Notes On The News
by Gwydion M Williams
To me, the surprise was not that Labour chose Ed Miliband, but that they came so close to choosing someone as unsuitable as David Miliband, very much a Blair clone. Ed Miliband has shown more wisdom by sounding as if he’s moving Labour back to its Social-Democratic roots. With the “Liberal Democrats” sounding more and more like 19th century liberals, it’s a good spot to occupy.
It’s also a sign of the times that Ed Miliband is the first ‘unmarried father’ to become a major party leader and plausible future Prime Minister. I think he’s also the first unconverted Jew to get a top spot in Britain. (Disraeli was nominally a convert and could not have entered Parliament otherwise: the law was only changed in the late 1850s.) He probably will get married within a few months, but hopefully just for his own reasons. Most of the electorate have now accepted that living together before marriage is more sensible than the alternatives.
David Miliband quitting was nothing very unexpected. It must be maddening to miss the top job by so little: to have done worse might have been much less painful. Now he’ll probably spend the rest of his life brooding on dozens of little things that might have made the difference. Things he might have done and also people he must figure let him down.
But it was time for New Labour to be wound up, with its heroes writing their biographies. Within New Labour’s ‘body politic’, where you might have expected to find a heart you actually found Peter Mandelson. Hopefully we’ve seen the last of him.
The whole ‘New Labour’ notion was a mistake. Some adjustment was necessary, but Kinnock had already done it and came very close to winning in 1992. And that was despite the Tories throwing out Thatcher in 1990. Interestingly, Kinnock supported Ed Miliband’s successful leadership campaign.
Among the arguments put for breaking the universal nature of Child Benefit was that otherwise, poor people would be subsidising the rich. But Tories will on other occasions argue that it is better for citizens to ‘spend their own money’, which is a contradictory notion. Someone on 44,000 a year (more than 800 a week) would be paying much more in tax than they got in benefit.
When the tax is being reduced, this is ‘citizens getting their own money back’. But when it comes to cutting Universal Benefits to high earners, suddenly those high earners are being subsidised by poorer tax-payers.
Which view you take depends on whether you view income before tax as something basic, or as part of the common pool of wealth. Tories don’t normally view it as a common pool of wealth. But in the attack on Child Benefit – with more attacks on Universal Benefits to come – this suddenly becomes their belief. They put one set of Eternal Truths in their pocket and takes out another.
Myself, I do view society as having a common pool of wealth, but the high earners have been taking an increasingly large share. That is a reason to increase tax, not to retreat from Universal Benefits and return to something like the Victorian Poor Law. The best system would be welfare on the basis of need, tax on the basis of wealth and income.
Of course a majority of the top Tories are millionaires, of course they don’t want more tax on those who can well afford to pay.
The idea of smoothing out the ‘Poverty Trap’ has been around for ages. and has proved difficult to realise. I can see no reason why it needs an attack on Universal Benefit.
On the narrow matter of Child Benefit, why shouldn’t someone on 44,000 with a child be better off than someone on the same income without a child? Remember, life would be rather pointless without a new generation to carry on. There is separate child allowance in income tax: that could be reduced if you really believed that better-off parents could should get less.
People have already mentioned the case of a couple who could be getting 80,000 between them and still get Child Benefit. I see an extra complication, a woman with a child has a loose relationship with a man who’s a high earner. At what point do you take away her child benefit?
But that’s not the main point. In the USA, the working mainstream has seen its incomes remain static since the 1970s. In Britain, the poor have suffered but the working mainstream have so far insisted on a steady rise in their own incomes. Could this be failing? They voted Tory, after all, and haven’t yet turned against Tory policies.
But that may change as the effect of cuts become felt. When it’s abstract, ordinary people think about paying less tax. When it is specific, they feel differently.
Tory policies are “Forward To The Past”, they resent the changes that happened after World War Two. Resent the reforms that probably won the Cold War from the West, and were enthusiasts for the hard-line pro-market attitudes that lost them Russia. Back in power, they seem to have learned nothing and forgotten nothing.
On this issue, it will be worth fighting as hard as possible, even if the measure goes through.
