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Forum: Our World The World RSS
(Now the Official China thread)
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Author name (Administrator) #91
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Member since May 2011 · 2472 posts · Location: Brisbane
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In reply to post ID 3805
Oh sure, I'm not saying it's new, just that it seems to be getting worse, and fast.
BLEARGH
Author name #92
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I don't know if it's actually worse. But business interaction in China isn't friendly no matter how you slice it. I would say that the incidence hasn't actually increased but that it's being reported or noticed more often, which might be a net positive in the long run.

I hasten to add right now that I don't have any personal experience with the subject and that I'm generalizing to a great degree.
Author name (Administrator) #93
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Member since May 2011 · 2472 posts · Location: Brisbane
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This is sort of interesting.  From Australia's ABC news:

Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt, the ICG's north-east Asia project director, says China and other countries have been withholding their navies from getting involved in these incidents.

But she thinks it could increase the likelihood of major battles involving smaller armed policing ships.

"We worry in Crisis Group that the threshold for entry into conflict is much less by having all of these law enforcement and paramilitary vessels because it's seen as well they're just law enforcement vessels," she said.

"So they're more easily deployed and they're far less conscious of the rules; the rules of the road, international law, these types of things than would be the PLA navy.

This article is based on a more detailed report from the "International Crisis Group".  In their executive summary, they say:

China’s maritime policy circles use the term “Nine dragons stirring up the sea” to describe the lack of coordination among the various government agencies involved in the South China Sea. 

[...]

While some agencies act aggressively to compete with one another for greater portions of the budget pie, others (primarily local governments) attempt to expand their economic activities in disputed areas due to their single-minded focus on economic growth.
BLEARGH
Author name #94
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The Sino-Filipino maritime conflict is worrisome, but a long-term view is actually a little bit reassuring. China has historically viewed the Philippines as an American surrogate, in spite of the fact that Manila has largely ceased to take any sort of meaningful direction from Washington over the last four decades. But China getting tough with the Philippines is like America putting Marines in Australia. It's not about the destination, but sending a message to the other side. Apart from a little pride, I don't see that China thinks it has anything to gain by pissing off the Philippines.

There's another side of this that's interesting. That China is starting to realize it doesn't have the coordination skills of the NATO countries might have an interest effect up and down their chain of command. In China, every soldier is a private and nobody knows when they should act on orders. Part of what makes western military powers so effective is the logistics, where there's a verifiable trust behind orders, and a willingness to question when an order might be wrong (as the circumstances warrant.) What happens in China socially when this sort of mature military comes into being?
Author name (Administrator) #95
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Member since May 2011 · 2472 posts · Location: Brisbane
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In reply to post ID 2039
James Fallows writes a lot of stuff I trust, so when he talked up a book by Tom Doctoroff, someone he trusts, I stopped and read carefully.  It was rewarding.

In Chinese society, individuals have no identity apart from obligations to, and acknowledgment by, others. The clan and nation are the eternal pillars of identity. Western individualism — the idea of defining oneself independent of society — doesn’t exist.

Now granted any nutshell summary of an entire country is going to come replete with a million caveats, but it's a very interesting summary nonetheless.

The book is What Chinese Want: Culture, Communism and the Modern Chinese Consumer.  It describes the Chinese in ways that make total sense while being utterly and completely alien to me:

Quote by James Fallows:
Rule one is that products consumed in public can consume premium prices if they publicly convey status. Chinese consumers spend on luxury goods not for their inherent beauty or craftsmanship, but as status investments. The Chinese consumer with a $1500 pen may very well be unwilling to spend more than a dollar on a pair of underwear.

