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COLUMN: Taking a peek at China

"The exponential growth of an educated middle class and the depth of state-owned debt have combined to raise huge political, educational and regional economic challenges."
Murdock Alan-col
Columnist Alan Murdock

China is not a country. It is a civilization. And as such, it will approach Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand as a common form of a competing  societal state. Mexico and Canada will be treated as subordinate colonies of the U.S. This emerging civilization-based approach to international affairs will change global diplomatic, economic and trading relationships.

Let us start with reminding ourselves that nearly one in five of the world’s population (18 per cent) is of an East Asian ethnic group who speak a variety of dialects of a language we call Chinese. These are the Han people who trace their ancestry to a confederation of agricultural tribes living along the Yellow River. They now make up 92 per cent of Mainland China’s population. They also account for 97 per cent of Taiwan and 75 per cent of Singapore citizenry.

Bonded by a common language, Mainland China’s political governance model had been the imperial government form starting about 2900 BC and formally ending in 1912 AD. Much like British monarchies, dynasties were governed by powerful warring families, with the head of the family named as ‘emperor’.  Changing rulers was done by clash of arms. Puyi was the 12th emperor of the Qing Dynasty and the last Chinese emperor. Following a civil war, a Republic form of government replaced this system. But it is clear from the time of Sun Yat-sen, the first prime minister, to the present day that the head of the Chinese government is looked upon as the ‘father of the nation’.    

The other distinctive feature of the Imperial courts of China, as it applied to other Asian societies, was the tribute system where nations trading with China acknowledged through gifts and ambassadorial salutations that the Chinese emperor was the ultimate authority in all diplomatic, military and trade relationships. This arrangement was formally overthrown when China lost the Opium Wars to Great Britain and France in 1860. It is now reappearing diplomatically and economically.  

As European concepts of sovereignty, suzerainty and other diplomatic norms took over the Imperial system, the communist form of government was adopted in the early 20th century. However, China kept the long-standing (fifth century BC) nationally adopted Confucian philosophy of societal and government norms. In this, younger sons are to look after older parents by devoting part of their wealth, assets or goods to them. And so in Mao Zedong’s era, peasants were organized in communes and, as children of China, paid tribute to the Central Communist Party. Citizens exist to support the state. And now dependent trading nations (such as African Belt and Road participants, Eastern Europe, Australia and Canada) are being intimidated to pay economic and diplomatic tribute to the superior and market-dominant China.

Simultaneously within China, migration from interior to coastal regions of China has produced a dramatic change from a predominance of rural agriculturally based peasantry to working class factory and office workers. (See Western civilization industrial revolution). The exponential growth of an educated middle class and the depth of state-owned debt have combined to raise huge political, educational and regional economic challenges.

Combining this with managing the move of the centre of world economy to the Sino-India region will not only increase President Xi Jinping’s power but also his political vulnerability.

We await the opening of the Beijing Trump Tower.

Alan Murdock is a local pediatrician.