Versus China, We’re Not Even in the Right Game

shanghaiWe are so screwed. We simply don’t get it in the USA and EU. After three weeks spent travelling around the globe, I see that the Chinese eat our lunch while we busy ourselves in silly ideological Left vs. Right fights over control of Washington, Westminster, and Brussels.

We’re in a wrestling match and the Chinese have us slipping out of consciousness in a sleeper chokehold. We’re sipping tea, having intellectually dishonest political self-preservation screaming match debates and we somehow think this is croquet on the green vs. our very survival.

The national bird of China is the construction crane. The $40 billion they spent on the masterful Olympics of 2008 is dwarfed by the hundreds of billions in real infrastructure spending across the region. Next to my Hong Kong hotel was the end station of what will be a $200 billion dollar high-speed train line connecting the twin economic powers of Shanghai and Hong Kong. This internal Chinese rail line will allow one to travel to the center of both cities, 764 miles apart, in less than five hours. The USA cannot build a single 84-mile high-speed line between Tampa and Orlando without lobbyists getting in the way.

Too, the twin architectural masterpieces of Hong Kong International and Singapore ’s Changhi Airport Terminal 3 offer efficient, spotless, green, easy movement, pristine spaces with lots of shopping and conveniences. They make our crumbling air facilities look like the decrepit bus transfer stations they are.

China and Singapore build one huge structure after another. Retail is alive and thriving in both nations. In the UK and US, one sees giant, empty, white elephant complexes. There was not one office building visited in either city that was less than 90% leased. Driving past Reading on the M4, and St. David’s in downtown Cardiff , one sees giant empty monuments to economic failure underneath a giant windmill and decrepit rail station.

Are Washington or Westminster , Brussels or Cardiff capable of doing more than talking about investment and infrastructure? No they instead use classic magician’s misdirection:

  • dealing with the perceived scourge of a website owner,
  • engaging in pointless Right vs. Left dishonest debates and
  • using the white hot topic of devolution and ballots

to avoid real debate and discussion about the crumbling economic infrastructure and their failure to get the job done.

Election battle lines are drawn and Washington retreats to 60’s-style outrage over the latest ‘Pentagon Papers’ leak and Muslim mosque-site racial fear mongering. Three weeks travelling around the globe and these were barely headlines on later pages in Hong Kong and Singapore .

While Washington is all abuzz over Wikileaks founder Julian Assange as if Wiki-leaks is the ‘60s Pentagon Papers scandal writ large, it’s déjà vu all over again as they attempt to rewrite journalist shield laws to stop him vs checking to see if there is any truth or validity to what is being said.

The minstream media needs to learn how to do their job again. It’s time to reinstall the Chinese Wall between editorial and publishing regardless of who writes the checks or purchases advertising.

Instead of worrying about:

  • who gets Helen Thomas’ front row seat in the White House Press Room (a room filled with self-important, pampered and overpaid news dinosaurs),
  • ‘access’ to the powerful (by being nice to them and accepting their flak SPIN rules) or
  • winning their next higher paid job as someone’s PR flak…

they need to stop accepting rubbish talking points on face value in the name of the “fairness/equal time” doctrine/standard and go back to asking tough questions and doing real investigative journalism.

It’s time for a return to 1970’s style aggressive Woodward and Bernstein journalism, the kind used to break open the Watergate scandal. Then, tough reporting brought down a corrupt US President. In today’s media environment, Richard Nixon would still be President and flicking the Post off like pesky flies. Assange may indeed be a scoundrel and… he is saying what needs to be heard otherwise there would not be this tremendous effort to arrest and silence him.

China does not worry about such mindless chatter. They are too busy building the 21st and 22nd Century infrastructure to dominate the world financially. The US allows $35 billion dollars to be spent on lobbying Washington each year. Thus is Washington gridlocked and broken beyond all repair. These ‘players’ in the US and EU are merely arranging deck chairs on the Titanic in the name of right vs left ideology. Keep it up Sparky, your lunch is not the only thing being eaten! Blame Assange so no one notices the bigger mess you’ve created?

denis campbellPssst, too late, we noticed.

Now with the chokehold almost done, you’ll slip into dreamy unconsciousness and when you wake up the fight will be over, Mandarin spoken everywhere and you will shake your head in amazement wondering what the hell just happened?

Remember, you read it here first.

Denis G. Campbell

Denis Campbell publishes the e-magazine, where this article first appeared.


  1. Marshall says

    OK I read the stuff Joe added and had another thought myself. Assange could have done some work, redacted some info that could have cost lives, and then publish. He took the easy way and did not so I feel fine saying in the end he was the donkey his name contains.

    I agree investigative reporting is a thing of the past. He have to get the info on TV or network in such a short time, there is no time to do research. that is sad and the truth often is left unsaid.

  2. Marshall says

    We are more apt to be under Muslim law before coming under China. Europe may have elected a Muslim government in a dozen years or so.

  3. says

    Huh? I’ll bet I’m not the only one who ‘doesn’t get’ it – ‘it’ being the article’s message. That message is simple but baffling: we need a scrappy press because China is (allegedly) proving that the most effective regime is a dictatorship which tolerates no real press at all.

  4. says

    I’m sure there is probably an interesting point somewhere in Mr. Campbell’s well-meaning observations, but I’m having a hard time finding it. First, the idea that you can take a three-week world tour and grasp “the state of things” is ridiculous. Secondly, the idea that you can visit Hong Kong and Singapore and conclude something about the People’s Republic of China is even more ridiculous. They are VERY different places, and one is in no way a stand-in for the other. To understand China it is necessary to see it through the double lens of its paradoxical condition as both a large, growing major economy and a still-developing country. China is filled with contradictions and serious challenges.

