While in China I had the opportunity to talk with friends and relatives about the current situation there, as well as make my own observations. There are a number of issues that have garnered a large amount of press play dealing with China. I will address a number of these below.
1. The situation in Tibet. China is a multinational country with 58 recognized national minorities. These minorities all have well delineated rights and privileges based on their special status. These involve a heightened degree of autonomy and exemption from certain obligations (for instance, the one child per family policy). Tibet is recognized as an Autonomous Region of the PRC and on paper, at least, has a considerable amount of autonomy. In practice the central government has full control, but is nevertheless constrained in certain ways by its constitutional limits. As in this country what’s written in the constitution is not always applied as it should be, and there is a legitimate demand by Tibetans for the full implementation of their national rights. Both the Communist and Nationalist parties consider Tibet an integral part of China. There is a long history of interaction between the two. The Dalai Lama also recognizes that Tibet is part of the PRC. The Dalai Lama of course, from a secular humanist perspective, is as much of a fraud as a Moslem Grand Ayatollah or the Christian Pope. They all sugarcoat their superstitious ideology with a façade of pious reasonableness. The history of Lamist Buddhism is, however, replete with all sorts of horrors, from the abject enslavement of the peasantry, to the sequestration of whole generations of males in austere disciplinarian monasteries and the adulation of each new Dalai Lama, chosen at random from amidst the population, as a child god-king. No matter what the historical exigencies may have been, maintenance of China’s territorial integrity, a legacy of its imperial past, must be accepted as a starting point for any discussion regarding Tibet’s future. It may be argued that the Soviet Union was likewise a product of Russian imperialism and that its breakup can serve as a prototype for the dismemberment of China. The Soviet Union was, however, just that, a voluntary Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and its peaceful breakup basically bore out that reality. China has a different history and its constituent parts are not free to disengage in the same fashion. In this regard it is no different from any other nation sate. There should be no greater onus put on China than any other state to voluntarily commit suicide. China has problems regarding the proper treatment of its minority peoples, just as we do. Let the Chinese work out their own problems without undue interference. This attitude does not preclude criticism of how the central government behaves, but protests such as those directed against the Beijing Olympics, in my opinion are unwarranted.
2. The Beijing Olympics. The Chinese people throughout the world are proud to host the 2008 Olympic games, just as citizens anywhere else would be. China has gone all out to create new ultra-modern sports venues in Beijing, some of which I saw. The “controversy” surrounding the Beijing Games is a non-starter. China cannot be compared to Nazi Germany and the 2008 Beijing Games cannot be compared in any fashion to the infamous Berlin Games of 1936 or the Moscow Games of 1980. China does not adhere to a racist ideology and China is not an expansionist power as was Germany in the 1930s or occupying a foreign nation as the Soviets did in Afghanistan (and isn’t it ironic that we now occupy both that country and Iraq!). The protests against the Olympic flame relay were to my mind totally inappropriate. They were ostensibly directed against Chinese repression in Tibet and Chinese support of the Sudanese government and its involvement in the Darfur genocide. These protests are extremely disingenuous. Where were the protests against the continuing abuse of our native peoples when we held the Olympics in LA or Atlanta? Where were the protests of the 1992 Spanish Olympics in Barcelona against their policies in the Basque region or the 2000 Australian Olympics in Sidney against their policies towards their aboriginal populations? How can anyone protest Chinese behavior in Sudan when compared to our aggression against Iraq? It is again, holding China to a higher standard than we expect of other countries or ourselves, for that matter.
3. China’s Industrialization and Outsourcing. China’s economy has been growing at a double-digit rate for nearly two decades. If that pace continues into the future China will be an advanced, middle-income industrial nation by mid-century. A lot of baggage (Made in China) and manifold abuses come with that remarkable achievement. Our Chinese counterparts are now confronting many of the problems that we have encountered and addressed with varying degrees of success or failure over the last century. China achieved its economic transformation at break neck speed and is still in the throes of remarkable economic and social upheavals. These changes took the West centuries to achieve and have occurred in China over mere decades. I could delineate a litany of problems that China confronts. These include environmental degradation, mine safety, lead-based paints, fraudulent goods, sweatshop abuses, corporate corruption, etc., etc. All industrializing countries have faced similar problems as we have and still do. Along with these problems have come both governmental and non-governmental responses. The Chinese government is accountable to public opinion. Its legitimacy is predicated on public acceptance and acquiescence. When the Chinese people feel that the government is no longer responsive they do not hesitate to rebel. How can the Chinese people’s propensity to rebellion and resistance be squared with their supposed passivity in the face of government repression? It can’t. The Chinese accept their government because it has maintained its mandate.
4. Slave wages. Quite frequently it’s alleged that Chinese employees work for “slave wages”. I had a number of discussions about living conditions while in China. The bottom line is that Chinese wages have to be viewed relative to living costs. The Chinese Yuan is equivalent to the US Dollar. In many respects there’s a good correspondence. The average Chinese wage is about 3000 Yuan/month, similar to the average US wage of $3000/month. Living costs can be evaluated in light of this correspondence. For instance my son is renting a two-bedroom apartment in Xiamen for Y1300/month (US $195.00), similar to what a similar apartment would cost in the U.S. in U.S. dollars ($1300.00). Obviously the Chinese apartment is very cheap in US dollars. The apartment can easily accommodate three adults (there is a spare room that can serve as a third bedroom) at a cost of approximately Y450/month (US $30.00). As can be seen the Yuan is valued at about US $0.15. So a monthly wage of Y3000 is equivalent to US $450. That’s about $112.50/week or $2.80/hour. Some low-skilled migrant laborers from the countryside make about $1.00/hr. They tend to live in dormitories and send much of their income home (like American migrant workers). $1.00/hour is about 1/7 the prevailing US minimum wage rate, about what a US worker made 40 years ago (I remember making $2.00/hr working at a warehouse in Boston in 1971). By Chinese standards the average wage in China is equivalent to what an average worker makes in the US today. Of course a US manufacturer will prefer spending $2.00/hour rather than $20.00/hour, hence outsourcing. Its ridiculous to say that the Chinese worker has a slave wage, not when public bus transportation costs 20 Chinese cents, the equivalent of $0.03. So it’s important to keep things in perspective when comparing Chinese apples with US oranges.
To be continued…