China formulates its own futureFeb 17, 2023
Despite countless Western bossy-boots beavering away in the media and beyond, generating worst-case projections as they strain to create a collective storyboard for “China: The Disaster Movie”, China, exasperatingly, keeps successfully pressing on towards its own clearly considered, affirmative future.
The American Plan A for reforming China was firmly in place by the 1990s. The Middle Kingdom was huge and very different, so these realities would need to be indulged. But Beijing, it was envisaged, could still be drawn, like so many before it, into an accommodating Coca Cola orbit pivoting around the US. The short name for this scheme was: convergence. Plan A eventually proved, due to China’s extraordinary insubordination, to be a fizzer. Much Western grumpiness – especially in Washington – followed. If China was bent on recklessly rebuffing a development blueprint based on universal Western, end-of-history wisdom, adverse consequences must surely follow.
Maddeningly, China pressed on, not only purposefully but with exceptional success, by cleaving to its own Sino-blueprint. Noam Chomsky recently highlighted what follows from this, quoting Paul Keating: The fact that China has lifted 20% of humanity from abject poverty into something approaching a modern state is illegitimate because its mere presence represents a challenge to US pre-eminence (see: Even renowned public intellectual Noam Chomsky reads Pearls and Irritations
As a consequence, Plan B, which is explained below, has emerged. An apt short title for this bleak new Western script envisaging Beijing’s future is: China: The Disaster Movie.
China, from the beginning of the open-door policy in 1978, was ready and eager to learn about technical and related modernisation from the West. However, experience-based wariness, about opening the doors more widely to Western political and philosophical marketing (dating back to the 19th century) remained a fixture. Arguably the single most important recent turning point, confirming the wisdom of wariness, was the American incubated Global Financial Crisis (GFC), triggered by the collapse of Lehman Brothers in the US, in 2008. The response in Beijing can be summarised in this way: You want us to converge with this? No thank you!
In the media world, a storyboard is a set of pre-visualising written and graphic illustrations, typically prepared for a new film. As China’s well-grounded dismissal of the West’s convergence script became increasingly firm, the Plan B development of a Western collective storyboard, headlining all the misfortunes that were surely about to beset China – as a consequence of its disobedience – gained swift purchase. Displaying literally reactionary zeal, the Mainstream Western Media (MWM) piled-in offering enthusiastic, haphazard, always alarming storyboard content, month after month, for, China: The Disaster Movie.
It is worth considering some highlights.
In mid-2020, the Yangtze river was in flood. The Three Gorges Dam on that river had to deal with more than the usual amount of water flowing into that massive reservoir. A swift online search reveals a host of lurid headlines from that time, typified by the Nikkei news service telling us that, As water crests, Three Gorges Dam crisis puts 400 million at risk. Further searching reveals much of this reporting was sourced from startling coverage in Taiwan. Wilder media outlets almost seemed to be cheering on the floodwaters. Fortunately, the remarkable dam, in accordance with its design, held firm. Zero comparable Western headlines appeared highlighting this. Indeed, once the floodwaters had “lost”, the story largely disappeared from the MWM.
In early 2022, just as the Beijing Winter Olympics were getting underway, a Washington Post journalist wrote that, “Nobody likes to toss a rotten fish into the world’s greatest sporting event”. She and a school of other fish-tossers, nevertheless set to work doing just this, eagerly anticipating a measurable breakdown in China’s dynamic-zero-COVID strategy coupled with some serious commotion and disruption at the Olympic venues. All this would help prove how the Chinese model of governance, despite some apparent success, was deeply flawed compared to political systems based on modern, now unipolar, universal liberalism. Alas, China, once again failed to adhere to the Western screenplay. The scornful critics were outwitted by a safe, exceptionally well-run and thrilling (according to ABC Australia) Olympics.
Next, it is helpful to consider the more general, intense MWM scrutiny of China’s COVID management policies. The dynamic-zero COVID strategy was applied in China from early 2020 until late 2022. During this period, the MWM grew increasingly strident in its advice that this policy lagged dangerously behind the switch in the West to the advanced thinking underpinning the Living with COVID approach. Never mind that, compared to the US, the Chinese approach likely saved several million lives and prevented several hundred million infections when COVID mortality and morbidity rates were at their worst – the West still knew best. Subsequently, as a second Omicron outbreak took hold in China in late 2022, prompting significant urban protests, Beijing rapidly decided that it did need to shift to living with the, now less dangerous, dominant COVID variant.
Talk about turning on a sixpence: the MWM, like a well-drilled chorus-line, shifted to a new set of woe-is-China tales and predictions arising, as it happens, from Beijing acting in parallel with the previous, insistent MWM advice that the dynamic-zero COVID policy was past its use-by date. Ghoulish spying on funeral parlours from above was one innovative reporting technique pioneered by the Washington Post.
This turn-around brings to mind “Said Hanrahan”, the best-known work of the Australian poet, John O’Brien. In this remarkable bush-poem, Hanrahan begins by insisting that “We’ll all be rooned [ruined]” by the terrible drought then being experienced. By the poem’s end, however, Hanrahan has worked his way around to predicting, with equal emphasis, that “We’ll all be rooned” due the boisterous arrival of heavy rainfall.
Finally, let’s consider some large-scale facts. Since that GFC turning point in 2008, China, using its own blueprint, has, as Hank Paulson recently noted writing in Foreign Affairs, seen its economy grow by 300%. Over the same period the US economy has grown by less than 70%. The Standard Chartered bank lately predicted that China’s economy would be more than double the size of the US economy, using PPP exchange rates, by 2030.
Thus, despite all these Western bossy-boots beavering away in the media and beyond to generate one worst-case projection after another, China, exasperatingly, just keeps pressing on: thinking, planning, creating and building. There is no question that Beijing faces many problems, but that exceptionally positive track-record explains why China, unaided, still looks set to create a remarkably thriving future for itself.