Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business recently assembled a collection of views around its campus on the stakes China faces in the next decade as a new generation of leadership transitions into power. Topics addressed were economic reform, press freedom, education, future world order, and business opportunities. That collection is interesting because it sheds light on the general mindset at the university. In some ways, it indicates how Stanford students are biased in their studies about China. In short, some of the views are horribly wrong, and I want to explain why.
Nicholas C. Hope, Director of Stanford Center for International Development, recognized that China’s economic reform since the 1970’s have reduced poverty, and that her society is increasingly more complex to further the necessary reforms. He said that a major challenge will be for China’s new leaders to make the government’s performance more directly accountable to the Chinese people. No disagreement thus far.
He went on:
Unless people believe that their government’s decisions serve the interests of all Chinese there is a growing risk that the Party leaders increasingly are viewed as clinging to power in order to enrich themselves, their families and their associates. To ensure popular support for a reform process well begun but far from complete, the urgent need is to give people a voice in the key decisions that influence their lives and livelihoods.
Honestly, I agree with almost everything Hope said, except for what I high-lighted above. From a U.S.-style electoral democracy perspective, Hope is essentially saying China needs to move towards one-man-one-vote. Unless our memory is extremely short, we should remember not that long ago, there was the Occupy Wall Street movement within America itself. Ordinary Americans are still upset that the richest are continuing to amass the lions share of wealth while the majority’s share shrunk in this past decade. America has one-man-one-vote, but it is not clear whether the wealthy-becoming-wealthier trend is going to change.
This past summer, I vacationed in China. While in Shanghai, I met my cousin, who now owns a factory with some of his friends making photo-voltaic cells. While growing up, he and I literally played in the dirt! When I think about having a voice in the key decisions that influenced my cousin’s live and livelihood, for going from dirt to factory ownership, China certainly has just about everything he needs!
Furthermore, I think about India. If my cousin is in India today (remember, India is a democracy), I highly doubt he’d find the infrastructure, supply chain, capital, and expertise to get his factory off the ground. Not to say India won’t get there some day. The point is that one-man-one-vote can fall behind.
So, the mistake that Hope makes is really an ideological one. The assumption he makes is that livelihoods flows automatically from ‘democracy.’ That is simply not true.
Livelihood flows from not being invaded or society turned upside-down. Those things matter too. China’s growth story in these last few decades is testament to that; ‘democracy’ is simply not something the Chinese obsess over.
Marc Andreesen recently told this to CNBC in reaction to President Obama winning over Governor Romney:
“A lot business people if you scratch below the surface, you’ll find that we’re basically antibipartisanship and pro-gridlock. And so I think if you’re going to have a Democratic president, having a Republican House is a pretty good counterbalance to that. It’s what we’ve been living with and I think we’ve been doing fine, and I think we’ll live with that for the next four years.”
The competition between various segments of society, especially between the wealthier Americans and the poorer ones, is intense! In China, that competition exists as well. The government’s job is to ensure a level-playing field and special interests not corrupt it.
Neither country’s political systems have good solutions to such problems.
In regards to press freedom, Melissa Chan, John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University, wrote:
China’s new leadership will have to decide whether they’d like to create a more transparent society over the next ten years or continue on the country’s current path. Global expectations that the 2008 Beijing Olympics would mark the start of a more liberal China have not panned out — the country has taken two steps back on press freedom for both domestic and foreign journalists (this past May, I became the first foreign reporter in more than a decade to be expelled from the country).
Chan is also a reporter for Al-Jazeera English, and in regards to her ‘expulsion,’ this is what a commentary on Global Times said:
China didn’t give a specific reason for expelling the reporter. This ambiguity cannot be criticized. According to foreign journalist sources here in Beijing, Melissa Chan holds an aggressive political stance. According to foreign reports, she has a tense relationship with the management authorities of foreign correspondents. She has produced some programs which are intolerable for China.
Interfering with foreign media’s reporting is a retrograde act, and it is simply impossible to do. However, foreign journalists in China must abide by journalistic ethics. They have their values and reporting angles, but the bottom line is that they should not turn facts upside down.
Looking at the number of foreign journalists stationed in China today compared to few decades ago, it is clear there is more access. China also passed laws within these last few years requiring governments disclosures, honoring citizen’s right to know. Those are steps forward, not backward.