Fallows' post goes into more detail and includes rules two and three, along with his most emphatic recommendation to buy the book if you plan on selling to China.
BLEARGH
Author name (Administrator) #96
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Member since May 2011 · 2472 posts · Location: Brisbane
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James Fallows (yeah, him again) was recently talking about the Olympics and compared the British vs Chinese opening ceremonies.  What he says is a capsule version of what I feel about China:

Quote by James Fallows:
There is a bigger theme here, which returns to the main question I have been trying to get about China over the years. That is when -- or whether -- the people in charge of China's system will show the confidence that allows them to be something other than control freaks whose paranoia is at odds which much of the ingenuity, humor, and creativity that characterizes much of the Chinese population, and whose hyper-earnest "We are strong, look on us and tremble" presentation of national greatness to their own people and the world actually conveys the opposite message. When we can see a Chinese opening ceremony with their counterpart of Mr. Bean sitting at the organ or the head of state acting in a joke video (as Queen Elizabeth did with Daniel Craig), we'll know that the country has arrived.

That's exactly right, and that's why this thread is called what it is.  China are children on the world stage, acting tough out of fear and a self-destructive, pathological need to appear as they think they should, rather than as they are. 

Hey China, here's an NFG lesson for you:  Weak and frightened people try to look strong.  Strong people are naturally generous and tolerant.  You are, in fact, doing it wrong.

So go ahead and grow up.  It's OK, you can do this.  You'll like it at the adult's table.  People smile at you.  =)
BLEARGH
Author name (Administrator) #97
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Member since May 2011 · 2472 posts · Location: Brisbane
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From a new blog I'm following called rectified.name, a little bit of news about China's recent attempts to enforce the same pro-mainland curriculum on the schools of Hong Kong. 

This quote sort of sums the whole thing up:

This past Sunday, thousands of demonstrator marched to protest the “National Education Curriculum” planned for Hong Kong public school students. The new materials, modeled after the “Patriotic History” taught in mainland schools since the early 1990s, has drawn sharp criticism from Hong Kong citizens concerned that it all amounts to little more than pro-CCP brainwashing.

I do not envy the job China's government has tasked themselves with.  It's huge and difficult and it'll take a long, long time.  I do, however, feel pretty strongly that they're not really doing well when it comes to image and unity.

The new Hong Kong curriculum describes the Chinese Communist Party as “progressive, selfless, and united” while criticizing as sloppy and ineffecient multi-party systems like the United States and, presumably, Hong Kong. It presents history as a morality tale between venal foreigners with their native lackeys being defeated by the Party, the only force for good. Characters are either “Patriotic Heroes” or “Race Traitors,” a sensitive subtext for a city which spent nearly 160 years under foreign rule and which continues to pride itself on being a bastion of cosmopolitanism.

That is not how it's done.  I predict this focus and heavy handed enforcement on imaginary unity is going to be the biggest problem for them.  It seems clear they're hoping to teach the lie to a new generation in the hopes they'll believe it as adults, but I'd wager it'll come to a rather messy boil long before it becomes reality.

I'm disappointed, China.  How does that feel, eh?  You've disappointed me.  Bad China.  Bad!
BLEARGH
Author name (Administrator) #98
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Member since May 2011 · 2472 posts · Location: Brisbane
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I don't know if it's made the news in the West or not, but a couple of days ago some Hong Kong men launched a boat and sailed to the Senkaku Islands.  The islands, known as the Daioyu in China, are claimed by both countries and nationalists on both sides get all fiery when the topic comes up.  Politicians play 'em for points, but the general populace doesn't really care too much one way or the other, it seems.

These men looked like homeless bums in a scruffy old boat that was certainly headed for the scrapyard before they set sail.  They let the media know in advance of their plans, and indeed had some mainland state-run media on board to document the event.  Japan met them there, picked 'em up and in less than 48 hours followed through on a plan to simply deport them back to China.

Meanwhile South Korea is playing more or less the same game with the Dokdo islands (called Takeshima in Japan).  This time though they landed their president instead of a half dozen scruffy right wingers, though I suspect they all have more or less the same level of sincerity in their demonstrations...

