European Commission chairman José Manuel Barroso and Competition commissioner Peter Mandelson this week returned from their latest diplomatic mission to China — and the news they’re bringing back with them is decidedly not good. Because like so many of them, they too seem to have succumbed to the power of the pushers of that epitomy of Economic Drugs: uncut, pure, dirt-cheap labour. And lots of it.
The Chinese government has rebuked the Commission on basically all counts: it won’t revalue the Yuan currency and will not actively bring an end to what is essentially dumping of manufactured goods like steel and textiles on world markets.
Barroso and Mandelson therefore fell into the same trap as the Americans have for approximately 10 years: they thought they could reason with the Chinese government. Let’s hope the visit was a wake-up call to the Europeans, and that we stop our addiction not just to oil, but also our addiction to China.
China was always a country of Orwellian proportions. Names of institutions and organizations throughout the centuries are a good example of this.
The name ‘Communist Party of China’, for instance, is in itself a feast of contradictions; it is neither communist nor a party, nor of China. In fact, it is a select group of ultra-capitalist powerbrokers that has only one goal: to individually become more wealthy and, more ominously, make China the economically most powerful nation on earth by basically prying on its own people.
Several thousand years ago, the Chinese basically ruled over Asia and beyond, and after centuries of wandering in the wilderness the ultra-capitalists in Beijing know they now have the chance to regain that most powerful status.
China will achieve it by strengthening and expanding its own domestic economy while at the same time trying to weaken the economies of its biggest foes. And even if that weakening is not a goal, it is part and parcel of China’s chosen direction.
It is moving into Africa and South America, where Chinese government-led businesses are splashing money in search of the vast quantity of raw materials it needs to grow its economy. Questions about human rights abuses by local dictators and governments are not asked, as the Chinese know that these moral grounds prevent their rivals — Americans and Europeans — from doing business with some countries, most notably in Africa. Chinese have no such scruples.
It will further expand and strengthen the ultra-capitalist economy throwing in a lesson or two from the communist past. One such lesson is the use of (cheap) labour. And the rulers in Beijing have learned the lesson well. There are no unions – not necessary in a ‘communist state’, after all – that could ‘undermine’ the state by informing the people that if they rise up en masse, they can demand better pay and working conditions. Instead there are Western-operated factories where people work as much as 16 hours a day only for a few small meals and clothing once in a while.
The motivation of the Chinese leaders is simple. Although China as we know it today did not exist for a long time due to civil wars, mostly waged by warlords of which some were in the pay of foreign powers in one way or the other, the flame of Chinese nationalism was always kept alive. For several centuries, the Chinese were in effect divided while ruled or played apart by Western or Japanase colonial powers. Then, with chairman Mao, the Chinese shot themselves in the foot as he personally kept a lid on economic progress.
Deng Xiaoping was the first to lead China onto the path of economic reforms as he witnessed the rise of Japan, Taiwan and other ‘Asian Tigers’ in the 1980s. And despite joining the chorus of the party hardliners in denouncing the “reactionary” leadership of reformist Michail Gorbachev, Xiaoping was curious about whether Gorbachev would be succesful or not.
Gorbachev’s recipe for reform of the USSR consisted of two main ingredients: ‘glasnost’, which stands for ‘openness’ and promoted a more free and thus critical press, while ‘perestroika’ — meaning ‘restructuring’ in Russian — signified economic reforms, in some cases liberalising parts of the Soviet planned economy.
What the Chinese learned was that Gorbachev and his reformists had their priorities wrong. Because yes, Russia was in the end economically reformed and did start reaping the benefits, but at the same time the Russian Communist Party was thrown out of power, and worse: Russia was almost 10 years in complete chaos. The erstwhile world leader was ignored on several occasions while Western companies behaved almost like colonisers. Or so it seemed, at least, to the Chinese.
The Chinese knew that Gorbachev (at least initially) wanted to reform the Soviet Union, not destroy it. He wanted to strengthen it, bring it on par with the economic prowess of the United States, at least. But it failed miserably and the Chinese learned from it. So much, even, that when Chinese students in 1989 were ‘infected’ with the ‘change virus’ injected by Gorbachev’s reforms over in the USSR, the Chinese government cracked down on them while they were protesting in Tiananmen Square.
From that moment on, and even though the Chinese thugs in power realised that reforms were necessary if China was to become the world power of old, political freedoms were out of the question. In its place, and to soothe any residual feelings for democracy and freedom, the leadership would feed the people nationalism and pride. “Perestroika yes, Glasnost no thank you,” in other words.
