Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Conundrum That Is China

Looking at China news today, I was pulled in so many different directions. There is contradictory information and conflicting news stories everywhere. I couldn't really choose just one story to feature.

An article from Reuters on Monday does a nice job of framing talks on climate change by discussing just how confounding a country China is:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Success in winning China's help with global tasks like reviving the world economy or fighting climate change can depend on which China you're talking to: the established economic powerhouse or the developing country.

China the new power holds $2 trillion in foreign reserves, including about $1 trillion in U.S. debt, and increasingly lectures rich nations on economic management. Developing China has tens of millions of rural poor among its 1.3 billion people and falls in the same World Bank per capita income rankings as Cameroon and Guatemala.

The emergence of China as a heavyweight economic player with a relatively poor population has economists scrambling for new definitions, perplexes policymakers in other countries and has some competitors crying foul.

"I can't think of any other instances where an economy at this relative level of development compared to the other leading countries in the world had such a large role to play in terms of world trade, world finance and overall contribution to the world economy," said Eswar Prasad of Cornell University.

Read On
Another article, from the Brooking Institution - a left-leaning think-tank out of DC - tries to define contemporary China for us:

Photo from Reuters
This is the fifth year in a row the Chinese government has targeted 8% growth, but the contrast between 2009 and previous years could not be more vivid. In the last two years, the leadership’s goals were to moderate China’s hyper-growth and regulate its over-heated economy. This year, the concern is on how to ensure the minimum expansion essential for income growth and job creation, issues imperative for preservation of stability in China.

Read On
And then another Reuters article from today states exactly what I'm trying to point out: getting a grasp on what's actually going on in China is not easy:

SHENZHEN, China (Reuters) - Over the past half year, the global financial crisis has wrenched asunder the gritty factory towns in China's Pearl River Delta, but some signs on the ground suggest the workshop of the world is cranking up again.

The slump is not over for the area that churns out a third of China's exports. Many executives estimate that a collapse in orders, mainly from the United States and Europe, has wiped out 20-40 percent of their business. Thousands of factories in low-margin sectors have closed, and the government's latest guess is that 23 million migrant workers have lost their jobs.

But at least the nightmare scenario of widespread social unrest now looks increasingly unlikely. And industrial Darwinism has left leaner factories poised to take up the slack when the West rediscovers its appetite for cheaply made Chinese goods...

Getting a clear picture of Guangdong, the province north of Hong Kong that serves as the world's factory floor, is not easy: as one European businessman put it, sowing confusion is a competitive advantage in the free-wheeling, free-market Delta.

Read On
(Props to Reuters today. I obviously think they've done a lot of good stuff recently. Reuters, with the LA Times, AFP, and a few other news agencies, consistently do some of the best reporting from China.)

There are so many contradictions to be found in China on a daily basis.

It's economy has been booming for years, yet poor migrants are everywhere. It's government is communist, yet it's hard to distinguish its economy from a capitalist's one. It wants to be more of an international player, yet often shuns opportunities to flex its muscles internationally.

These complexities are the reasons why I continue to enjoy reading China news and updating this blog. Trying to understand China is like trying to solve a very difficult and complex riddle. I'm not sure there are any real answers in coming to terms with what or where China actually is in its current form though.

I heard a good quote about China before. I'm not sure who it's a attributed to, but I think about it sometimes when I'm struggling to figure China out. It goes something like:
Travel to China for a week, and you'll be able to write a book. Travel to China for a month, and you'll be able to write an article. Travel to China for a year, and you won't be able to write anything at all.
This is a nice statement on China. The more you get to know the place, the more confusing it is. While I can see why this phenomenon could be frustrating for people, I love it. My fascination with China is going to a life-long one, I'm sure.


D. said...

I enjoy your blog. It's good to see a open-minded Westerner writing about China in a genuine first-person perspective. Keep it up.

Antoine said...

I beg to differ. I think your blog consists primarily of trite and infantile insights, by an individual who understands precious little about China itself.