DANCING WITH A SCHIZOPHRENIC DRAGON
Last week I made personal acquaintance with economic opportunity, in the form of a schizophrenic dragon named the People’s Republic of China. Along with three Alaska Senators, I traveled to Shanghai China, as part of a trade mission sponsored by the World Trade Center of Alaska. The mission was scheduled to coincide with the annual General Assembly meeting of the World Trade Centers’ Association, of which our Alaska Trade Center is a member. Some 400 delegates and business people from around the world, as well as the Lower 48, attended the meeting. Everybody had the same agenda: spur economic development through increased international export trade. This was a high-powered and competitive group of business people, to say the least.
In addition to other committees, I serve on the House Special Committee on Economic Development, International Trade, and Tourism, and the Labor and Commerce Committee. I wanted to bring some first hand knowledge of the China market home to our legislature. China offers tremendous trade opportunities for Alaska. Trade equals economic development, and economic development means a better quality of life for everybody.
China is already an important trading partner with Alaska. In fact, Alaska’s exports to China are already up 60% for the first nine months of this year. Alaska’s exports to China will reach 250 million, and China will soon replace Canada as our state’s third largest trading partner. About 70% of Alaska’s seafood is imported to China – including halibut heads! We also export how-to-do-it information on a variety of projects, especially project management and engineering for oil and gas field development. Our Anchorage International Airport is perfectly located has a transportation hub to China, and all of Asia. Profitable opportunities for Alaska trade with China can abound - if Alaska business people, our legislature, and the administration act proactively. However, common sense tells us we should conduct profitable business with our eyes wide open to potential risks, as well as to profit opportunities resulting from increased trade.
But a word of caution, please. America - and Alaska - are “dancing with a schizophrenic dragon” when we pursue increased China trade. Today, China is about the closest thing America has as a rival superpower – and a superpower it is. But with acceptable risk comes opportunity.
China’s leaders could well be muttering, “Roses are red, violets are blue, I’m schizophrenic, and so am I”! Let me explain.
China’s government is a Communist dictatorship, and has been for fifty-six oppressive years. They call their nation the “People’s” Republic of China. But in reality, “people’s” refers to the people in communist leadership, not China’s Joe Common Citizen. Communism, by definition, means ownership “in common,” and private capitalistic enterprise is an anathema to any good communist.
At the same time, capitalism in China is growing by leaps and bounds. There’s a whole new class of Chinese capitalists, from small business people to huge international corporations, who have turned China into a capitalistic mecca. One only has to drive down any major street in Shanghai to see capitalism at work. Ultramodern skyscrapers are everyplace. Buicks are produced in China, Wal-Mart is there, McDonalds, KFC, fancy cosmetic outlets, Pizza Hut, even Amway (which is a derivation of “American Way”). Shanghai is a veritable shopper’s paradise, with multitudinous famous name brand galleries. Wealthy Chinese capitalists do daily deals by with international capitalists. Yet, Communism, by definition, is an anathema to capitalist high rollers..
China’s present schizophrenic comity between communism and capitalism – the capitalist dictatorship - is wondrous to behold. It’s amazing. The question is, can the co-existence of Chinese opposites continue? And what will be the result to China’s trading partners if it doesn’t?
Travel outside Shanghai’s capitalistic urban glitter to rural areas, and third world conditions are pandemic. Eventually the impoverished rural “have-nots” will learn about the benefits that derive from the capitalism of the “haves” in the metropolis, and demand the same.
Capitalism is a social system based on the recognition of individual rights. Sustained capitalism cannot co-exist forever without real freedoms enjoyed in a democratic society. Bottom line: turmoil in search of freedom in China is looking for a time and place to happen.
That’s why communist China continues to suppress freedom of speech, and freedom of religion.
China’s Culture Ministry is barring new foreign television channels and increasing censorship of imported programming, as well as restricting new licenses for companies to import newspapers and magazines, electronic publications, and audiovisual products. Satellite dishes are a no-no. Recently, China’s government prohibited use of English words (like “democracy”) on television and foreign programs that promote “Western ideology and politics” (like ”democracy”). Dictators fear freedom of information, because freedom will win in a free marketplace of ideas.
