And Then the Decline and Fall of China?

EDITORIAL, 3 Oct 2011

#184 | Johan Galtung

Talk given in Beijing at the Party School of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, 27 Sep 2011

Dear Friends,

Again you have kindly invited me for an open dialogue; so let us peer into the future of the Middle Kingdom.  The background is rapid geopolitical change: the fall of the US Empire–Palestine’s bid in spite of Obama’s threats is an example–the de-development of many countries in the West like USA-UK and the PIIGS; the decline of the state system and rise of the region system with Latin America and the Islamic Community taking shape; the rise of the Rest like those regions and, indeed, the rise of China.  The world moves East.

Yet a rule is written in the stars: nothing human is forever.  There is an organic curve: birth-rise-peak-decline-fall.  China is human if at a higher level: the comparative advantage of China is not cheap labor or such economisms but the culture, drawing on the san fa, the three teachings of daoism-confucianism-buddhism.  The Occident would have been much better off drawing on judaism-christianity-islam and secularism instead of wasting time fighting each other to death.

The ability to handle, indeed use! contradictions is the key.

And yet Chinese dynasties–empires in time rather than space–came and went.  Chin, Tang, Yuan, Ming, Chin’g.  The KMT Nationalist Kuomintang dynasty was Western and short-lived.  How about the CPF Communist Dynasty, “socialism with Chinese characteristics”?

How do we explore this?  Any system has problems that can be handled by the system.  However, some problems are contradictions between the system and counter-forces.  As they accumulate, the system has to yield, sooner or later, like the US Empire.  So let us start with the contradictions that brought down the Soviet system (I predicted in 1980 for 1990) and the Japanese system (I predicted in the early 1980s).

The Soviet prognosis I made was based on six contradictions:

* satellites wanting independence: China has no satellites.

* non-Russian cultures wanting autonomy.  China has at least 5: non-Chinese aspects of Taiwan, Hong Kong-Macao, Tibet, Uighur, (“inner”) Mongolia. (Maybe Manchus?  And, is Han-China that homogeneous?)

* between city and countryside: China has creative approaches; poverty alleviation like in a welfare state. Move West!, urbanizing villages.

* between workers and bureaucrats-party: the workers wanted trade unions in the struggles for better working conditions;  In China too.

* for the people high up: between much liquidity, money, and empty shops.  Certainly not a Chinese problem.

* between the myth of a perfect communist society and reality.  China is more sophisticated: process, “permanent revolution”, nothing final.

Cultural autonomy and trade unions, however, should both be possible inside the system.  We are not talking of detaching three enormous provinces, but of cultures, with economies.  One Country, Six Systems.  Linguistic federalism, like in India, Switzerland?

The Japan prognosis used external and internal contradictions:

Japan was so clever in overcoming State-Capital and Capital-Labor contradictions that it outcompeted USA-West in electronics of all kinds, even in some cars, and traditional crafts in Southeast Asia.  The result was  animosity, suspicion, quota systems.  China too.

Maybe China has to give more in return for resources and market access?  Like giving Africa a four-lane highway from Dar es Salaam to Kinshasa, connecting Asia-Africa-Latin America?  Like sharing with others how to lift the bottom of society up, maybe exactly by “capi-communism”?

Internally, Japan forgot women, the young, the lesser educated, local communities. Shooting up they are destroying an old, yet not creating a new Japan.  But the “anti-confucian” cultural revolution in China predated that revolution of women and the young by 2-3 decades.  High education became basic for the Communist Party of China-CPC.  There are NGOs and prefecture-municipality autonomy all over.  And China did not have the Japanese problem of revolts due to the shift from life-long employment to contract-hire-fire.

But how about civil and political human rightsFreedom?  Like Japan and East Asia in general, China put social-economic rights, like food, first; but it has been “opening up” to freedom at great speed.  As visitors for almost 40 years we sense how unspeakable topics have become speakable, and more quickly than when the christian monopoly on thought was yielding in the West.  A 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to someone praising colonialism and US warfare in Viêt Nam, Afghanistan and Iraq was a badly informed expression of Western despair at China’s rise.

How about democracy?  In a culture seeing education, wisdom, as the key to good governance, arithmetical democracy by multi-party national elections is unlikely.  Locally yes; as multi-person rather than multi-party choice yes; as transparency and dialogue inside the party and elsewhere yes; as citizen petitions using the open windows of bureaucracies yes.  That is already a lot.  West, take note; learn.

How to avoid US military encirclement?  Handled with Russia, by the SCO-Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

How about neighbors?  A future (North-)East Asian Community, EAC, preferably with Japan, handles that, making islets EAC property.

Look at shiny, bustling, greening, even aesthetic, Chinese cities today.  The CPC has had a good hand. A Mandate from Heaven, it seems.

Warning: a basic contradiction, capitalism.  The bottom is lifted up–400 million in 14 years–but the top is lifted even more by all kinds of capital flowing upwards, easily fostering inequality with too much liquidity, too much finance capital, too much speculation on the top.  Uncontrolled, this could bring China down.  And at the bottom China lets US corporations exploit cheap Chinese labor, paying 1.3% and 3.5% of the retail price for assembling iPods and Barbie dolls.

Massive popular revolts are rooted in inequality and would remove the Mandate from Heaven because Heaven = People (no need to take note, China knows that).  So, for Heaven’s and People’s sake, control the finance economy before it steers China down the tracks of USA and EU.

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 3 Oct 2011.

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2 Responses to “And Then the Decline and Fall of China?”

  1. satoshi says:

    Prof. Galtung has hit the nail on the head in his editorial above.

    Now, China is getting into the new phase. It is about time for China to produce a Chinese Albert Eistein (science), a Chinese Steve Jobs (technological innovation), a Chinese Pablo Picaso (art) and a Chinese Johan Galtung (peace studies). Can China do it? Still too early? Let China prove its capability.