    When I visited China in August and September of 2008, in the aftermath of the Olympics, the country that I saw, whether in Shanghai, Beijing, or the rural areas, was a long, long way from being a global leader in any meaningful sense. Two hundred million people out of a working population of nearly eight hundred million are migrants, chafing at their lowly status and rotten wages. Inequality is rampant. Returning from the rural areas to cities like Shanghai and Beijing is like a form of time travel, moving from feudal conditions where plowing is still done by water buffalo to a land of skyscrapers. Corruption is epidemic, whether in banks, the legal system, or the political leadership at national, provincial, and local levels, causing an estimated annual economic loss of approximately 15 percent of GDP.

    Even China’s alleged economic power has been overhyped. Compared to the US and Europe, China is still an economic mini-me, in terms of economic output. Europe’s gross domestic product (by Europe I mean the EU-27, plus Norway, Switzerland and Iceland) is $17.5 trillion according to the latest IMF figures, while in the US it is $14.8 trillion and China $5.4 trillion. Beyond economic output, more than three-fifths of China’s overall exports and nearly all its high-tech exports are made by non-Chinese, foreign companies. Foreign companies essentially reprocess imports of semi-manufactured goods that are then shipped to Europe and the U.S. China remains in essence a subcontractor to the West. Try to name a great Chinese brand or company — there are none. China needs to build them, but doing that in a one party authoritarian state, where the party second guesses business strategy for ideological and political ends, is impossible.

    The only thing cloudier than its economic model is the sky over its major cities, so choked with smog that some days you can’t see the high rises a few blocks away. During the run-up to the 2008 Olympics, hosted in Beijing, many were concerned that athletes would choke on the foul air. In fact, four hundred thousand people a year die of respiratory diseases caused by pollution. About 500 million rural Chinese still do not have access to safe drinking water. Acid rain, caused by emissions of sulfur dioxide which belches from smokestacks of power plants, is endemic, with the state-run China Daily reporting that in Guangdong province – China’s most prosperous region, and also most industrialized — 53 percent of its total rainfall in 2008 was acid rain.
    Frequent food scares, such as industrial toxins mixed into milk powder, pet food, and cough syrup, as well as the exporting around the world of toys decorated with lead paint and drywall (used in housing construction) tainted with highly toxic sulfur compounds, are additional manifestations of the amoral, corrupt, robber baron business practices that have been unleashed. The 2008 earthquakes in western Sichuan province, which resulted in the collapse of over seven thousand schoolrooms and thousands of dead schoolchildren, disproportionately impacted the poor who lived in areas where corruption had resulted in shoddy construction practices. For all these reasons and more, China is plagued by seventy thousand protests per year, many of them more like riots and quite violent (including occasional bombings), and had three hundred thousand labor disputes in 2006 alone, nearly double the number reported in 2001.

    Young men and women I met in the cities of China had fled the third world conditions in their farming villages only to accept the yoke of working in near-sweatshop factories or as bar waitresses, earning just enough to afford to share a bedroom with three others, four to a tiny room, two to a bed. Disposable income was practically nil, life was hard, and the only hope they nurtured was that their country would one day be more affluent. Their dreams were of a distant horizon, not the present, as the ruling Communist Party drilled them in the Confucian virtues of “sacrifice.” For most Chinese, life is a struggle and will remain so for years to come.

    Certainly the land of “capitalist communism”—an oddball combination, to be sure—has made some impressive gains with its roaring economic growth rates and in lifting several hundred million people out of poverty. But its metrics indicate significant challenges for years to come. Prophecies of its global leadership are premature at best. The hallmark of a great power is when other nations want to emulate you. What made the United States the great power of the post-World War II era was not just its military might but its economic promise and freedoms which caused people from all over the world to flock to our shores. The City on the Hill inspired people toward an ideal. But no one is banging down doors to get into China, and only the poorest of Southeast Asian countries aim to be like the People’s Republic. China inspires curiosity with its ancient history and huge population, but not envy or emulation. That will not change anytime soon, and perhaps never unless China at some point opens up its political and economic system. The absolute unwillingness of Communist Party authorities to tolerate any public reflection, let alone protest, during the twenty year anniversary in June 2009 of the Tiananmen Square crackdown exposes their great fear of the public, as well as the lack of self-confidence among China’s rulers in either their system, their people or themselves. It remains to be seen how much of a “new China” will continue to emerge, but all these horizons certainly provide a different view of China from the one typically given by people like Mr. Campbell.

    What’s really going on here is that some in the West are in awe of China’s rapid development and China has become the new frontier where financial prospectors and “get rich quick” investors go panning for gold by speculating in some hot Chinese startup. To many awestruck pundits, China represents the future and one day will become the leader of the world. Unfortunately this kind of hype of both ignores the larger reality — that China is barely holding it together — and therefore is damaging to China. It causes members of Congress, for example, to want to legislate protectionist measures when in reality China needs different forms of assistance — especially technical assistance — from the US, Europe and other developed powers. The entire world has a stake in China succeeding, both economically and in greening its economy and reducing its carbon emissions, because the prospect of China as a “failed state” is too terrible to contemplate.

    So unfortunately Mr. Campbell’s “observations” not only are wildly off the mark but actually not helpful to China or your readers understandings of these matters.

    Steven Hill

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