Likewise, freedom of religion in China is an illusion. Check out the Red Chinese Embassy web site that claims “. . . the United States is using the freedom of religion as a camouflage to grossly interfere in China's internal affairs, which is absolutely unacceptable to the Chinese government and people.” The problem is, China’s internal affairs, including religion, do affect the rest of the world. Lack of freedom anywhere, affects freedom everywhere – including freedom to conduct proper business.
Christian Church activity, of whatever variety – Catholic or Protestant – is allowed only under the thumb of communist “Patriotic Associations.” In China, the atheistic communist government “Patriotic Association” appoints Catholic bishops, not the Pope. Obviously, this makes the official “Patriotic” Catholic Church in China a sham. Understandably, the “official” Catholic Church in China is considered a schism by the Vatican. Nonetheless, I visited the beautiful St. Ignatius Cathedral in Shanghai. It’s a magnificent edifice with a placard on the wall that proclaims the church to be a “monument” under “protection” of the government. The government “Patriotic Catholic” church claims 4 million believers - but the real Catholic Church in China has 12 million faithful who meet secretly underground (like the prosecuted church in ancient Rome). The underground legitimate Catholic churches, worshippers and clergy alike, are routinely raided and hauled off by the police to jail or worse.
Protestants fare no better. Police confiscate Bibles from what the government labels as “aberrant religious organizations" (meaning Protestants whose church isn’t under control of the “Three-Self Patriotic Movement”). Protestant clergy and worshippers are harassed or arrested. Nevertheless, up to 50 million Chinese are believed to worship in unofficial Protestant congregations, the so-called "house churches," since meetings often take place in private homes.
Buddhists, Taoists, and Muslims are likewise prosecuted. But the non-Christian group suffering the most outrageous prosecution is the Falun Gong, a group with beliefs similar to those found in Buddhism and Taoism, purporting to improve the mind, body, and spirit, as well as certain characteristics of New Age groups.
The common denominator between Catholic, Protestant, Falun Gong, and the other religions, is that worshippers meet in groups of people, have leaders, practice religious spitituality, and answer to a “higher power” than the government – all of which is a dangerous political threat to a dictatorship.
Obviously human rights, as we know it, doesn’t exisit in China. However, rocking the boat on human rights abuses displeases the government, and thereby could negativly affect international trade. Thus it’s tempting to pretend there are few or no human rights violations in China, and to concentrate only on the bottom dollar line. But we shouldn’t pretend that something that “is - isn’t.” Pretending problems don’t exist don’t make them go away. Necessity requires us to work the problem, and trade with China for our own self-interest.
I believe increased trade with China will open up China to new ideas and new freedoms. China needs us, as much as we need them.
In addition to being an economic colosisis, China is also a military colossis. A recent Pentagon report claims the Chinese military has ambitions far beyond defending its argumentive claim to Taiwan, and that China could provoke small wars to secure its growing energy requirements. Just this month, China missile carrying warships threatened Japanese oil rigs in the East China Sea. As another example, China recently held unprecedented joint military war games with Russia - and Taiwan and the US was the “fictional” enemy. That kind of stuff makes American military planners very concerned. In another case, a Chinese general recently threatened “nuclear devastation” against the United States, if the US tried to defend Taiwan from being swallowed by Communist China – and apparently no one in the government rebuked the general.
But for every challenge there’s an opportunity. Every right thinking person is concerned about human rights abuses, and every American except Pollyanna is concerned about threats to our national security from China, or any other entity that could do us harm.
But, as my Grandpa John used to say, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water!” In other words, America and Alaska would be foolish not to engage China in mutually beneficial trade (while keeping our eyes wide open). I have faith that the “good guys” always win – eventually. My job in the legislature is to help Alaska win.
In addition to the high-roller Chinese businessmen with an agenda, I was able to mingle with everyday Chinese working folks, from hotel clerks, to taxi drivers, sales clerks, waitresses, vendors, students, and so on. As a retired military person, I’ve been around overseas enough to feel the vibes of anti-Americanism when it exists – and I’m happy to report that nothing of the sort in Shanghai was evident. Everybody was friendly and gracious, and I couldn’t ask for better. The Chinese are good people.
My trip to China with my legislative colleagues was informative and worthwhile. My opinions herein expressed regarding China are strictly my own, and others can speak for themselves.
When we trade with China, we are surely “dancing with a schizophrenic dragon” – but Alaska will benefit from leading the dance, and we won’t let China step on our toes. Should we work to increase our trade with China? Yes, yes, and underline yes!