Chinese Exceptionalism

Almost daily I read things about China that make me shake my head. Sometimes I find myself doing so in admiration for the Chinese. They have really moved forward quickly on creating a green-tech sector in the country, for instance. But most often I am shaking my head in dismay. Whether it’s the ethnic genocide that the Chinese are pursuing in western China against Buddhists and Muslims, the rampant destruction of the environment and their infuriating obstructionism on taking steps to slow that process, or their attitudes towards animals (anyone see this horrible story about Siberian Tigers in China?), so often I find myself totally opposed to China’s aims and values and skeptical about their motives. 

Today one of the news items out of China is on the fate of the Rio Tinto executives that have been held in China since the summer on charges of espionage. They are reducing the charges in a slow diplomatic climb-down, but the facts seem largely the same. It looks like China, unhappy with the status of negotiations with Rio Tinto and others on global pricing for steel decided to send a message and essentially hold one of the big companies hostage.  

The other thing I’m thinking about today’s is the value of China’s Renminbi and how disagreement over that is potentially building to a climax. It was one thing before the financial crisis for China to artificially keep its currency low to fuel export-driven growth. At that time consumers in the US and Europe were buying up cheap Chinese goods and everyone was winning, even if economists were warning about dangerous and unsustainable balances that resulted. And right after the economic crisis started policy-makers in the west were just trying to save their financial systems, Chinese currency manipulation fell off the agenda. And no one knew how China would be affected by the crisis. A huge Chinese stimulus package has played a big role in keeping China moving at roughly the same 8% annual growth it had predicted prior to the crisis. But China has retreated from slowly letting its current appreciate against the dollar and now economists are saying that this is hurting the global economy, further warping trade balances when the rest of the world can no longer afford it. Forget the US for a moment, many third world countries are hurt by this beggar-thy-neighbor fiscal policy as they can’t compete with warped business margins manipulated by Chinese technocrats.

China’s years of economic growth and America’s woes have led to more and more destructively hostile behavior from China as it tries to throw its weight around. It reacts with petulant anger and robot-like defiance to reasonable requests from the rest of the world to discuss a range of issues. For years people have talked about US exceptionalism, and you can knock the US if you want, but the idea of that exceptionalism was that the US would intervene to try to right wrongs, help the oppressed, and generally steer the world in a postive direction. Chinese exceptionalism is about telling the rest of the world to go to hell and come kowtow to “The Middle Kingdom” when we’re ready. The Chinese belief that they are somehow above the rest of the world and shouldn’t have to held to its rules is nothing new. I hope that like Lord Macartney in the late 18th century, the world will refuse to kowtow to China’s unreasonable ways.

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