The USA’s ‘tea party’ misses the essence of what the original American Revolution was about. The demand was no taxation without representation. The newly independent USA had much the same level of taxation as Britain and built a very similar state, allowing for the federalism necessary for thirteen separate colonies which each had their own traditions. There as never been that big a gap, except that the USA’s fantasies of ‘rugged individualism’ allows the poor to be treated much worse than in other developed economies.
It was the USA with its New Deal that pioneered the Mixed Economy, the system that let the West win the Cold War. Since Reagan, the USA in particular has been treating the Mixed Economy as some secret vice, a sad deviation from the purities of capitalism. Except it has been ‘Kept Capitalism’, big corporations getting a lot of money from the state. Speculators who create gigantic bubbles in the financial system, depart with tens of millions and then dump the cost on the state, which has to cut services to pay the bill.
After a prolonged crisis in California, it has been demonstrated that it is “a Land Fit for Terminators”. California is inherently rich, but has let Libertarian notions damage and degrade it. California had a 19 billion dollar deficit, but an economy of maybe 1,850 billion. There would be no problem, except that ordinary people have been sold the notion of tax as a horrible burden. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger seems to have won the latest confrontation, a deal that will cut spending rather than raise taxes for the rich.
A market economy tends to benefit the rich. Taxes balance the inequality. Since Reagan got elected, inequalities have got worse. The rich are able to evade a lot of tax: the system has been designed so that this is not so difficult if you have a lot of money. Of course the tax codes are written by politicians dependent on Campaign Contributions, unlimited spending which does tend to win elections. The rich pay the most and they get their money’s worth.
Note that all of this is worse than what’s happened in Britain. Britain has limits on electoral expenses. Britons are much less likely to fantasise that they are rugged individualists who would be better off without the state. In Britain the rich have got a larger share than they got in the 1970s, but the working mainstream has continued to enjoy a rising standard of living. Until the crisis of 2008, a lot of people were also able to use their houses as ‘cash machines’, with rising debt balanced by rising values.
In the USA, the rich have got almost all of the benefit of economic growth since the 1980s, there has been no trickle-down and there has also been no improvement in economic growth, which is lower than in the era of unashamed tax-and-spend. But ordinary US citizens fail to realise it and go along with a system that has kept their standard of living static since the 1970s and which is shipping a lot of US manufacturing overseas.
A lot of the wealth and privilege is inherited, not earned. Sensible death duties were jeered at as a ‘Death Tax’. This taints a normal long-standing process called Probate. When someone dies, all of their assets need to be sorted out, any debts repaid. Tax is then paid by heirs, if applicable. It applies strictly to the living.
The USA has for some time been dominated by what could be called Billionaire Populism. It flourishes because the USA’s basic world-outlook is wrong. The Liberal-Left sneer at it but cannot give coherent reasons why it was wrong.
Billionaire Populism feeds off a traditional hostility to the state. The Liberal-Left has a mild case of the same. They might say “I moderately denounce the state as tyranny and tax as oppression, after which I carry on as if nothing had happened.” Of course this is unconvincing. The need is to assert the role of the state in equalising a society where money tends to go to those who are already well off.
It won’t happen in the USA. But the USA is also losing status all over the world. Given the tremendous opportunity offered by the Soviet collapse of 1989-91, the NeoCons have failed to achieve anything whatsoever, apart from getting a vice-like grip on US policy-making. They lost Russia. China wobbled briefly but is now firmly committed to its own system of Mixed Economy – much more collectivist even today than anything that ever existed in Western Europe. Brazil seems still committed to moderate leftism. And their efforts to remould Iraq and Afghanistan seem doomed.
The core of banking is wealth collection, not wealth creation. When kept under control, banks do provide services to actual productive work, but not always. You do need a safe place to put your money, if you are to have money at all. But the lesson of the crisis that began in 2008 should be ‘beware of bankers bearing gifts’.
In a money economy, some people save and others borrow. Borrowing for consumption is generally a bad idea: there should be welfare for anyone in genuine need. But borrowing for productive enterprises is all to the good. Saving is a good idea. Banks have a legitimate role and a legitimate profit controlling that process.
