've always figured that this doesn't tell us much about how much productivity they are getting for their labor, and if slavery produced material prosperity the South wouldn't have been an economic basketcase for generations.

Anybody have any ideas about where I can point him to debunk this stuff?

Posted by: Matt Murphy at June 13, 2005 1:34 PM

China is scary not because it is a viable long term competitor but because it has enough power to engage in act of self-destruction that would be globally damaging, like invading Taiwan. I don't think they'd succeed but they'd almost certainly set our economy back a decade or more by destroying Taiwan's industrial infrastructure.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at June 13, 2005 1:38 PM

How?

Posted by: oj at June 13, 2005 1:45 PM

Matt;

If low wages are the key there are plenty of folks willing to work for less than what the Chinese are getting.

Posted by: oj at June 13, 2005 1:47 PM

I had Chinese food this past weekend. The Chinese Fortune Cookie was made in Chicago. I hope that helps.

Posted by: AllenS at June 13, 2005 1:55 PM

Regarding an invasion of Taiwan, Ross Munro brought up a scenario in National Review a while back, using the disputed Taiwanese election as a backdrop. When it looked like Lien Chan and the KMT might veer towards violence in their outrage over the election result, China openly said they would not sit back and let Taiwan descend into turmoil. Let's assume for a second that this is a signal of their intentions.

A full-scale missile attack on Taiwan would probably bring the usual edentulous "statements of concern" from the international community, but the Americans would take it seriously and a hypothetical American retreat from Chinese markets might destroy China's export-based economy. So a missile attack is probably off the table. Munro, however, wondered what would happen if they landed a few special-forces troops on the Taiwanese coast during some future political upheaval. You could probably find some senior Taiwanese military officers born into mainlander families who would agree in advance not to offer resistance for several hours. Meanwhile, as the American president is being awakened with confusing news of a Chinese military operation, China sends a notice that they have only landed a few units on the island to restore order and will leave shortly.

And, in fact, that's exactly what they do. But, of course, the Taiwanese public is fully aware that their government couldn't stop the incursion, and that America wasn't there to help them in their hour of need. With significant elements of the political structure already sympathetic towards reunification with China, it's possible that Taiwan would soon elect political leaders who would significantly accede to Chinese demands.

We already know that an entire subset of the Chinese government is tasked with devising scenarios to reunify with Taiwan, so it's likely some scheme like the above has already crossed their minds. Plus, they've reportedly been developing airborne special forces that could do this sort of thing -- again, not a full-scale invasion (which they don't have the military capability to do yet) but just a brief landing.

I don't think China is nearly the upcoming colossus that they're made out to be, but I could see them pulling this off. It would be much tougher to deal with this than with an outright attack.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at June 13, 2005 2:50 PM

They can't get their troops there.

Posted by: oj at June 13, 2005 2:56 PM

Mr. Judd;

Yes, China can get its troops there if they obtain strategic surprise and are willing to sustain heavy losses, both of which they've demonstrated themselves capable of in the past. What China can't do is sustain their troops because their water and air fleets would bleed away faster than people standing between John McCain and a camera. We'd consider, say, 50% losses in transit completely unacceptable but I doubt the PRC would have the same view.

There's also missiles and bombers. Again, they'd fade away very quickly but not instaneously.

While I agree that such an attack would be completely irrational and doomed to failure, I don't see that the PRC would necessarily agree or care.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at June 13, 2005 3:21 PM

i was a supporter of taiwan until i read recently that they don't even have 5x days worth of ammo on hand. if they don't want to be free enough to pay for their own ammo, then let the dogs take them.

Posted by: cjm at June 13, 2005 3:44 PM

China has accumulated $7*10^11 of USTreasury securities, all of which are "book-entry" securities -- meaning that they are evidenced solely by the records of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

If the Chinese started to get obstreperous, we would call them up and remind them that they wouldn't want to have somebody spill a cup of hot coffee on those records, now would we?

Another factor is the one child policy. Many chinese parents have but one son to support them in their old age. What would happen if the government threatened to put those boys in harms way?

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at June 13, 2005 3:58 PM

Robert:

The government might view that as a solution to the growing gender imbalance (in the Chinese future).

Posted by: jim hamlen at June 13, 2005 4:04 PM

AOG:

How? How are they building up these troops, transporting them, landing them, reinforcing them, etc. when we say no?

