‘Hello, World!’, from China

A few months ago, I landed in China. After the usual punch of hot, humid air after landing in Hong Kong, I realized for the first time since the beginning of the flight that I was far away from home and any known person.

China has been in everybody’s mouth these years. All the media so-called specialists jumped on the train with headlines like “China is the manufacturer of the world”, “China will rule the world”, “China is blooming”… as well as other ones implying dominance, expansion, explosion or any other form of damage through swelling…

More adages are “China is buying our national debt!” (this applies to any country), “China’s military expenses are growing year after year! Let’s triplicate ours!” (this only applies to the USA), “China will rip us apart and devour our flesh to the bones..!” (err… dunno where I heard this one), but how correct are these affirmations? Is really China going to rule the world, is really going to the top? What conditions China will face when they reach the status of World power, and most important, what kind of world player will it be?

It is easy to see that China is taking new steps towards being a superpower sooner than later, but the conditions and circumstances are changing day by day as well as China does.

Anyway, to put China in context, we must point out that its rise and expansion started not so long ago but during the 80’s, when Paramount Leader Deng Xiaoping realized that the only way to push the country forward after the anarchy period of the Cultural Revolution was opening of the country to foreign capital and knowledge.

The primary, and perhaps best outcome from this strategy was the creation of Special Economic Zones (SEZ) all across the Chinese coast, from Shanghai to Shenzhen, which enabled these capitals and intellectual property to flow into China.

But the Great Paramount would not allow too much freedom to pour in. Thus, the Great Firewall was created. Justifying this and other cuts to freedom, Dengy said something like:

“When you open the windows for fresh air, you must expect some flies to come in”

Since then, China went from being a cheap manufacturing country where to buy all your plastic hardware, to make the IMF recognize China is marking the beginning of a new era, with additional XP points for developing a space program, improving military capabilities and an endless list of milestones that grow every day.

It’s not my intention to make a deep analysis of what’s changing in here, or why China (or Asia, in general) is emerging from the shadows of being labeled a “developing country” to be a world player, but just point out some essential points to update our knowledge in some non-conventional areas:

Military

If you want to rule, you have to be scary. That’s why the US have military bases all over the world, ready to kick in wherever needed… as well as drones, aluminum shipslasers, microwave weapons, unknown purpose flying things with spooky names, and a long list of warfare gadgets. China meanwhile unveiled their first stealth jet, reached the early operating phase of a “carrier killer” missile, and took their first-ever aircraft carrier out for a ride. Also, it seems that in the anti-piracy operations in Somalia, the Chinese navy forget to hide properly what it seems to be their first unmanned drone. In the Libyan war, we saw how China has enough military power to send a warship to repatriate its citizens trapped there.

Every day there are new leaks of Chinese weapons, aircraft, missiles, and a vast array of things that explode, fly all over the world or hurt when activated, in general. Also, they have their own computer game: Glorious Mission, where the player will be trained and get used to killing… US Marines! A preventive training for the future? You decide, watch the trailer here.

Well yes, Beijing is spending more and more money on their military, keeping the PLA on the fast track towards modernization, but as the Spokesperson of the Chinese government said, they’re pursuing an “expanded regional maritime strategy and presence.” But in the eyes of the Pentagon, this modernization is “potentially destabilizing”, which means they don’t like being any longer the lone rulers of the Pacific.

For example, US Air Force computer simulations of an air war over Taiwan after a Chinese invasion turned to be a surprise: America and Taiwan cannot sustain the Chinese military numbers and manufacturing capabilities. Even with the newest F22 Raptors fully operative, the U.S. Army cannot compete with the manufacturing capabilities of the PRC, and (always according to that simulation) would win the first dogfights and aerial battles, but eventually would lose the war in front of a less techie, less expensive, but massive and overwhelming air fleet.

Although all this giant leaps, it seems the Chinese are also in serious trouble when it’s time to do the things by themselves: their aircraft carriers, said to be key to military dominance in the following century, are mostly a floating piece of scrap, the new stealth jet turned out to be a mix-up of the F-22 Raptor, the Russian V19 among many others, and their drones seem more RC toys than lethal weapons of mass destruction…

So well, in the end it seems there’s still a gap to cover here. Let’s give China a little more time, and we’ll see.

Society and Culture

Guanxi is a concept I will explain properly soon, but well, it can be summed up as ‘connections’. But not connections in the traditional, western way, but in the distinct and unique Chinese way: guanxi implies not only a mutual benefit, but also a process to obtain that connection, among other special features that make this a really interesting to know.

Lose face (diū liǎn) is another interesting concept too serious for not to mentioning it in the first post. It can be described as any dignity/status-loss related, mining the respect of the others. This lose can come in many ways, depending on the social position of the subject and, yet again, many other variables.

Regarding politics, can you imagine a country as big and crowded as China ruled under the western ideals of democracy? No Chinese I have ever met here believes in the occidental model of democracy, saying that if a participative democracy sets in, China would end up with 20 countries, not one.

Back to Taiwan this question remains unsolved, so to say… Chinese on their side, see it very clear: Taiwan is a province of China. People in the mainland do not really know what’s going on with this island, they just think Taiwanese are a little haughty, but it appears as part of China in all the maps you can find. And in Taiwan they see themselves as a free, sovereign country, but some recent social movements and some intellectuals are starting to speak loud about a possible incorporation of Taiwan in the PRC in the same conditions that Hong Kong or Macau, thus preserving democracy, institutions and a high-grade of independence, but this situation remains unclear, for both sides.

Economy

As you may know, China is not a market economy but a fully guided system under the Government’s supervision; ‘market economy’ exists but for medium and small operations. The rest is strictly controlled:

  • The value of the currency is controlled.
  • Foreign investment is guided and/or limited.
  • The financial costs, especially for SME are excessive.
  • Levels of interest for deposits stay at low levels.

But yes, despite all what can be said to blame authorities, China has enough fresh cash in its pockets to purchase almost anybody in this times of recession. The Chinese economy has been receiving a constant influx of foreign cash since the mid-80s’ especially after Dengy’s controlled aperture, which in times of crisis, turns out to be very valuable…

As mentioned in the beginning, it’s hard to see what kind of a world leader China will become. The first true global economic leader were the USA back in the 50’s. Great Britain had maybe the first global empire but only construed through military and trading power, but the roots of the American economy and its money spread all over the world.

Even with this panorama, the Chinese economic power went shopping and investing in wherever and whatever they could get their hands on: they started in the sales section of Africa, where they drive French companies out of the market, then purchasing land and kept pushing until their money arrived in Europe. But as always, there is a dark side to investing on the Chinese economy: real estate? Joint ventures? Sourcing? Everybody is crazy about this, but maybe you should think twice… or more!

And well, there are a lot of themes to talk about, but it’s my first post, and I have a multiple entry VISA, so I don’t want to upset anybody… As you know, I’m living behind the Great Firewall.

But please, don’t think this is only about China, but about everything I will find in the way. Stay close and get subscribed, because it’s going to be fun.

Further reading:

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