Beyond that it is all really gambling. People look for a superior interest rate, not thinking very much about where the extra comes from. ‘Smart Money’ can only make a profit at the expense of ‘Silly Money’, people who get less from their fancy investments than from safe savings and who may sometimes lose everything. Overall it is an amazingly wasteful process, and the flourishing of deregulated finance has gone hand in hand with a slowing-down in overall economic growth. It is a system that has mostly rewarded speculators, while punishing both workers and those who save.
George Orwell in the 1940s said that land-owners were ‘about as useful as so many tapeworms’: this is also true of all of the ‘fancy finance’ that has flourished since the 1980s.
The Belgians were much the worst of Europe’s imperialists. The ‘Congo Free State’ in the 19th century shocked other white colonialists by brutal exploitation. But in World War One, Belgium took over a chunk of German East Africa and called it “Ruanda-Urundi”. The existing inequality between the minority Tutsi and majority Hutu was strengthened under Belgian rule. The territory remained officially a mandate of first the League of Nations and then the United Nations, but that made little difference.
When Ruanda-Urundi became the independent states of Rwanda and Burundi, there was immediate ethnic conflict, with both sides engaging in massacres. Tutsis won in Burundi and Hutu won in Rwanda, with massacres of Hutu in Burundi and Tutsi in Rwanda. A lot of Tutsis from Rwanda fled to Uganda, where they became a major military force in Uganda’s own complex ethnic conflicts. Meantime the Congo was destabilised by Belgium and the USA, with the moderate leftist Lumumba overthrown and murdered and power eventually stabilised under the right-wing dictatorship of President Mobutu, who re-named it Zaire. Uganda meanwhile suffered a series of civil wars, with the Tutsi exiles emerging on the winning side.
In 1990, the Tutsi exiles decided to conquer Rwanda, a tiny country with a small army. At first, this was correctly seen as an invasion by a minority:
“The tiny central African state of Rwanda has asked its former colonial ruler, Belgium, for military assistance to help quell an invasion by rebels trying to overthrow President Juvenal Habyarimana.
“The rebels, estimated to number around 1,500, crossed into north-eastern Rwanda from neighbouring Uganda on Sunday. Yesterday they were within 45 miles of the capital, Kigali, the Belgian foreign ministry said…
“Belgium has not yet replied to the appeal for help, and unconfirmed reports from Kigali said a similar request had been made to France.
“The rebels, most of whom are Rwandan refugees who had been serving in the Ugandan army, are being led by Major-General Fred Rwigyema, a former deputy commander of Uganda’s National Resistance Army (NRA), and a deputy defence minister until last December. Gen Rwigyema is a member of Rwanda ‘s minority Tutsi tribe, which was ousted from power by the majority Hutu in 1959…
“In the Ugandan capital, Kampala, a spokesman for the Rwandan Patriotic Front stressed that although his organisation contained many Tutsi refugees, the rebels were not invading Rwanda primarily on their behalf. The first objective was to overthrow the ‘corrupt’ government of President Habyarimana.
“Rwanda , Africa’s most densely-populated country, has consistently said it cannot allow the return of large numbers of refugees, as the country would be unable to cope with such an influx.” [A]
Rwigyema didn’t last long, being murdered by some of his associates, who were duly punished. He was replaced by Paul Kagame, current President, a man who keeps on benefiting from mysterious deaths that appear to have nothing to do with him. The BBC describes it as follows:
“Mr Kagame’s first allegiance was to Rwanda. Together with Fred Rwigyema, a longstanding friend, Kagame was instrumental in establishing the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), drawing heavily on Rwandan soldiers who had fought alongside him in the NRA.
“When the RPF first invaded Rwanda from Uganda in October 1990, Paul Kagame was in the United States on a military training programme.
“After Fred Rwigyema’s death on the second day of the war, Mr Kagame became military commander of the RPF.