While listening to Rob Schmitz on NPR exposing Mike Daisey’s lies this past year on Apple’s subcon, Foxconn, I was struck how freely he roamed throughout China. In one day, we was visiting a factory worker’s home in some far-flung location. In another, he was inside the factory looking at assembly lines and living quarters. For the most part, journalists in China have tremendous access.
The type of “freedom” Chan talks about is obviously and narrowly those of political in nature. In fact, criticisms against the Chinese government is rampant. We only need to look at the weibo’s in China.
YouTube, Twitter, Facebook — even the webpages of Bloomberg and the New York Times are now blocked. Access to information is not simply a human rights issue. When one-fifth of the world’s population lives in a parallel digital universe and is actively discouraged from connecting with global perspectives and to global social networks, it can lead to dangerous geopolitical misunderstandings.
While I personally believe it is too blunt to block services like YouTube in China, and I do agree that more contacts between peoples of the two countries will be helpful, Chan’s narrative here really shows how political her views are against the Chinese government.
First of all, the Chinese government encourages and supports many students studying abroad, including in America. The Chinese government even pledged support to many American students who partake in Obama’s 100,000 Strong Initiative, by assisting them with living allowances in China! What is rather embarrassing is that the 100,000 Strong Initiative is not fully funded by the American government. This, despite American being a much richer society.
Secondly, I know of no American friends (minus those with Chinese heritage) ever searching in Baidu in Chinese. Why is that?
When 16-year old Ye Shiwen was unfairly accused in the Western media of doping, the science journal, Nature, lost faculty, also piled on with flimsy homage to those accusations. Chinese scientists were appalled. They protested. Nature’s editors then issued a public apology.
What does that tell us? Chinese are not in a parallel digital universe. They are reading Nature on the Internet. They are conducting searches on Google.com. In fact, Google’s search revenue deriving from users from within China is still significant despite it having pulled out of the search market.
The OpenCourseWare Consortium in fact has a huge following in China. Chinese students are watching computer science courses taught at MIT over the Internet. They are watching political science courses taught at other universities.
Are American students “actively connecting with global perspectives?” Certainly not in Chinese; not nearly at the scale the Chinese are in English.
So, if we want to distill “access to information as a human rights issue,” is there any doubt China is ahead? The question we must answer is: does YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook represent “global perspectives?” No, I don’t think so.
In terms of truly connecting with “global perspectives,” I think China is definitely on the right trajectory. We should look at all the places Chinese students go to study. We should look at the growing footprint of Chinese companies and investments around the world. We should look at the increasing number of Chinese traveling abroad.
In terms of “dangerous geopolitical misunderstandings,” I think equally important is the idea that Americans should better understand perspectives around the world.
Lastly, she said:
More troubling may be the possibility that the next president, Xi Jinping, will not have the power to effect change even if he wishes it. This year’s tumultuous political transition has revealed a divided oligarchy on tenterhooks. They inch forward, avoiding disruptive change. Journalists in China will continue to face the challenges of operating in what Reporters Without Borders says is one of the most difficult news environments in the world: China ranked 174th out of 179 countries in the organization’s Press Freedom Index, between Bahrain and Iran.
One thing that struck me with this collection of opinions from the Stanford University is what’s missing! There are students from China studying political science, international relations, economics, journalism, and other subjects at the university. Why wasn’t one of their opinions included?
Let’s be honest. Reporter Without Borders is a propaganda organization, at least in the present day form.
I will illustrate with a modern example. Now that Libya is under new rule, there is virtually no reporting of the plight of the Libyans under new leadership from the Western press. Why? Because the misery that exists in that coutry makes for pimping for new wars and regime change inconvenient isn’t it?
Until Reporter Without Borders reflect this sort of censorship in the Western press in the Press Freedom Index scorecard, the organization is purely a propaganda tool.
The next opinion came from Jennifer Haskell, a Stanford University 3rd year PhD candidate focusing on comparative politics. She cited the following statistics in pointing out inequality in education between China’s rural poor and the wealthier city-dwellers:
The biggest challenge that the Chinese leadership faces in the field of education is increasing inequality. Research by Scott Rozelle and others at the Rural Education Action Project (REAP) at Stanford shows that 70% of students in cities attend four year colleges, compared to less than 5% of their peers in poor rural areas.