I'm sort of sick of it.  The only reason anyone wants these shitty little islands is to extend their fishing territories and pillage what's left of the ocean.  I think we should just make them a no-man's land as long as they're contested.  No mineral, building or fishing rights to anyone until you can play nice with each other.
BLEARGH
Author name (Administrator) #99
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Member since May 2011 · 2472 posts · Location: Brisbane
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Sometimes I read something and form an opinion, then read something else and pull a mental 180 before I get a chance to post about the first thing, and then a third thing turns me around a bit again.  That's just happened.

There's a lot of talk on the China blogs about expats leaving China, finally coming to the conclusion that things just aren't going to work out for them in the long term, and that things are likely to get very bad in the short term.  Of course, there's a lot of chatter from people who haven't reached that point, calling them out for perceived weaknesses, etc.

China is doomed:

1. Mark Kitto posts about 16 years in China, about building a large magazine empire that was seized by the government, rebuilt his life, has a family, and is now seeing doom and gloom instead of hope and progress.  A long but excellent read.

China isn't so bad:

2. This post from China Law Blog running a rather testy rebuttal to all the fleeing expats, explaining in some detail why he doesn't feel the same way as they do.

China's probably doomed:

3. A comment in link #2:  "It used to be possible to live and work and China, and to turn a blind eye to whatever negatives there were (and also to enjoy the positives), by hoping that things were getting better, that opportunities would grow, for locals but also for foreigners.  [...]  What’s happening in China at the moment, in my opinion, is that many expats are waking up to a different possibility: what if things are actually going to get worse (maybe much worse) before they get any better?  What if the supposed future opportunities were just so much disingenuous bait to get foreigners to dump their money and ideas and labor here for the exclusive benefit of locals?  What if the game is rigged not only in the short terms but in the long term as well, maybe permanently..."

There's a lot more to it, the above links include more links, the rabbit hole is very deep. 

But ultimately it seems, without the benefit of accurate prognosticator's goggles, that we don't know for sure how it's going to play out.  The conversation though reminds me of my own experiences in Japan.  There's a curve everyone experiences, in different strengths at different times for everyone, but new arrivals will be scared, excited, confident, happy, concerned, angry, terrified and finally decide they've had enough.  Some never reach the final stage, some may reach it later, but how you react to someone else's post from a different place on the curve is typically based entirely on your own place on it.

Someone in the 'this is awesome' phase is never going to agree with someone who is in the terrified phase.  They just won't, the context of their own experience won't allow it.

And so, with all the China discussion, as usual it comes down to personal interpretation.  I don't like how China is so far up itself it actually believes it has a rightful place in power.  I don't like how they're so fucking disingenuous about everything they say, and I don't like nationalism, in any nation.  So I'm down on China at the moment.  If I was there, I'd probably leave too.
BLEARGH
Author name #100
Member since Oct 2007 · 316 posts
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Two interesting takes on Chinese finance. ForeignPolicy.com observes that China's lopsided financial structure prevents its stock market from having the same influence as those in America, the UK or Germany:

...Beijing excluded non-state companies from the markets and required that absolute ownership control (at least 51 percent) of SOEs remain firmly in the state's hands. As a result, the stock markets have always been the near-exclusive preserve of the state and its own enterprises (the very recent opening in 2009 of the Shenzhen Exchange to private enterprises notwithstanding). This means that only a minority of a company's shares trade.

Whole article is here: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/09/11/why_china…

The New York Times has an interesting statement about issues of institutional trust in China. Although the majority of the piece is a love letter to financial giant Alibaba, the more interesting bit to me is how Chinese don't put any faith into banking or commerce. It parallels my own experience observing Chinese in America who keep piles of money in their luggage or who don't buy health insurance. Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/12/opinion/friedman-in-chin…
Author name (Administrator) #101
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Member since May 2011 · 2472 posts · Location: Brisbane
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From the NYT article:

China is caught in a gap between its old social structure of villages and families, which created its own form of trust, and a new system based on the rule of law and an independent judiciary. The Communist Party destroyed the first but has yet to build the second because it would mean ceding the party’s arbitrary powers.