“On taking power in July 1994, Mr Kagame took on the vice-presidency of Rwanda and the defence portfolio, leaving the presidency to Pasteur Bizimungu, a Hutu who had joined the RPF in Uganda after breaking with the regime of Juvenal Habyarimana” [B]
Innocent or guilty, Kagame has never been more than a pawn in the game. My belief is that Rwanda was never more than a ‘starter’ for his backers. I’d assume that the target was all along Zaire / Congo, an enormously richer prize. In Rwanda, Kagame was assumed to be the ‘power behind the throne’ and a leading spirit in the invasion of Zaire / Congo. He took over openly in 2000, with much praise and support from the Anglosphere.
Back in 1990, the invasion of Rwanda had bogged down. In 1992, the position was described as follows:
“An ongoing war in Rwanda that claimed thousands of civilian lives overshadowed human rights developments in 1991. Thousands of alleged rebel sympathizers primarily belonging to the minority Tutsi ethnic group were arbitrarily detained under harsh conditions, and twenty were convicted in trials that did not meet international standards. Throughout 1991, military and local authorities used the war as a pretext to beat, terrorize and kill Tutsi and other perceived civilian opponents.
“Despite a March 29, 1991 cease-fire agreement and several regional summits with the presidents of neighboring Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and Zaire to resolve the conflict, the war continued in northern Rwanda. Each side has accused the other of killing civilians and violating the cease-fire agreement. During the year, the government announced a process of democratization, although it did not show itself to be entirely committed to the process, especially in its attacks against the press.
“The war began in October 1990 when several thousand members of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) invaded northern Rwanda from southern Uganda. The RPF presents itself as a national organization, claiming that its membership, almost exclusively from the Tutsi ethnic group, is a result of historical circumstance. Tutsi, who now comprise roughly fourteen percent of the Rwandan population, ruled Rwanda as a monarchy until 1959 when power was seized by members of the Hutu ethnic group, who now comprise roughly eighty-five percent of the Rwandan population.” [C]
This uneasy balance lasted until 1994, and seemed to be resolving in a compromise that would have been dominated by the majority Hutu in both Rwanda and Burundi, but with Tutsi sharing power. In such an outcome, Kagame would have remained marginal and an invasion of Zaire/Congo would have been unlikely. But then things fell apart after a spectacular double assassination:
“The presidents of the African states of Rwanda and Burundi have been killed in a plane crash near the Rwandan capital, Kigali.
“Juvenal Habyarimana of Rwanda and Burundi’s Cyprian Ntayamira were among 10 people on the aircraft which some reports say was brought down by rocket fire.
“The two presidents were returning from a meeting of east and central African leaders in Tanzania at which they discussed ways to end the ethnic violence in Burundi and Rwanda.
“Bloody feuding between the majority Hutu tribe and the minority Tutsis has plagued both tiny central African states for centuries.
“It has been particularly bad in Burundi where up to 100,000 people have been killed since the assassination of the country’s first democratically-elected president – a Hutu – last October.
“In Rwanda, President Habyarimana’s Hutu coalition reached a peace accord last August with Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) rebels, made up mainly of Tutsis, but they have failed to agree on a transitional government.
“The deaths of the presidents, both Hutus, looks likely to make the situation in both states worse.
“Heavy fighting has already been reported around the presidential palace in Rwanda after news of the deaths spread.” [D]
The killing of the two Presidents was the trigger for the mass killing of Rwandan Tutsi by Hutu. This was a brutal and stupid reaction, because it provided a justification for the renewed invasion by the Rwandan Patriotic Front, Kagama’s army, the army of the Tutsi exiles. It was also the sort of thing that happens all over the world when there are prolonged ethnic tensions, and in this case it was the initial invasion of Tutsis from Uganda that created the tension. The assassination of the two Hutu leaders then provided the spark, a drastic provocation that was almost certain to lead to major violence.
Like the Serbs, the Rwandan Hutu played into the hands of their enemies. But outside powers were content to let the ethnic conflict run, in both cases. A massive UN intervention would have been possible but did not happen. The USA after 1991 could have established the UN as a genuine international force, but preferred to keep it weak. They preferred a ‘New World Disorder’ in which the USA could do as it pleased and be bound by no rules.