Posted by: oj at June 13, 2005 4:18 PM

Matt, AOG:

The days of massive amphibious landings ended with the advent of satellite surveillance. Inchon was the last. To secure 10 miles of beach-head on D-Day, the Allies had to land five divisions (employing 6000 transport ships, landing craft, and fire support ships). We also needed three airborne divisions to support the landing. And we achieved complete surprise. Plus the Luftwaffe could only put two planes in the air over Normandy. Landing a "few" special forces units would be ineffective. I've travelled the western Taiwanese coast, and the landing (sandy) beaches are heavily bunkered and partially mined. Tourists are prohibited from taking pictures of the beaches, and placed in custody if they attempt to photograph those sites. Unless one assumes that the entire ROC military is in the tank, a few companies or even regiments will be unable establish a beach-head. A massive missile attack (triggered by a trumped-up causus belli) followed by capitulation is far more likely to be the thinking of the ChiCom leadership.

Posted by: Fred Jacobsen (San Fran) at June 13, 2005 5:13 PM

the prc has an airborne division (maybe a brigade) stationed in hong kong, that doesn't seem to have any purpose other than as a blitkrieg force for taking taiwan. stirring things up with japan, now, seems to be a bad move, if the prc wants a clear shot at taiwan.

Posted by: cjm at June 13, 2005 6:19 PM

While Fred makes a good point, to OJ I'd say:

Why would we say 'no'? I have little faith that we would do so. And if we did, so what? We're not going to go to war over a build up, regardless of how obvious it is. I wouldn't be surprised if Congress ordered the Navy to hold fire until the boats actually landed.

If I were the PRC, I'd concentrate on the smallest boats capable of making the crossing, building them in huge numbers and take the losses right after a missile attack. You're judging the attack through Western eyes, where 20% losses would be catastrophic. I'd not be surprised if the PRC were willing to take 80% losses in the initial assault. Again, I don't expect the attack to be successful but I do think it would be capable of doing enormous damage to Taiwan.

It's parallel to the situation in Korea, although not quite that bad. North Korea has basically zero chance of conquering the South, but that doesn't mean a war would be a small matter.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at June 13, 2005 10:53 PM

the real risk for the prc is FalklandsII with the communists in the role of the argentine junta. lose the easy one, and all of a sudden you are out of power and anwerable for all your misdeeds.

Posted by: cjm at June 14, 2005 12:00 AM

AOG:

You haven't figured out W yet.

Posted by: oj at June 14, 2005 1:04 AM

Fred Jacobsen:

Except that if the Chinese got some wavering Taiwanese military commanders to agree to lay down their arms for a few hours (maybe after the attack they'd reward them with some plush sinecures on the mainland), then all the fortifications may not make a difference. Again, the Chinese would just show up, stick around for a few hours, and leave. Satellite surveillance might allow the Taiwanese to kill a great number of them in transport, but like AOG I'm not sure that's a great deterrent to the butchers in Beijing.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at June 14, 2005 11:27 AM

Mr. Judd;

You mean like the way President Bush slapped the ChiComs around during the spy plane incident so hard Jonathan Rauch thought he was showing restraint? Why shouldn't I expect him to slap them around about the same way next time? Call me when W reverses the One China Policy.

Besides, I said "Congress", not "President Bush". Given the unserious and desultory way Congress handled authorization for the invasion of Iraq, I fail to see why they'd do better over a prospective invasion from a country that's providing them with campaign donations.

cjm;

I would expect an invasion of Taiwan due to internal political factors, with little or no regard to the external situation. That's what makes it unpredictable from our point of view, because it wouldn't be about objective military conditions but about how the Politburo percieves the domestic situation. At some point they could well decide that invading Taiwan was a desperate risk but sitting still guaranteed their fall from power. Unlike the Soviets, I don't think that the ChiComs are intrinsically expansionistic, it's simply one more technique for keeping the Mandate of Heaven.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at June 15, 2005 2:16 PM

We flew a plane into their airspace. Big deal.

We have a two China policy.

Posted by: oj at June 15, 2005 2:26 PM

aog: now that we have buddied up with india, we just might want the prc to give us an excuse to wipe their industrial capacity off the map. less competition for oil and so forth. the prc might start something expecting to be able to control it, but it could very quickly escalate beyond their control. in any event, they won't try anything until a democrat is in the white house :)

Posted by: cjm at June 15, 2005 6:47 PM
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