- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 12, 2006

BEIJING.

Few people visit China today without being awed by the changes being made in the world’s most populated country.

Typically, one recent visitor described his visit with the observation China “blows your mind.”

If China can change as much as it has in little more than 40 years since President Richard Nixon first visited the country, one has to wonder what will it be like in 10 or 20 or 30 years from now? This clearly is an exciting part of today’s world.

Only one thing is certain. China will be much different than it is today.

China today faces serious problems most casual visitors never envision as they admire the nation’s ever-expanding walls of tall skyscrapers in such cities as Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. At the foot of many of the skyscrapers are numerous old huts contrasting the old and the new. Some of the most exciting architecture in the world dominates Shanghai, China’s mainland financial capital. Not long ago, the city had the appearance of a staid British colony. While skyscrapers now dominate the city, the old British “bund” and the French Quarter are regaining popularity. Across the Yangtze River, farms have been converted into a new city, Pudong, complete with great office buildings, more towering condominiums, and five-star resorts.

Americans worry rightfully about their balance of trade with China, a nation whose GDP has grown at a rate of almost 7 percent in recent years. But China, too, has serious financial problems with a government banking system that is too often dominated by politics and dubious loans. Most recently, the giant Agricultural Bank of China was charged with fraud in the handling of $1.8 billion in deposits and $3.5 billion in illegal loans in 2004.

China has added 30 million manufacturing jobs in recent years, double all manufacturing jobs in the United States today. A major change in economic mission obviously is under way as China builds its trade and strength in manufacturing.

Few visitors arrive in China without hearing about traffic jams caused by bicycles prior to Richard Nixon’s “breakthrough” in China in 1972, and bicycles still are a major source of transportation, although they are outnumbered by automobiles in large cities.

Chairman Mao has lost much of his former Chinese God-like respect, but one wonders what he would think of the modern auto parade in China.

Today, Shanghai has fast freeways and slow freeways, which are jammed with traffic from early morning to late at night. The narrow, old streets of Beijing and Shanghai are crowded with vehicles that provide an international auto show. One city, Chongqing, has banned bicycles from its 31 million residents. Chongqing, incidentally, was the headquarters of World War II hero Gen. Joseph W. Stillwell, and has a museum in his name. Nearby is a museum for the old “Flying Tigers” who spanned the Burma “hump” before the United States entered the war.

The capable United States ambassador to China, Clark T. Randt, Jr., says there are more Chinese than Americans earning $200,000 per year, but, of course, China has 1.3 billion people, and the U.S. population is estimated at close to 300 million.

That contrasts with a national average annual income of $2,000 per person in China. Workers on the Beijing Olympic facilities earn $1 per day, board and room, and they live in crowded bunkhouses a block away from freeways crowded with expensive cars. How long can that last? Perhaps more important than the new-found wealth is the nation’s income disparity.

China, a country that centuries ago was famed for it science and business acumen, still displays awesome business skills, but its new patents are dominated more by stolen intellectual property than new 21st century discoveries.

Movie houses in Shanghai do little business because the latest American films are quickly for sale as DVDs at $1 a copy.

Chinese President Hu Jintao recently challenged his nation to become innovative and has plans to invest $8.5 billion annually in science and technology, but there is a question whether Chinese engineers and scientists are being trained to be innovative.

Creativity is more difficult in a country with limited freedoms and human rights.

It is estimated that 47 percent of the Chinese have savings accounts, and in Shanghai, where per capita income is much higher than the nation as a whole, the average Shanghai citizen has a disposable income of $2,300 and a per capita income of $8,000. The difference in national per capita income is a reflection of the number of Shanghai businesses that require technical and sophisticated business skills.

In a country governed by about 80,000 Communist Party members, protests involving 50 people or more numbered a startling 84,000 in 2005. Although the number has decreased slightly in the first half of 2006, that still poses a major internal problem.

Income disparity and corruption, which bring on most of the demonstrations, are problems more apparent in the countryside outside the major cities that most tourists visit.