The assassinations of the two Hutu peace-makers has of course been blamed on Hutu extremists, but it would have been pretty damn stupid of them to kill the champions of their own side. It would have made much more sense for it to be done by someone in the Rwandan Patriotic Front, or by some outside power that reckoned they could benefit from a renewal of the war. And it is remarkable how world public opinion was quickly persuaded that the crimes were all Hutu and that conquest of the country by an armed minority should be applauded. That must have been a high-level decision, someone who wanted power to pass to Kagame. Kagame has been supportive of Anglosphere aims and has switched Rwanda from French-speaking to English-speaking, even managing to join the Commonwealth.
The conquest of Rwanda was followed by an incursion into what was then Zaire, now once again called the Congo but still violently unstable. Mobutu had been dictator from 1965 to 1997, for a long time supported by the United States, who had helped him replace the democratically elected government of Patrick Lumumba, a moderate leftist who was unwise enough to invite in the United Nations in the belief that it would be a neutral peace-keeping force. The United Nations proved in practice to be a tool of the United States, a degraded status that has continued to this day.
By the 1990s, the USA felt confident that it could knock down its own dictator allies. It was highly successful in Indonesia and also in Romania. Created chaos in both Iraq and Zaire/Congo. Kagame’s forces were part of it and have now been officially criticised by the United Nations:
“The report by the UN human rights commission calls for a judicial investigation of possible war crimes after cataloguing years of murders, rapes and looting by various armed forces during a decade of conflict in Congo from 1993.
“But the most serious accusations centre on the Rwandan army’s pursuit of Hutu militia and refugees following the genocide of Tutsis in 1994. The report says the wholesale killing of tens of thousands of Hutus without regard to their age or gender could amount to genocide…
“The country is particularly angered by the accusations because it is headed by the leaders of forces that brought an end to the genocide of the country’s Tutsis in 1994.
“But the government of Congo is expected to press for the creation of an international tribunal to investigate war crimes and try those responsible.
“Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame, attempted to get the genocide charge withdrawn by issuing a threat – later withdrawn – to pull his country out of UN peacekeeping assignments, including the mission it leads in Darfur. But after the report was leaked in August it became politically difficult to significantly alter it without being seen to bow to pressure from Rwanda. Although some of the wording has been modified, the thrust of the accusations remains the same.” [E]
If you see Kagame’s career correctly – the dramatic rise of a man who has a history of making bad situations worse – then there is nothing odd about the accusations. And obviously Kagame could not have done it without backers, logically the USA with some British help.
[As of May 2015, Paul Kagame is still running Rwanda.[
“The United States government has apologised for deliberately infecting hundreds of people in Guatemala with gonorrhoea and syphilis as part of medical tests more than 60 years ago.
“Many of the infected were mentally ill patients and prisoners – none of whom gave their consent.
“Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has condemned the research as unethical and reprehensible.
“At the time, the US wanted to test vaccines against venereal diseases.
“Syphilis can cause heart problems, blindness, mental illness and even death, and although the patients were treated it is not known how many recovered.
“Evidence of the programme was unearthed by Prof Susan Reverby at Wellesley College. She says the Guatemalan government gave permission for the tests.
“No offer of compensation has yet been made, but an investigation will be launched into the specifics of the study, which took place between 1946 and 1948.” [F]
It’s not an isolated incident. Imperial Japan ran germ warfare experiments at a centre called Unit 731, breaking all civilised norms. The USA secretly granted them immunity in return for their research. Other smaller cases have come to light, and who knows what they did manage to hush up completely?
“A federal appeals court on Wednesday ruled that former prisoners of the C.I.A. could not sue over their alleged torture in overseas prisons because such a lawsuit might expose secret government information.
“The sharply divided ruling was a major victory for the Obama administration’s efforts to advance a sweeping view of executive secrecy powers. It strengthens the White House’s hand as it has pushed an array of assertive counterterrorism policies, while raising an opportunity for the Supreme Court to rule for the first time in decades on the scope of the president’s power to restrict litigation that could reveal state secrets.
