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Ah, finally, we get it now. The Trump doctrine. Separate China from Russia circa 1972, except this time build bridges with Moscow, call Beijing’s bluff on Taiwan, sit back and wait for China to implode. That beautiful American word, cockamamie, barely does justice to such visionary, strategic thinking. A few small points to consider…The relationship between Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin is a great deal closer than that between Leonid Brezhnev and Mao Zedong.
There may come a time when Moscow wakes up to Chinese expansion in its own backyard of central Asia with the Belt and Road Initiative but that is some way in the distance. Right now, both countries are enjoying a convenient infatuation with each other.
Taiwan? It is difficult to call a bluff when there is no bluff. There is nothing to suggest that China sees Taiwan as anything other than an integral part of its territory. No art of the deal approach will change that fundamental viewpoint.
The China implode theory? Ah, yes, we have heard this before. The theory goes that with rampant corruption and ever increasing debt, the Chinese economy will slow down to such an extent that outbreaks of social unrest will occur which will spread like wildfire and hey presto, a new China.
First of all, China does have a debt problem, not to overseas creditors but to itself. It is trying to tackle it, has some way to go to get it under control, but it is not, at least not yet, a major issue heralding imminent collapse. From China’s point of view it is the UK and the EU that seem far more likely to collapse than the People’s Republic.
For the first time in 300 years, a generation of Chinese have passed on increasing wealth to another generation who in turn hope to do the same. For all the problems China faces, there is a tangible sense here that life will get better. It may not be as fast as they want, nor as widespread, but change is in the air. Thirty years ago, they wanted bicycles, now they want cars (preferably German ones). I know Chinese people who as children never thought they would ever ride in a vehicle, not even a bus. Yes, the Chinese would like more democracy but they crave greater justice, healthcare and education and an end to corruption. The Communist Party has no divine right to rule, as atheists they could not believe in a divine right anyway, and they realize it. When Xi came to office he instructed the leading party members to read Alexis de Tocqueville’s The Old regime and the Revolution, a book that examines French society before the events of 1789.
Nothing is sacred under heaven, the Chinese more than any other people realize that.
There are rust belts in China too. Hundreds of thousands of workers in steel mills and smoke-stack industries have been made redundant this year in Hebei province, next to Beijing, where the rusting hulks of factories dot the landscape. There is still a huge imbalance between the prosperous coastal areas and the inland ones. More than 7 million graduates will emerge next year from Chinese colleges. Even with a growing economy, finding these graduates jobs is not easy. The country is building the equivalent of a university every week as it tries to create an educated workforce to boost the transformation of the economy from low-skilled production-based to high-skilled services.
Foreign firms still face huge obstacles in China which is not as welcoming to foreign investment as it once was and debt-heavy state-owned companies are still shielded from rivals. Still, foreign direct investment in 2016 up to October grew 4.2 percent ($96.8 billion) compared to 2015. Negotiations over an investment treaty between the US and China, which began in 2008, have yet to be finalized after more than 24 sittings but an agreement does seem possible.
There may be much that has to be improved in the China-US relationship, but it is one worth nurturing.
It may be that we are on the verge of a different era, one more fraught and tense. But there is one beautiful American word to describe the US turning its back on China at this juncture.