The junta in Beijing wisened up on how to sell its new yet fake nationalism to the Chinese people. Taking a few pages straight out of George Orwell’s “1984”, they’ve suddenly revived heroic stories about past military leaders, such as admiral Zeng He, whose face is now suddenly seen on posters throughout the country, staring at passers-by with a stern, watchful look.
And they bribed several African governments into voting in favour of China during the meeting of the World Olympic Committee that gave China the Olympic Games for 2008. Suddenly, ensuring the success of the Olympic Games is a “duty” for all Chinese.
To the outside world, China takes, but gives nothing in return as it continues its drive to prove to the bad white colonial man that it is the World Leader of the Future, surpassing the United States and Europe. It increasingly strengthens its already firm grip on its current, regional leadership position as it ensures that many of its own people remain slaves and do not progress up the food chain of the classes, thus keeping wages low and thereby the prices of manufactured goods, which are too low for foreign companies to ignore.
When the Chinese want to buy a US oil company and the US Congress concocts a way to prevent it, the Chinese point fingers and go on a vociferous attack, vilifying the US for only talking about the free trade rules of the World Trade Organisation, but not walking the talk.
But China need not do anything whenever the US attacks the Chinese government for not opening its own markets to Western-made products. China, for instance, still refuses to allow full foreign ownership of companies in most sectors. It does this, of course, because it knows that Western companies have the money to buy up Chinese companies, which would then see money made in China flow back to coffers overseas.
Nonetheless, the Chinese need not raise a finger, because they know that any Western politician will be chastised by Big Business through lobbying agencies in the capital cities.
Silent men in black suits whisper into the ears of US Senators and Congressmen that going against China is not in their interests – unless they want to forego much needed campaign donations from the Blue Chip Companies that are getting their products manufactured at low prices in China itself, where government officials have the power to shut down any factory it wants.
In Portugal this week, Dutch prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende has somehow found back his courage to rail against corruption and the utter lack of human rights in countries like Zimbabwe. He will hold several speeches castigating Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe
He clearly forgot to bring that courage with him when he visited China about a year ago, even though many non-governmental organizations gave him plenty arguments to put in his speeches. But the watchful eyes and ears of the 50-strong delegation of Dutch businesses and lobbying organizations probably caused a temporary amnesia.
Just as no one is allowed to publicly rail against the Chinese government, because that means that the Chinese lose face, the Chinese government is allowed to castigate the US and the German government for inviting Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who still publicly opposes China’s occupation of his country.
When German chancellor Angela Merkel publicly welcomed the Dalai Lama to her offices, the Chinese government was furious and gathered all the arrogance it could muster. It released a statement saying arrogantly that “Germany had made a mistake”. Was that a veiled threat? Very likely so.
China. It is growing and will at some time achieve the status it covets, that of a true superpower, both economically and militarily. Until it reaches that status, it will behave more arrogant and egotistical than any US administration in history. It will not just ask for that status, it will demand it.
Some say that the world is “addicted to oil” and they’re right. But right now we are also quickly becoming addicted to cheap Chinese labour, because the Chinese know very well that as costs of living rise in the West due to the ageing of the population, cheap labour is in demand to keep prices low for products in the shops.
Then, when Big Business has brought most of its money and assets to a China that has the population numbers of Europe, Russia and the US rolled into one, the Chinese sovereign wealth funds will strike, as they have already begun doing, and buy those very same Big Western Businesses with the money those businesses so gladly handed over to the pimps in Beijing.
Because pimps they are. Like the real pimps in Amsterdam’s Red Light District, the pimps in Beijing dress up their poor, weak and uneducated meek, and stand them up behind windows in dark alleys, and are to lure all-too-willing passers-by into their workplace. If their prostitutes rise up in protest, the pimps beat them. When the Chinese rise up in protest, they too get beaten.
So let’s start treating the rank and file of the Chinese leadership like the polluting, childish, “I can insult you but you can’t insult me” power-mongering egoists they are. Time to shed the addiction. Want cheap production done? Take a look at South America, or look to Africa.
Preferably before the Chinese do, by the way.
Communicatiestrateeg en schrijver van het boek ‘Megafoonpolitiek‘. Op Twitter te vinden als @kajleers. Politiek bewust, voormalig financieel-economisch journalist, muziekmaker, professionele kletskous, schrijver. Geeft ook social media-trainingen, denkt graag met je mee over communicatiestrategie. En ja, content is en blijft King.