Raising high school attendance and graduation rates across the country would not only help address growing inequality but is also essential as China tries to transition its economy away from a focus on manufacturing and avoid the middle income trap.
I think there is something important to be said about China’s development. China is in transition. This is an important point.
Between 5% and 70% is an incredible gap. China must address that.
Since the founding of modern China, literay has climbed to 94% in 2010 (UNESCO). In contrast to India’s rate for women at 65%, China is already at 90%.
Another way to look at her situation is that China’s potential is yet to be unleashed. When China was ravaged by foreigners, education was hardly provided for. During the Cultural Revolution, education was non-existent. That was China’s starting point.
In 2010, China’s postsecondary education enrolled 6.4 million students. Back in 2000, it was only 2.2 million. That’s nearly trippling within one decade!
China is in the midst of an industrial revolution right now. Hundreds of millions of Chinese have moved into cities from rural areas and similar numbers will in the coming decades. While in the midst of it, once a family moves out of subsistence, the student will not be pressured to till the land, and hence less obstacles to pursue higher education.
Haskell’s narrative of a “growing inequality in education” is actually not quite right. Rather, the narrative should be that the Chinese population has finally been educated. Inequality was at it’s height when no Chinese were educated, period! So, inequality has been on the decline.
While millions of Chinese work in manufacturing, and given China’s over-all population size, even assuming each person working in a factory automatically means lost opportunity in higher education, would not come close to explaining the number of people between that 70% and 5%.
So, clearly, a huge swath of the population has yet to attain postsecondary and higher education, but will in lock-steps as China industrializes and creates more jobs for a more educated work force.
If all the Chinese at one point were educated in higher-education, and then a decline ensues which leads to a rural drop, her narrative would be correct. Haskell’s narrative is wrong because the history is not correct.
In response to: Which industries will become increasingly significant for business opportunities in China?
A quote was pulled from a keynote speech by Jon Huntsman, former US ambassador to China, gave during a recent China conference at the school. He said:
The focus will be on “industries and technologies that support [China’s] migration to a consumption-based economy,” as well as industries that will “build confidence in the population.”
Jon M. Huntsman Jr. predicts that personal services industries will be a major growth area in China, including travel tourism, financial services, retirement, and healthcare.
Indeed, China’s current 5-year plan calls for restructuring for more consumption. The Chinese are not interested in being stuck earning $6 in asembling a product like the iPhone which sells for $500. As the industries Huntsman listed indicate, China is developing her economy in a comprehensive way.
Aside from agreeing with Huntsman, I found Thomas Fingar, Oksenberg-Rohlen Distinguished Fellow, Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, remarks were about right in responding to: If China had an opportunity to refashion the global order, what would it change and what would it seek to accomplish?
The question is certainly premature because it will be a long time, if ever, before China has an opportunity to replace or restructure the liberal world order that has been established and led by the United States during the decades since World War II. But many, inside and outside China, recognize that the current system is increasingly ill-suited for the challenges of today and tomorrow, and that China will have an important voice in deciding what to keep, what to replace, and what to reengineer.
The United States is the sole superpower and China is still far behind; militarily, politically, and economically.
China is benefiting from the existing world order. She is vested in it. China is adding funds into IMF and the WB, to be members rather than boycotters. China continues to affirm support for the EU project. The list goes on.
Chinese leaders often say they have tremendous challenges. By lifting her own population out of poverty and addressing other ills her massive population faces, she is doing her part in moving humanity forward.
Corruption is rampant. Pollution is getting out of control. Food safety has plagued Chinese society. Income inequality is growing. The list is long.
Perhaps China’s system is “ill-suited” for those challenges, but to dogmatically accept “democracy” or “press freedom” as panacea is ridiculous.
In my opinion, the political climate in America is too full of it. Ideology and dogma have gripped the nation. American society has to learn to climb back down and deal with issues as they are. I won’t be silly enough to evangelize the “Chinese model” as America’s solution. America’s circumstances are unique and she must find her own path.
As for Stanford, I urge it to keep an open mind.