We, the American government, along with our corporate interests have created a situation that must soon be addressed. American industry, with the government’s blessing, has created a Chinese monster. The People's Republic of China, since winning its victory in 1949, has been a communist, military dictatorship but has always been viewed in a different light than her Russian neighbor. The Soviet Union, under Joseph Stalin at the end of WWII, was viewed as a direct threat to Western Europe for fear that they held the inevitable goal of European hegemony under Soviet Communism.
The Chinese were viewed, through the eyes of western stereotypes, as inept and backwards. The Chinese government had its hands full with huge problems to overcome: just feeding and sustaining themselves. So the idea of Chinese expansion was absurd. During the Korean War the Chinese fought with their best weapons, tens of thousands of soldiers followed by tens of thousands more soldiers. The tactics were basic and rudimentary and Korea was not a war the Chinese had sought.
When Richard Nixon visited China, it was an important opening. One-fifth of the human population being ostracized was not a wise situation and the opening was an acceptance of the reality on the ground; Taiwan could not speak for China, and conversely, China could not speak for Taiwan. Nixon shook hands and toasted with champagne and he visited the Great Wall. It was a gesture, but it was the later visitors and the new generation of pragmatic Chinese who began to change things. They allowed foreigners to open industries in partnership with the Communist government and the People’s Army.
They were allowed to take some of the profits out of the country; to Westerners and Asian industrialists this meant a new workforce that worked for literally pennies a day. To the Chinese it meant new jobs for the workers and hard currency for the treasury. The Communist bloc countries did not trade their currencies on world financial markets and could only trade with other Communist bloc nations or trade in gold or in barter. With the collapse of the Soviet Union the number of her trading partners shrank to unacceptable levels.
What had begun with a trickle became a flood as foreign industries poured in, lured by an educated, if untrained, work force. The Chinese have a monumental capacity for innovation and creativity and in two decades have gone from textile mills to computer chips. The Chinese of the twenty-first century, for better or worse, must now be reckoned with. We, the Western Powers and the Asian nations, have nurtured her and fed her and turned her from the Komodo dragon into the great red dragon.
What began as an experiment of the humble Chinese seeking Western assistance has made China one of the wealthiest nations in the world while, at the same time, weakening her adversaries. The Chinese leadership has succeeded by using her greatest asset, the ability of her people to work hard. It leads one to ask the question: wasn’t the purpose of communism to avoid the exploitation of the workers by capital? If so, is the current Chinese leadership hero or villain?
While there is a new, bulging middle class in China, there has also been created great wage disparities between rural and urban workers, sometimes forcing parents to leave their children with elderly grandparents in the country while the parents flock to cities in search of jobs. Is this the great leap forward? Or just a great leap? China is commissioning one, new, coal-fired power plant per week and is rapidly becoming the most polluted country in the world; is that a great leap forward?
The ability of the Chinese to produce goods at a fraction of the cost of Western countries has put downward wage pressure on American and European workers. This downward pressure extends throughout the world as facilities in the third world move to China; Nike left the Philippines for China, US companies that went to Mexico have moved on to China. So it could be said that China’s great leap forward has been financed by the newly-unemployed around the world.
The Chinese government has smiled and made nice with old adversaries, taking Hong Kong back into the fold and opening daily transport between Taiwan and China. This has benefited both sides, yet no one forgets who is the predator and who is the prey. The Taiwanese must make nice and pet the dragon or it might eat them, meanwhile the Chinese can bide their time collecting all the eggs before it eats the hen. What will happen when Japan announces that it will hold naval exercises in the South China Sea and the Chinese government says, no, you won’t?
The Republicans in the US Congress, always looking for the next enemy or boogeyman to justify an ever-bigger military budget, have begun to point fingers eastward. We must build, they cry, because of the threat from China! But they are the same politicians that helped to build China. The same politicians who told us how great free trade was going to be. The same politicians who drank champagne with Chinese Communist Army generals who own the factories that turn out the Barbie Dolls, the Sit and Spins, the Delco electronic parts and United Technology starters, as well as Dell computers.
Now they want to increase the military budget to pay for this new defense that we must have because of the new fear of the Chinese threat. But just like Old Mother Hubbard, when they got there the cupboard was bare. The workers who used to make the Barbie Dolls and United Technology starters and Delco electronics are working now for lower wages. The trainloads of containers that are bringing in Chinese goods are carrying out American wealth. The price for free trade is two-fold.
Chinese Communism is, and always has been, faced inward; with a huge land mass and population the last thing she needs is more land and more people. The Chinese are one of the oldest societies on Earth; they are patient and wise. They do not make bargains where they do not gain. China has been a major power throughout history and her star is on the ascendancy again. They fought long and hard to host the Olympic games to showcase the new China but not since 1935 when Hitler showcased the new Germany has there been such a spectacle. China is getting its showcase, but perhaps more than they want.
The protests in Tibet and the angry Chinese denunciations of Western media emphasize the point that this government does not brook criticism. You either tow the party line or you will be towed away. The harder the Chinese push to show the new China the more they showcase the old China. That this is still a military dictatorship and Vladimir Lenin was correct when he said, "The Capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them." Rather than turn China into a worker's paradise, they have turned it into the world’s sweatshop.
The West didn’t seem to care a lick as long as it got cheap goods, allowing them to reap extraordinarily high profits. Rather than seeking to reform the government of China, they sought only to reform the financial sector, so much so, that when the Chinese government proposed allowing workers to form labor unions the American Association of Manufactures complained. And what of the new China? America owes her billions and she owes us nothing in return; only her own goals matter to her now. If America or the West don’t like it, too bad.
China is at an ideological crossroads; Chinese communism versus Western-style capitalism, which brings the very problems that communism was supposed to solve. Yet, without the mask of ideological principles, China becomes just another military dictatorship. A military dictatorship flush with cash and a long memory of previous wrongs. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but someday soon the Chinese will announce to the world the change in the reality on the ground. We've already seen American Treasury Secretary Paulson running to Beijing after the 17th National Peoples Congress to bow and scrape to the new government.
The time has passed to lead the Chinese or correct the Chinese. America and the West have traded principles for cheap, manufactured goods and hid that fact with platitudes, cheap promisesand slogans about free trade, doing neither our own people nor the Chinese people any good. The upcoming Olympic games, rather than showcasing the new China, showcases the failure of the West and the utter failure of capitalism as a political, moral force. To willingly and gladly do business with one of the most repressive and brutal governments in the world makes our speeches about democracy empty and threadbare.