Wednesday, April 23, 2008

China Watch 4: Chinese Nationalism, Tibet

Among the recent news this week about China, these 2 stories caught my attention:

1. China arms shipment to Zimbabwe.

2. Chinese move to boycott French and US products to protest anti-Chinese campaigns in those countries over Tibet.

The first was when the Chinese ship docked in S. Africa (to be transported by land to Zimbabwe) and the S. African dock workers refused to unload the armaments. More political and diplomatic discussions within S. Africa, later the chinese boat moved out -- not to go back to China, but to a port in Mozambique.

Earlier, Chinese shipment of armaments to Sudan was also in the news.

The shipment to Zimbabwe might be legal, but the timing was bad, at the time that Robert Mugabe is still not conceding defeat after the Presidential elections. Mugabe is Mugabe; he has used force and violence to quell opposition against his government in the past. He is capable of doing it again.

The second news was a new development. I have thought that many Chinese were sympathetic with Tibet, now millions of Chinese are sympathizing with the Beijing government and lashing back at countries where anti-Beijing Olympics sentiment is high.

My Chinese friend, Xingyuan, commented that the boycott of any French or US products is nonsense because we are living now in a postmodern world in which many US or French products have many inputs from other nations. The Chinese patriots in effect are boycotting goods and raw materials from their own country and labor of the that country. He added that the games this coming August is not "Chinese Olympic Games".

It was an excellent comment by Xingyuan. People usually boycott goods or services made by certain companies not because of politics or labor and environmental standards, etc. They do it because those companies' products are of bad quality and/or very expensive. This is also our argument why we are opposing "eco-protectionism", where some sectors in rich countries are proposing the imposition of a "carbon tariff", a new protectionist scheme, for exports of developing countries that do not have defined carbon emission cuts (china, india, mexico, brazil, many others).

People can be nationalist, that is their personal decision, the same way that other people can be pro-globalist, which is also their personal decision. What is wrong is when a government becomes nationalist, and drag the entire country and its people towards economic protectionism because people who aspire to buy other foreign goods will be adversely affected. If a country is a free-trader and pro-globalist, then some of its people who are not free-traders and pro-globalists can opt not to buy foreign products and services. People have a choice, and that's the most important thing.

And yes, it's not a "Beijing Olympic Games". It is the "World's Olympic Games to be held in Beijing".

Two related papers I wrote recently:

(1) Tibet and China

March 28, 2008

The Chinese government was adamant in suppressing the riots and pro-independence movement in Tibet. After Chinese troops have killed several demonstrators and rioters, injured and arrested several hundred others, Lhasa is said to be "quiet and back to normal".

From what I gathered, there are at least 2 major reasons why China will not grant Tibet independence or autonomy. One is that the Dalai Lama is looking for autonomy in pan-Tibet area, about 2x bigger than the current Tibet province, a proposal that Beijing finds unacceptable. And two, there are now at least 3 special administrative regions (SAR) as far as China is concerned -- HK, Macau and Taiwan (though the Taiwanese insist that they're not a SAR but a separate country). If Tibet will succeed to be another SAR, other provinces or regions that also want some autonomy from Beijing will be emboldened, and Beijing will have a new set of headache.

The communist bureaucrats in Beijing are not in the mood to reduce the geographical area of their influence and the number of people whose lives they wish to regulate.

(2) Party and State

March 31, 2008

There is a difference between the (ruling political) party and the state. The non-distinction or non-delineation between the two is among the biggest problems of communist parties in power in all communist governments around the world, both past and present. A Filipino Marxist academic that I talked to many years ago said that it should be possible to delineate the ruling (Communist or Socialist) Party from the State if the party respects political pluralism. If not, meaning the Party thinks it should be the monopoly party, no other big political opposition to be allowed, then that party will surely degenerate to a dictatorship.

The party formulates the policies to be implemented once it captures political power. The party leaders choose the people and officials, like Cabinet Ministers, who will run the state, and these appointed officials need not be party members. This separates the function of the party from the function of the State.

About Tibet, Beijing granting it a SAR status should be possible if doing so will enhance the latter's economic dynamism and competitiveness. This will have a domino effect of course, as other provinces may also demand a SAR status where they will have partial autonomy from the Beijing central government. But if more SAR would mean more HK or Macau type of economic dynamism, then Beijing will be better off.

The glitter and big money that will come into China in the Beijing Olympics just 5 months from now should help some Party hardliners in Beijing realise that they will have less political headache and more economic wealth if they will grant more autonomy to some of their "prodigal" provinces. I hope so.

* See also China Watch 3: World's Largest Traders, 2004, June 03, 2006

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