By Senate President John Valentine
I am writing these words as Karen and I wait for a bus to take us to the airport for our long flight back to the U.S. We have been visitors in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) for the past several days in a forum for state senate presidents.
China.... More specifically: What is China today and how will changes there impact Utah?
The vastness, beauty, intricacy and diversity of its history, land and people – and the cultural difference between west and east – is so large, that it is hard to get ones arms around this issue. You risk making errors in judgment. Over the past few days I have begun to hypothesize that there are really two very different Chinas today; an economic China and a political China.
The Economic China is focused on profit and innovation. It is excited, vibrant and changing at breakneck speed. It appears to be what Hong Kong was before its takeover by the PRC. Economic growth, measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP), has exceeded 9% each year for the past ten years. Although that official statistic is probably suspect, China is now the 6th largest economy in the world. In 1997 we wondered what would happen when China took over Hong Kong. In fact, it appears that the opposite has occurred; Hong Kong is taking over China.
The Political China has changed at a much slower pace since the days of 1989 and Tiananmen Square. Some personal freedoms exist, but China is still non democratic and at times repressive. PRC leaders seem to be focused on staying in power; they are desperately “riding the back of the tiger” as the local saying goes.
In China today, a person can find his or her own job, move around the country freely and even protest the actions of its government. (Protests have increased such that there were approximately 74,000 protests of one sort or another in 2004.) Access to information is more open, although the press is still censured. (More about this in a later blog). The internet is available and has become a major source of information for the young, although sites deemed politically unacceptable, such as Amnesty International, are blocked. (I wonder if the Senate Site
is blocked...?) The PRC seem to be very pragmatic about their role in the world and tend to downplay international conflicts to maintain their robust economic activity
, evidenced in their recent efforts at the Six Party Talks involving nuclear arms in North Korea. The Chinese have become the largest trading partner with the rest of Asia, surpassing the United States. PRC policies have not been so pragmatic when it comes to issues of national honor
; specifically in dealings with the United States, Japan and Taiwan. Decisions in these areas are not driven so much by economic factors as they are by nationalism and a desire for the greatest good of emerging China. It seems to be a common belief among those whom with we spoke, that any national leader who would allow legal independence for Taiwan, would be ousted from power. It is a very volatile political issue.
Another volatile issue is the growing class difference
s, especially between high party officials and the “People”. It is especially evident in the rural part of China, where economic vibrancy has not yet taken hold. Intellectual property rights
are another big challenge with rampant CD and DVD piracy.
We met with a number of people with differing opinions on the state of their country. I won’t use many names because of the potential need to protect them from the political side of China, but their thoughts were fascinating and enlightening. Two that I can name are He Yafei, Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (PRC) and Craig Allen, Minister-Counselor for Commercial Affairs at the US Embassy. Both of them gave outstanding presentations.
Mr Yafei emphasized the partner relationship between China and the US. He spoke of the recent meeting between his top officials and President Bush which occurred on the 13th of September in Washington and announced that President Bush has made a commitment to visit the PRC in November. He spoke of the need to cooperate in the area of terrorism and was particularly harsh on the actions of “radical Islam.”
In a Q&A period following his presentation, he lamented, “Our young people are listening to the same music and therefore the same voices as are the western youth.” He told us, “We are in this together.”
We need to engage with China in the coming decades. Our challenge– as a state and nation - is to consider that there are at least two Chinas today and tailor our policies with that dynamic in mind. We can not contain China economically. We need to innovate and focus on shared goals and strengths.
Next time: A few thoughts on the Freedom of the Press in China.