Time to go to China.
I’m going. One month from today I head to Shanghai for a two-week business trip, and for all of the reasons I’m going, my timing may be perfect (and that rarely happens.)
Tonight, China’s President Hu Jintao is in Washington wining and dining with President Obama. They’re smiling and saying nice things about one another. They’re even made some trade agreements that, on the face of it, look like win-win. According to internet reports, Obama said Hu agreed on the need to fight climate change by moving ahead in international negotiations. Reportedly, Obama stated, “I believe that as the two largest energy consumers and emitters of greenhouse gases, the United States and China, have a responsibility to combat climate change by building on the progress at Copenhagen and Cancun and showing the way to a clean energy future,”
[As I’m reading this I’m thinking to myself ... huh, what “progress” is he referring to? Talking isn’t doing.]
Hu played along and said “China will work with the United States and other countries to effectively address global challenges” including climate change. Good because if any people need to embrace the notion and practices of sustainability – it is the Chinese. On this topic, it seems Obama has found an ally and he’s doing better with China than he is with his own Congress, where many Republicants are opposed to climate change legislation.
Make no mistake, no matter how chummy things look on the surface there is great tension underneath this power relationship. If you’ve been paying little or no attention, you’re still probably aware our relationship with China is fraying a bit at the seams. Just last month the Obama administration filed a case against China before the World Trade Organization (WTO) in response to a complaint from the United Steelworkers Union. They’re accusing unfair practices because of China’s subsides to Chinese energy companies … and this is only one of a number of trade, political, and cultural issues between our countries.
I have a newspaper clipping from last summer with a bold-lettered caption “China surpasses Japan as the 2nd-biggest economy” (AP). I’ve been keeping it for a post like this. Noriko just shrugged, she’s been to China and she knows the economic growth engine they’ve become. Besides, she’d be the first to point out that they can’t come close to Japanese personal wealth, as Japan is still far richer per person. But we’re talking about economic output and there’s no denying that China is now sniffing at our heels.
Number two is quickly and powerfully catching up to number one. Like it or not. We’re falling behind and ridden with debt and they’re catching up, and some people are getting nervous.
We Americans tend to generalize and we have the luxury to simplify our geo-political world view, but these aren’t your father’s Chinese, folks. They’re a generation removed from the way we generally view them. Modern-day China is full of entrepreneurs and capitalistic risk-takers that are encouraged and supported by a highly motivated government – and because of this they just became the second largest GNP in the world. I suppose it was inevitable, but it sure came fast, didn’t it?!
Internet topics on China are ubiquitous, but if you read the comments posted on reader boards by Americans you’d swear it is 1970 and not 2011. Some people’s view of the world was set long ago, and nothing that has changed, or challenged their assumptions, has made much of an impression. Yes, China’s policy on Tibet is alarming and they have a rather nasty take on human rights, but there is a vast difference between the Chinese people and the government – just as it is here in America. Governments set policies and control to maintain the status quo, (especially in an authoritarian state like modern-day China), but how is that different in other places in the world?
I want to see for myself.
I have a wide and varied agenda, but I will validate obvious concerns regarding pollution, energy, trade, and the plight of the common people. I’ll not just focus on high-tech’rs, working poor, newly wealthy, or the abject poor country-folk. I want find out what is at the middle. A strong middle-class is how we powered ourselves to number one. Same thing in Japan. A strong middle-class has been the backbone of America and that notion is being tested daily in this sluggish economy. Our leaders have put our middle-class people in jeopardy and it is teetering our nation, don’t you think?
Upon her return from China last spring, I asked Noriko about her impressions of the people, and the general aura of the place. She said the people are very optimistic and forward thinking. They see a bright and opportunistic future, for themselves, their families, their business, and their country. This “energy” is the air, she said. You can see it and you can feel it. Noriko said it reminded her of the Japan of her youth. She remembered that cultural and economic phenomenon because she lived it. I did too. Baby Boomers remember how America soared through decades and decades of growth. The future was rosy. The future had no limit.
We don’t seem to have this feeling anymore, but this is what we’re up against.
This isn’t the cold-war arms race of Ronald Reagan times and we have a lot to gain if we can find ways to work and live together on this ever-shrinking planet. Times have changed and we have more to gain if we become partners, not competitors, so we best prepare ourselves.
For my part … thought I’d blog before, during, and after my visit so I can share with readers what I find. I hope you come with me on this journey.