Saturday 30 March 2013

Modern China’s hidden Achilles heel (PO)

M D Nalapat

Friday, March 29, 2013 - If in the 1960s it was the fashion to predict the imminent collapse of India, with even the brilliant writer Sir Vidya Naipaul succumbing to the Churchillian influence of those who regarded the people of India as incapable of unity. Since the 1997 handover of Hong Kong from London to Beijing, several books and articles have talked of the “coming collapse of China”. Indeed, that was the title of a book by Gordon Chang, a formidable intellect. Most such doomsayers regarded the authoritarian rule of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as being incompatible with continued rapid growth and social stability, whereas in fact the Chinese economic model depends on strong government to ensure rapid growth.

Had the CCP loosened its grip over policy, growth would have slowed down rather than accelerated. While the private sector in China needs to become as much of a priority for policymakers as state-owned enterprises (SOEs) have been since economic reform accelerated in the mid-1980s, the unique Chinese model of development necessitates robust mentoring by the state in order for even the private sector to achieve its full potential. Nearly nine years ago, this columnist had written (in the Far Eastern Economic Review) that in China, it was not “Authoritarianism versus Growth” but “Authoritarianism and Growth”, that China owed its rapid material ascent to the CCP’s policy of central control over overall trends, and nothing has happened since then to cause a revision of this view. While the current leader Xi Jinping is unlikely to go the Roh-Ching-kuo way, his successor is very likely to leave office in 2033 after having initiated a transition to a popularly elected executive in place of the present system of nominated leaders. The Chinese people are modernising themselves as fast as their economy, and are today completely different from what they were even fifteen years ago.

The danger to the stability of China will come not from declared enemies of the CCP - these can be handled with relative ease, at least so long as growth continues to be beyond 6% annually. Rather, the true Achilles Heel of the Peoples Republic of China is the fact that across institutions, those who have studied humanities abroad are taking over the higher rungs of decision-making in preference to those who were educated within China. There is a difference between the study of science and engineering and the learning of humanities. The latter often result in the ingestion of mindsets and world-views incompatible with the core interests of the country of origin of the student studying in the US, the UK or other NATO-bloc countries. More and more children of top leaders of the CCP are going to fashionable NATO-bloc universities for higher learning in non-technical subjects, including finance and economics. A western education usually results in the individual concerned losing familiarity with the basic conditions within his or her country of origin.

A substantial part of the reason why India continued to proceed to advance at a snail’s pace after 1947 was because both Jawaharlal Nehru as well as Indira Gandhi were educated in the West, in contrast to Lal Bahadur Shastri, who was wholly educated in India. Both Nehru and his daughter fashioned policies that continued the colonial pattern of not trusting the Indian people, so that the straitjacket of state control that had snuffed out enterprise during the British Raj was continued. Only when the India-educated P V Narasimha Rao or Aal Behari Vajpayee took charge did the economy accelerate,only to once again decline now that the duo of Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh (both of whom were educated abroad) are in charge.

In a travesty of what is needed in order to ensure good governance, each year the Government of India spends tens of millions of dollars educating its officials (and a scatter of politicians) in pricey universities such as Oxford or Harvard. Those that return imbibe the colonial mistrust and contempt of the Indian people, and fashion policies that have the effect of promoting NATO-bloc interests rather than that of their own country. In ministries dealing with economic matters in particular, a foreign degree is highly prized, and the higher echelons get filled by these birds of passage, who often see a stint in India as just a means of earning the goodwill of NATO-bloc countries, to which they yearn to return

China is facing the same problem as India. Its policy elite are sending their sons and daughters to NATO-bloc countries for education in the social sciences. When they return, these favoured individuals ensure that they and other foreign returnees slowly begin to elbow out from higher positions those educated in China. As a consequence, policy gets skewed in an elitist direction, thereby creating conditions where economic progress and stability can be at risk. Even more than in India, there is a craze in China for Western education, western dress and western lifestyles. Slowly, those that have fallen prey to such a transformation of their psyches are extending their tentacles across the various agencies of government. However, as yet, at the top those in charge are still those who have studied entirely in China, at least so far as the social sciences is concerned. There is as yet no Manmohan Singh in Beijing.

However, unless the Chinese leadership looks at the example of India and understands the value of education at home rather than in NATO-bloc countries, increasingly policies that are skewed in an elitist direction will get formulated and implemented, as they were when Jiang Zemin was in charge. Things changed during the ten years under Hu Jintao, and it is to be hoped that PresidentXi Jinping will follow the “Asian nationalist” track of Hu Jintao rather than the blind westernization favoured by Hu’s predecessor, Jiang Zemin. The problems facing Chins need Chinese, not western, solutions. And for these to be worked out and implemented, those educated at home need to be given primacy over those educated in the NATO bloc. Indeed, the latter are modern China’s hidden Achilles Heel.

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