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Reflections on a Wandering Life.....
Monday, January 28, 2019
Interesting discussion on the Sinica Podcast about attitudes toward China. Listen to this in the background while you're doing something else. I listened to it twice that way, and I found it to be very informative.
This podcast features a book by Benjamin Shobert called Blaming China. I don't know anything about him. I had never heard of him before I listened to this podcast. But the other two guys have both spent a lot of time in China.
Basically, they juxtapose two attitudes reflecting two kinds of people: the "panda huggers" and the "dragon slayers." For those of you who are not familiar with the terms, they are pretty self-explanatory, I think. The panda huggers tend to see everything China does in a positive light. They make excuses for actions taken that others would be inclined to criticize, and they articulate a defense that puts the best light on the actions of the Chinese government. The dragon slayers, on the other hand, tend to view every action of China with suspicion. They are the pessimists in this game, and they are often holdovers from the Cold War. The person who immediately comes to mind when I think of the dragon slayers is Peter Navarro. In the introduction to his documentary "Death by China," he says "Don't buy 'made in china.'" That seems to me to be a ridiculous statement. The American middle class has lived on China-made products, because it makes their lives more affordable. Can anybody reasonably expect them to buy more expensive products and lower their own standard of living just so they can say that everything they own is made in America?
But I don't want to get sidetracked. Every time I read or listen to something by Navarro, I can't seem to get more than an inch into it without detecting language that is designed to sell books. Navarro is a sensationalist. I have no time for that kind of thing because it doesn't educate me.
But who would I list as a panda hugger? Here comes the problem. Nobody wants to be called a panda hugger. This is interesting to me. All three of these guys in this podcast criticize the dragon slayers, but they don't think of themselves as panda huggers. But can you really have it both ways?
The way I have it both ways is to define it in terms of the issues, rather than just signing on to one category or the other. If you ask me, "Which one are you?" I would not say, "I'm a panda hugger" or "I'm a dragon slayer." I would say, "It depends on the issue.
For example, I am a churchman. I go to church every Sunday in Beijing at a Chinese church. When it comes to Christianity in China, I tend to be a panda hugger. Christians have it pretty good in China. American Christians complain a lot about "persecution" in China, but I personally think Chinese Christians have a lot of freedom. Most Protestant Christians worship in "family" churches that are technically illegal. But they are largely left alone. The Three-Self churches are regulated by the government, but that does not mean that they are totally controlled by the government. The idea some foreigners (even Christian foreigners) have of Christian pastors standing up every Sunday and spouting Communist propaganda is nonsense. I read a report like that one time in the Wall Street Journal. It was nauseating. Basically, Christian pastors in Three-Self churches say what they think they can get by with, and most of the time, it's more than enough to get the job done.
Sure, there are problems. In the summer of 2014, the party boss of Zhejiang Province pulled the crosses off of more than a thousand churches in the city of Wenzhou (a Wenzhou family church pastor told me it was 1400). That was very rude. But it was as noteable for what they did not do as for what they did do. They did not arrest a bunch of pastors. They did not tear down the church buildings (except for the huge, five million dollar mega-church they demolished).
They just took the crosses off the buildings. Not very nice, but the effect was positive. Christians started asking themselves, "Why did God allow this to happen? Were we allowing the symbol of the cross to become more important than the cross itself?" So it had a purifying effect. Christianity in China is much more pure than Christianity in America.
Another area where I tend to be a panda hugger is when it comes to China's determined independence regarding the currency issue. Every four years American politicians talk about China being a "currency manipulator." But such talk is disingenuous. Hong Kong has had their currency pegged to the dollar for many years. Why don't the politicians ever complain about Hong Kong? And Ecuador doesn't even have their own currency. They use the US dollar. How can you have more of a peg than that? Yet, I have never heard a whisper about Ecuador's "currency manipulation" from American politicians. This is one area where I agree with the Wall Street Journal. They have said that countries like China and Hong Kong and Ecuador are merely outsourcing their currency to the US Federal Reserve. Simply true.
But when it comes to Human rights, I tend to be a dragon slayer.
So let's take a look at this. First of all, they all seem to be situated toward the left end of the political spectrum. I know that's true for Jeremy Goldkorn and Kaiser Kuo. And it seems to be true for the other guy too. So they start out talking about Trump as a dragon slayer. That's not true. If he was only hard on China, they would have an argument. But he is not. Trump has shown himself willing to ax America's closest allies if he thinks they are getting the better end of a trade arrangement. Trump is a deal maker. But if you remove trade issues from the equation, Trump is in some ways more pro-China than any president in my memory. He responded very favorably to the idea of Xi Jin-ping being president for life. I can't imagine Obama doing that. Or Clinton or either of the Bushes.
So I disagree with them on that issue. But I was very glad to hear them speak out about the detention of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. As I said before, I have had a "wait and see" attitude about this situation, because it is very hard to get accurate numbers, and I don't like to make cheap conclusions. But the information coming out is more and more concerning. So I was glad to hear them express that concern. Hopefully, that situation will move in a different direction very soon. I am going to be watching it closely.