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China Commentary– Youthful Musings on the Environment, Culture & Development

Posts Tagged ‘US

China & the US: Corruption, Progress, and Tragedy

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China doesn’t say it’s going to change. It doesn’t ask you to believe in it.  But it’s happening.

I’ve often written about this country’s extreme paradoxes, how I can never seem to decide if it’s righting its course or steadily eroding. China is fascinating and frightening. It’s grotesque and inspiring.

And now, China is our only hope.

It hurts to say. I feel unpatriotic, a traitor to my upbringing. The good ol’ US of A is meant to kick ass and take names, to lead. And yet, as inspired as I was by Barack Obama’s historic ascent to the presidency, I’m equally horrified by the impotency of his tenure and the implications of our collective behavior.

For what seems like months, in reality is years upon years, I’ve witnessed Washington quibble over plans for universal healthcare.

I just don’t get it. How is this so difficult?

And what now? You’re bringing assault rifles to speeches? Town hall fights? What is this madness?

Burning flags, gay marriage, prayer in the classroom. We spend months and months and months working on this in Congress, and pass nothing. But on big issues, big like Andre-the-Giant-standing-on-a-ladder-on-Mt. Everest-type issues, we revert to mind-numbing partisan hack jobs. We choose paralysis over politics. And worse, we citizens allow it.

Chinese know they cannot openly question their government. But in a country where we can, the best we can muster is crazy gun-totting homophobes carrying Bibles to town hall? Holy Baby Jesus.

As we bicker and point fingers and nod our heads to the lunacy of TV pundits, here’s what China is doing.

1. Cracking down on corruption at the highest levels.

October 1st is the 60th anniversary of the PRC. Chairman/President/His Holiness Hu Jintao is expected to announce major achievements in righting some of the massive wrongs of corruption over the last, well, forever in China.

“Every month for the past year, at least one cadre at the level of assistant minister or above has been nabbed for ‘economic crimes’ and allied felonies,” writes Willy Lam in a phenomenal piece on the anti-graft campaign. Long-standing party members and mafia frontmen are feeling the heat.

The crackdown recently nabbed Kang Rixin, head of China’s nuclear energy program, one of the most powerful 204 cadres in the country. It’s progress, mind you, not an end-all solution.  Corruption in China will continue. As Lam writes,

Doubts remain as to whether the Hu administration will go one step further and introduce institutional checks and balances, as well as allow scrutiny from the media and independent anti-graft agencies, to better eradicate the scourge of graft and related malfeasances.

But this much is known: if you want to skim off the top nowadays, you better have the skill set (or be Hu Jinatao’s son).

Here’s more. For the first time ever, China’s 10th meeting of the Standing Committee just passed a resolution declaring a commitment to fight climate change. Just words, yes. But this is the first time that the highest reaches of government have conceded climate change must be addressed. Some call it peanuts, I’ll call it progress.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of progress in China is that so much is left to be done and much of it is easily within in reach. Unlike the US, China has the ability to implement policy nationwide practically immediately. In other words, while the US jabs, China is throwing uppercuts. As Thomas Friedman writes,

One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages. That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century. It is not an accident that China is committed to overtaking us in electric cars, solar power, energy efficiency, batteries, nuclear power and wind power. China’s leaders understand that in a world of exploding populations and rising emerging-market middle classes, demand for clean power and energy efficiency is going to soar. Beijing wants to make sure that it owns that industry and is ordering the policies to do that, including boosting gasoline prices, from the top down.

That, the in-between-the-lines up there, used to belong almost solely to the United States. We called it Balls and Foresight. Now we have malls and foreclosures.

But it’s not the economy that worries me. I’m supremely confident Wall Street will find a way to make money off of others. That, to me, is a lock. They have plenty of time to find the next best method, because everyone is distracted by the nonsense that is now healthcare and tomorrow will be something else. Because as much as I want universal healthcare, I feel that half of my Congress is dead set on me not getting it.

So what I do care about is the environment. My ability to eat, drink, and breathe is very important. These three come before the health issues they may cause. And, as I said, progress is attainable here in China.

A new joint report by The Boston Consulting Group and The Natural Resources Defense Council reads,

If by 2015, the end of China’s 12th Five-Year Term, 5% of existing buildings and 60% of new buildings were to achieve levels of energy consumption 50% below those of comparable non-green buildings in similar climate zones, the subsequent annual energy savings would be 170 billion kWh electricity, equivalent to turning off all the lights in America for one month. CO2 emissions would be cut by 170 million tonnes.

It’s been proven. Beijing’s “Agenda 21 Building” applied existing technology and reduced energy consumption by 70%. According to Justin Fung, co-author of the report,

“What is not commonly understood is that building operational use accounts for around 25% of China’s total energy consumption… That is more energy than China’s cement, iron and steel sectors combined. And if you include energy used for manufacturing and transporting building materials and products, China’s buildings consume 30-40% of the country’s total energy.”

People like to say the United States is The Land Where Anything is Possible. Well, healthcare sure doesn’t seem to be. Does the shoe still fit?

Patriotism and Pariahs

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A coworker recently told me that when he was younger he thought all young teenagers in the U.S. had closets full of top designer clothes.  “One hundred pairs of jeans,” he told me.  “A thousand t-shirts.  And suits, even kids, I thought they all had suits.”