“By a 6-to-5 vote, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit dismissed a lawsuit against Jeppesen Dataplan Inc., a Boeing subsidiary accused of arranging flights for the Central Intelligence Agency to transfer prisoners to other countries for imprisonment and interrogation. The American Civil Liberties Union filed the case on behalf of five former prisoners who say they were tortured in captivity — and that Jeppesen was complicit in that alleged abuse…
“The lead plaintiff is Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian citizen and legal resident of Britain who was arrested in Pakistan in 2002. He claimed he was turned over to the C.I.A., which flew him to Morocco and handed him off to its security service.
“Moroccan interrogators, he said, held him for 18 months and subjected him to an array of tortures, including cutting his penis with a scalpel and then pouring a hot, stinging liquid on the open wounds.” [G]
The US legal system is entirely comfortable with all this, as is the Obama administration. The excuse of security is pretty weak. It’s hard to believe a court-case could reveal anything significant, except to give solid proof of involvement in torture and allow legal penalties to be applied.
Such judgements are absolutely normal for Anglo law. Senior judges know that they depend on the State Machine and make sure it stays strong. Ordinary criminals can go free on technicalities, but when state power is at risk, there is no limit to how far the law can be bent.
There is also no reason at all why the draconian legislation introduced after 911 should be confined to Islamists. Similar things happened in Latin America during the Cold War, including numerous coups against moderate left-wing governments. It is only the broad failure in Iraq and Afghanistan that looks likely to end it.
“As a youth in the 1950s, the film director Volker Schlondorff tried to hide his German origins by learning to speak unaccented French. This summer, his daughter painted German flags on her cheeks and joined crowds of thousands on the Kurfürstendamm, a historic avenue, waving their black, red and gold banners to celebrate the country’s World Cup victories.
“Elena Schlondorff confessed that she never watched her father’s Academy Award-winning adaptation of ‘The Tin Drum,’ Günter Grass’s World War II epic, until a new director’s cut was released earlier this year. She had little interest in the Nazi era. ‘I don’t really feel touched by it,’ said Ms. Schlöndorff, 18, with a teenage shrug. ‘In our generation, we’ve gotten past it.’
“Twenty years after reunification, Germany has come to terms with itself in a way that the postwar generation proclaimed would never be possible and Ms. Schlondorff’s post-Berlin Wall generation finds completely natural.
“The shift is evident on the airwaves, where German songs are staging a comeback against the dominance of American pop, and in best sellers about Goethe and Schiller or in discovering Germany by foot, by car and by train from the Bavarian Alps to the old Hanseatic ports on the Baltic Sea.
“In Parliament, politicians have debated ending conscription, threatening the post-Nazi ideal of an army of ordinary citizens, as German soldiers fight in Afghanistan. Despite fears of rising income inequality, Germany’s economic engine is humming and unemployment has fallen significantly in the former East Germany.
“And Chancellor Angela Merkel has led a bloc of countries fending off President Obama’s calls for stimulus spending to combat the economic crisis, certain that the world should follow Germany’s example of austerity.
“German pride did not die after the country’s defeat in World War II. Instead, like Sleeping Beauty in the Brothers Grimm version of the folk tale, it only fell into a deep slumber. The country has now awakened, ready to celebrate its economic ingenuity, its cultural treasures and the unsullied stretches of its history…
“In ways large and small Germany is flexing its muscles and reasserting a long-repressed national pride. Dozens of recent interviews across the country, with workers and businessmen, politicians and homemakers, artists and intellectuals, found a country more at ease with itself and its symbols, like its flag and its national anthem — a people still aware of their country’s history, but less willing to let it dictate their actions…
“The railway company Deutsche Bahn promised earlier this year to change its signs after a former school principal complained to his local member of Parliament about the use of English-language terms like ‘hot line,’ ‘service point’ and ‘kiss and ride.’ Between 2000 and 2009, the share of German-produced acts in the Top 100 album charts rose to 36.7 percent from 19.5 percent.” [H]
The Anglosphere did itself incalculable damage with its bungling in Iraq and Afghanistan, followed by the financial bubble. Which has not been fixed yet and seems unlikely to be fixed.