Sparse news reports reveal that protest after protest involves corruption where town officials confiscate land from farmers and sell it to developers at questionable prices. The farmers lack guns but often fight their battles with clubs and stones and even bottles of acid.

While the Chinese government pays close attention to most internal problems, it seemingly ignores air pollution, which will be apparent to the world when the Olympics arrive in 2008. China is an oil-import nation. Its consumption of oil has risen 40 percent during the last four years, and the nation is seeking more supplies. All that has had an impact on petroleum scarcity and is reflected in gas pump prices in the United States.

While China has become the manufacturing capital of the world and still retains good marks for quality of products, the world again is changing, however, where technical skill such as being developed in India and the U.S. has created what New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman appropriately describes as a “flattened” globe.

Shanghai is home for many young American businessmen working for U.S. companies. Few expect to make Shanghai their permanent residence, but most feel overseas duty will help their careers in a global economy, and overall, they seem happy with their experiences.

A nation once cursed by the “cultural revolution,” China is putting more emphasis in education, and the nation graduated 4 million college students last year. More universities are being built, and old ones are being upgraded. English is taught starting in the second grade. Like the United States, however, China has disputes over teaching methods.

Most recently, the University of Southern California board of trustees traveled to China to hold a formal board meeting in Asia and to establish a U.S.-China Policy Institute to enjoin professors, students and journalists to participate in important joint policy studies under an academic atmosphere. The Trojan board, headed by university president Steve Sample, includes top business, financial and education leaders from both Asia and the U.S. USC enrolls 1,500 Chinese students on its campus and is active with students from Asia. There are 1,000 Indians enrolled at USC. The other USC, University of South Carolina, also has a large Chinese population. Most Chinese students in American universities now return home to pursue their careers, although that was not the case before China became more prosperous.

The contrasts China displays are illustrated by Tiananmen Square, where China once used tanks to break up a student revolution.

On one side of the square is the magnificent Great Hall of the People, built in 10 months in a country where government building permits are not a problem. Official meetings and dinners with such leaders as Wang Qishan, mayor of Beijing, are held there.

On another side of the square is the beautiful “Forbidden City,” with scores of buildings constructed thousands of years ago, and most of those gold-laden structures are open daily to visitors. Dedicated this year was the reconstructed Jianfu Palace, which was rebuilt by Ronnie Chan, prominent China and Hong Kong businessman. The palace, which once was destroyed by arson, has been rebuilt into a beautiful new public edifice.

Chairman Mao’s tomb overlooks the whole scene in Tiananmen Square, but his book, “The Sayings of Chairman Mao,” no longer is a best seller.

Most studies of the downfall of communism in Europe and the former Soviet Union attribute it, at least in part, to gradual freedom, which led to a demand for more freedom.

China today is prospering because of a strong, free market economy, and it is experiencing a growing number of limited freedoms. The American tourist finds it to be warm and friendly. Some of the hotels are among the best in the world, a far cry from the old Peace Hotel which once housed prominent visitors.

Still, there is no freedom of the press, and human rights violations are prevalent. Censorship is pervasive, but people seem more free to discuss government critically than 40 years ago, or even 10 years ago.

Forty years ago, people were forced to wear “Mao jackets,” about the only clothes turned out in state stores. Today the dress norm in all the big cities is colorful western.

China is destined to continue its growth as a world power, but the question is, how free will it become eventually, and can communism survive in a “flattened” world?

The nation clearly has domestic opportunities and domestic problems, but in what way will it use its growing military power? China seems to want peaceful borders, but is the fleet China is building to be used aggressively or to protect its commercial ships? How strong will it be in exerting diplomatic pressure on North Korea? How will it eventually solve its quest for unity with Taiwan? Will it be by military power or a legal plan similar to that used in Hong Kong? China’s military plans remain a mystery to even top American officials.

All these factors make China the most interesting, rapidly growing country in today’s world.

Herbert G. Klein is a national fellow of the American Enterprise Institute, retired editor in chief of Copley Newspapers and former Nixon White House director of communications. Michael Mayne of the University of Southern California contributed to this article.

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