For my colleague, the U.S. was a collage of American Pie movies… well maybe a bit before those.  His main conduit was Hollywood, and that became his prism.  Today, the filters have changed.  Hollywood may no longer be our largest podium of American idealism, but the stage has remained.  Our closets are not full of suits.  They are full of costumes.

The most popular of which most certainly is the Uncle Sam mask.  Not too many can actually wear the whole suit, because they can’t slide out of it fast enough if they start to feel the heat.  But surely everyone is a patriot these days.  It has long been a badge of merit.  Yes, yes, we are all patriots.  But not soldiers.  No, those aren’t the kind of patriots we care about.  We don’t care about our veterans enough to fund their hospitals.  We don’t care about our children enough to get recruiters out of high-school hallways and the ears of 17-year-olds.  We don’t seem to mind the sacrifice of all our troops doing involuntary return tours, or our reservists being called up.

Nah, those people aren’t our patriots.  Our patriots are those who know the values of our Founding Fathers like they just spoke to them at lunch.  They are our political pundits, broadcasting broad sweeps of criticism, plucking the hart-strings of our true stay-at-home patriots.  Those, yeah, we love those patriots.  You know, the patriots with the yellow ribbon bumper sticker on their Ford Excursion.  The patriots who shop to support our war on terror.  The patriots who don’t hold passports and want border fences.

It’s all about ego, God, and inalienable control.  Acting to secure those interests outweighs the balance of right and wrong for most of these American patriots.  Primarily, it is ego.  Americans are not willing to concede that we are no longer the world’s sole superpower.  We are not willing to concede the fact that our children need to be educated about other cultures.  We are not willing to concede that our lack of understanding how the world works is dragging us under.

Instead, we would rather attack decorated war veterans as traitors.  We would rather ignore the pleas of 23 million peaceful people asking for their democracy to have a seat at the U.N. (beside such beauties as North Korea and Syria).  We would rather sit back and wait for underdeveloped nations to formulate a brilliant solution for global climate change than take the lead.

We talk a big game at this geopolitical card table.  But other players have stopped listening.  Tell someone to respect human rights?  Tell someone not to invade their neighbor?  Tell someone to disarm?

Andre Gide wrote, “The true hypocrite is the one who ceases to perceive his deception, the one who lies with sincerity.”  It’s time to analyze the sincerity of our patriotism.

Written by Miles

April 6, 2008 at 5:04 pm

The Danger of Nationalism and False Identity

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There was a well-written IHT.com article posted yesterday on the issue that I think reiterates some of the points I made in my last post. Here are some highlights:

“Analysts have long debated how often the Communist Party steers and inflames nationalism versus how often nationalist public attitudes are beyond the party’s control. In the run-up to the Summer Games, the steady attacks against China on issues like Darfur, global warming, air pollution and human rights abuses have increasingly been interpreted by many Chinese, including those overseas, as an unfair attempt to undermine China’s Olympic moment.

But the Tibet crisis has touched directly on the raw nerve of separatism at the core of Chinese nationalism. Tibet is usually a low-profile issue within China, especially compared with Taiwan. But most Chinese, influenced by the government, are interpreting the Tibetan crisis as an attempt to split China.”

“Influenced by the government” is an understatement. The press has been bashing the Dalai Lama like he is Osama bin Laden, another man intent on destroying the world to promote his own agenda. Instead of engaging underlying Tibetan grievances, the CCP has aggravated ethnic tensions with one-sided reports on damages and the pain of Han Chinese. This goes against the image jogging its way around the world with Olympic torch in hand.

“Communist Party leaders have hoped the Olympics would showcase China as a modern, confident and nonthreatening emerging world power, while also validating the party’s hold on power. President Hu Jintao has advocated a “harmonious society” to signal a new government effort at addressing inequality in society. At the same time, China’s soft power abroad is rising with its bulging foreign-exchange reserves and its increasingly active diplomatic role on issues like the North Korea nuclear problem.”

But China’s geopolitical emergence hinges on support at home. As grand projects pave the way for a developed nation, the toll on society has been steep and often ignored. It is essential that the CCP maintain a positive image, providing its mandate for change.

“Scholars often describe nationalism as China’s state religion now that the Communist Party has shrugged off socialist ideology and made economic development the country’s priority. Dibyesh Anand, a Tibet specialist, said modern Chinese nationalism could be traced to Sun Yat-sen, the Chinese revolutionary who described the country’s main ethnic groups – the Han, Manchu, Hui, Mongolian and Tibetan peoples – as the “five fingers” of China… Today, Han Chinese constitute more than 92 percent of the population, but without one of those five fingers, China’s leaders do not consider the country whole.”

So, it is with the intention of preserving the mechanics of change that the CCP reacts reflexively with excessive strength and secrecy. It maintains order and promotes a mythically unrelenting reach of power. It reminds citizens that their government is capable of anything—developing China at a rate never seen on this planet and willing to conquer any obstacles in its way.

Does this ring any bells with government information campaign and agenda-setting in the US as it seeks to maintain its own mandate for waging an unpopular, inhumane war in Mesopotamia?

Written by Miles

March 31, 2008 at 4:01 pm