Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Is China's latest Ten-year plan too timid...and is timidity a sign of our times?

Listening to an erudite discussion, once again, on NPR's "On Point with Tom Ashbrook" about the latest document to come out of the Communist Party/Government in Beijing, I was struck by something said by Susan Shirkchair of the 21st Century China Program and Ho Miu Lam Professor of China and Pacific Relations at the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies (IR/PS) at the University of California, San Diego. (@IRPS). In her detailed and convincing review of the Ten Year Plan, she commented that she believed one of the important questions was whether it was not a question of leadership, both in its design and the degree to which the plan can and will be implemented.
Chinese President, Xi Jingping, according to Ms Shirk, may have been too timid in his and the central committee's design of the latest plan, because he may not have the kind of "clout" once held by some of his predecessors. There is a growing middle class in China, many of whom have received substantial educations, and their compliance, without objection, to government edicts, may have already eroded. Many of these recently educated Chinese are buying property, businesses and investments in foreign countries, and moving out of China in order to escape the suffocating smog that hangs over many of China's cities, and also to escape the kind of state control of businesses, of government and also of individual liberties that prevails, emanating out of Bejing.
 His capacity to implement the plan which includes a slight relaxation of the one-family-one child policy, a slight softening of the forced "labour/education" camps for undesireables, a slight easing of the restrictions on agriculture workers moving from field to city (only to certain designated cites, not the ones most people would want to move to) and a move to encourage more consumer spending may also be restricted by the narrow location of real power in the country.
As one panelists observed, "There is a perfect moment in China when the wealth and the power are  both centred in a very small group of people, and their resistance to giving up that power may prove too strong for the president to fully enact his plan," even though it is not considerable nearly as transformative as some of those of his predecessors, nor as many current observers were hoping for.

Imagine, too much power being too tightly held, controlled and manipulated by too few people, in order to permit even a communist state government to grow a real middle class!

Does that not sound like precisely the same anthem that is echoing out of Washington, Ottawa, London, Rome, Moscow, Madrid, Dublin, to varying degrees, but certainly out of Washington?
There is a gathering storm on the world's horizon, and the canary of the Chinese emigrants that are leaving to find a better life, is a song the rest of the world had better start listening to.
While those Chinese emigrants have enough resources to move, many of the rest of us, living in countries some more and some less controlled by heavy-handed state governments, will have to find our futures, however short they may be, where we are.
And that means that we will have to exert much more political clout on our political "masters (in their minds)/servants (in our minds)". We too need a healthier middle class, cleaner air, access to clean water, adequate and safe food supplies. One story of an ambitious Chinese worker, from the On Point program, illustrated his fear of Chinese products: he purchased all the paint he would need to cover the walls in his home in Japan, because he did not trust the Chinese paints, and  he nervously wondered what he and his wife were going to do to feed their newborn, after her mother stopped breast-feeding, because the available food was  neither safe nor adequately nourishing.
While the Chinese plan is to reduce the dependence on coal-fired power generation, and move to alternative sources, (a commendable move!) it will take decades to wean the country off of coal. Meanwhile, the people have to wear masks, in some cities on some days, just to  breath.
How long will it be before, following the lead of the Ontario government (today it tabled a bill to terminate the use of coal-fired power generation by 2014), the United States especially, Canada, and the western countries, along with India, abandon their dependence on coal-generated power?
There is a crippling political disease, too much power and wealth in too few hands, that is choking off the deployment of common sense government legislation, in China, the U.S. and other countries, demonstrated by the failure of the Warsaw talks on Climate change and global warming, demonstrated to by the need to produce a text for a treaty with Iran, bilaterally, and then present the text to the "stand-by" countries in the Group of 5+1, much to their contempt, demonstrated by the upcoming vote in Scotland to withdraw from the Commonwealth (although only 38% support independence in the latest polls) and certainly demonstrated in the spate of denials, obfuscations, and smoke-blowing out of the Langevin Block in Ottawa, the building that houses the Prime Minister's Office, over the recent Senate expenses scandal.
The most significant drop in public approval of President Obama's conduct of his job, surfacing on the heels of the disastrous roll-out of Obamacare, results...
  •  in part from a determined silence on the part of the insurance companies to sell the new coverage,
  • in part from a determined political assault campaign from the political right both on the president's very existence and on the program which they senselessly consider "socialist" if not actually "communist" although the former Republican candidate for president, Romney, passed an almost identical bill in Massachusetts, when he was governor of that state
  • in part from a civil service grown flabby and undisciplined as well as untutored in the extreme requirements of a digital roll-out
  • in part from an over-inflated "contractor contingent" that seeks to suck both the oxygen and the cash from the capital, so long as there is still some of  both available
  • and also from a too-loyal and compassionate president, too busy by more than half on too many issues, and unwilling to chop heads, even when the political ship is sinking....(Kathleen Sibelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, please take note!)
Obama's Affordable Care Act, too, in our eyes, was too timid, given his earlier preference for a single-payer system, and his default to an insurance company supported (and profit-driven) system that albeit clips the wings of those companies on pre-existing conditions, and on refusals to cover clients they did not want but fails to go far enough by more than half, especially considering the political damage in the long run.
We need bold political leadership, and we need in from all corners of the globe....and not over petty disputes like the one currently developing between China and Japan over sovereignty in the South China Sea, nor over Obama's trustworthiness, nor over Obama's level of courage in the face of Iranian threats of a nuclear bomb.....and we need a strong, independent fourth estate, in all countries including China, the United States, Canada (where very few observers could be classed as courageous and provocative) and those covering the United Nations....and we will not get either the political leadership nor the fourth estate that supports that requirement (as China is proving) through a culture of sycophancy, fear, sleep-walking narcissism and hopelessness.
My thirty-something daughter said to me last week, "The global warming/climate change battle is already lost!"
And I pleaded, "It may be, but I have to continue to fight the battle, even if just to know that I continued to protest until the very end!!!"
"Alright," she demurred.

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