There’s a lot more that could be said. Imperial Germany wanted to call of the Great War in 1915, was ready to settle for a draw. Britain chose to continue it in the hope the other side would collapse first. Having finally won with US help, an unfair treaty was imposed on Germany. The Weimar Republic was bullied and burdened with huge reparations for a war that had begun with Tsarist Russia protecting Serbia from the consequences of a Serb assassinating the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire in Bosnia, at that time ruled by Austria and peaceful. When Hitler replaced Weimar, Britain and the USA let him break all the rules, perhaps hoping he would attack Soviet Russia for them. A boycott of the 1936 Berlin Olympics might have had a dramatic effect: the games had been awarded before Hitler came to power and by 1936 he had already become an open dictator and deprived German Jews of citizenship. Nothing was done, and many in Britain and the USA remained fond of Hitler right up until the time he declared war on them. So if modern Germans don’t feel guilty, they are pretty much correct.
“This moment was inevitable. Ever since China began to shuck off communism and turn itself into a global economic power, its leaders have followed the strategy of a ‘peaceful rise’ — be modest, act prudently, don’t frighten the neighbors and certainly don’t galvanize any coalition against us. But in recent years, with the U.S. economic model having suffered an embarrassing self-inflicted shock, and the ‘Beijing Consensus’ humming along, voices have emerged in China saying ‘the future belongs to us’ and maybe we should let the world, or at least the ’hood, know that a little more affirmatively. For now, those voices come largely from retired generals and edgy bloggers — and the Chinese leadership has remained cautious. But a diplomatic spat this past summer has China’s neighbors, not to mention Washington, wondering for how long China will keep up the gentle giant act. With an estimated 70 million bloggers, China’s leaders are under constant pressure now to be more assertive by a populist- and nationalist-leaning blogosphere, which, in the absence of democratic elections, is becoming the de facto voice of the people…
“How much China’s leaders will be able to cool it, though, will depend, in part, on a third party: the Chinese blogosphere, where a whole generation of Chinese schooled by the government on the notion that the U.S. and the West want to keep China down, now have their own megaphones to denounce any Chinese official who compromises too much as ‘pro-American’ or ‘a traitor.’ …
“‘China for the first time has a public sphere to discuss everything affecting Chinese citizens,’ explained Hu Yong, a blogosphere expert at Peking University. ‘Under traditional media, only elite people had a voice, but the Internet changed that.’ He added, ‘We now have a transnational media. It is the whole society talking, so people from various regions of China can discuss now when something happens in a remote village — and the news spreads everywhere.’ But this Internet world ‘is more populist and nationalistic,’ he continued. ‘Many years of education that our enemies are trying to keep us down has produced a whole generation of young people whose thinking is like this, and they now have a whole Internet to express it.'” [J]
Actually China’s rise as a global economic power began under Mao, who tripled the economy in his quarter-century of rule, as well as hammering the USA in Korea and giving China nuclear weapons and satellites, along with a host of other technology. Mao also made peace with the USA – if only Nixon could go to China, only Mao could have received him and declared that cooperation was now OK. The much bigger opening-up by Deng was based on admiration for the East Asian model of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore, protectionist economies where the state had a big role. China introduced elements of capitalism, but remains one of the most state-dominated economies in the world.
As for the internet, do people remember what the West was saying in the 1990s? The confidence some people had that the internet would open up China to their world view? The West played it foolishly, with the USA not really apologising for bombing Chinas’ embassy in Yugoslavia. Also the general policy of using the Dalai Lama against China, apparently not realising that almost all Chinese intend to keep Tibet as part of their ‘family of nations’, just as the Republic of India hangs on to Kashmir and Sri Lanka would not let the Tamil north have independence.
Even before all that, I was quite sure that the internet would be easy to control, much easier than telephones or the printed word. Everything you do on your computer gets recorded, and someone who knows about them can get the data. It also makes it easy to spot who is connected to who, so a whole network of dissidents could be ‘rolled up’ without the need to plant a traitor or make anyone talk. It may be many years before we know the full truth, but I suspect that the Chinese authorities have ‘cultivated’ their internet community, allowing moderate opposition to flourish while rooting out anything dangerous. Any Chinese dissident foolish enough to have listed to Western libertarian advice must have suffered a sad fate.
[It seems more likely now that they’d have been recruited to serve the Chinese Security Services. I myself had been warning about internet illusions from quite early on.]