That very nicely reinforces something you said a long time ago in this thread about people being unable and unwilling to make long term plans in an atmosphere of uncertainty and distrust.
BLEARGH
Author name (Administrator) #102
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Further to that theme, a series of articles about negotiation tactics in China (part one, two, three):

For any contract that requires a continuing performance over time, the Chinese believe that any attempt to pin them down and impose certainty on their behavior is fundamentally unfair and contrary to reality. For the Chinese, the future is essentially uncertain and the attempt to impose certainty on this uncertain future makes no sense. Any party who insists on this must have a bad intent.

That nicely reinforces, with a subtle change to the logic behind it, the idea that the Chinese are trying to make what they can while they can, before the world changes beneath their feet and they have to watch someone take what they've built.
BLEARGH
Author name (Administrator) #103
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Member since May 2011 · 2472 posts · Location: Brisbane
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Via James Fallows:  Officials in Hainan have decided that "they will assert a right to stop and board any vessel they consider to have violated China's very expansive claim of territorial waters in the South China Sea."

This is a huge area of water, and it seems like China insists on pushing their territorial claim over the water right up to the shores of other countries like Brunei, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Quote by James Fallows:
I am usually in the "oh calm down" camp about frictions, especially military, between China and America. But it is easy to imagine things becoming dangerous, quickly, if the new Chinese administration actually tries to carry out this order.

Let's hope the Hainan diktat will just go away, or will not be enforced, or will be dismissed in Beijing as some oddball over-reach by authorities in the far south. A Chinese government deliberately courting this kind of showdown would be a very bad sign.

Yeah.  According to several China experts quoted by Reuters, China's just testing the other countries, expecting to get away with this because no one else will risk a serious confrontation over it.

I hate unreasonable people more than just about anything else in the world.  Aggressive and unreasonable people pushing on every front because they think they can makes me very angry, and more than a little bit afraid.
BLEARGH
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Lots of China in the mainstream news this past month, mostly about the political corruption related to the appointment of the new leadership. I don't have much to say about it, except to observe that just like in the west the institution is more important than the individuals. The names don't matter if your government is just as representative (or not) as it was in the previous administration.

Getting back to more mundane Chinese weirdness, here's a piece about the flattening of a mountain range in order to build a new city. Not just one mountain, but the artificial creation of a whole giant plateau to build a new expanded city right next to an old, polluted one:

http://newsfeed.time.com/2012/12/08/china-to-flatten-700-m…

The best part is that there's no natural space for roads or irrigation. So what they're planning to do instead is redirect parts of the Yangtze river there, to duplicate the conditions of the original city on which the newly planned urban area is based. Ask the Russians how well redirecting rivers worked for them in the Aral Sea.

Here in America, we blow up mountains too, but only one at a time to get at the goal. Each project, by itself, has caused a decade of toxic debris and combustible precipitation for whatever populated areas are closest to the mountain. What happens if you blow up 700 all at once?
Author name (Administrator) #105
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Member since May 2011 · 2472 posts · Location: Brisbane
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I'm not entirely sure the institution has the same endurance that it does in the West.  On the one hand, you're right - whoever's on top is is likely to be as powerless as the last guy to actually affect change, but so much of China's corruption stems from the fact that the people within the system are capricious and an individual's success against it is basically arbitrary.  The personalities are making the rules at the lower levels.

As for Chinese weirdness...  Wow.

Part of my continuing fascination with China is its relentless assault on my own inner moral compass.  When I see China doing things that are batshit insane, I wonder every time whether I'm just ignorant of some facts that make their moves sensible, whether I'm wrong, or whether China is in fact completely fucking hopeless.
BLEARGH
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