We all regret how some Europeans and their governments treated many African peoples over many years. What China’s party-state is doing in natural resource-rich nations today, has clear parallels with earlier colonial practices.
For context, I refer to the Economist’s Jan. 21 survey on state capitalism, which makes these points:
• State capitalism, going back to Japan in the 1950s and Germany in the 1870s, sees itself as an alternative to liberal capitalism by fusing the power of government with capitalism through such mechanisms as listing government-owned companies on international stock markets. The Chinese party-state is the largest shareholder in the country’s 150 largest companies and directs thousands of others.
The Economist quotes a central bank of China estimate that between the mid-1990s and 2008 some 16,000–18,000 Chinese officials and executives of state-owned companies “made off with a total of $123 billion.”
• A culture of corruption permeates China’s economy today, with Transparency International ranking it far down its list at 75th place on its perceived corruption index for 2011. The Economist quotes a central bank of China estimate that between the mid-1990s and 2008 some 16,000–18,000 Chinese officials and executives of state-owned companies “made off with a total of $123 billion.” The survey concludes, “By turning companies into organs of the government, state capitalism simultaneously concentrates power and corrupts it.”
Premier Wen Jiabao, China’s senior economic official, said on March 14, “Without the success of political structural reform, it is impossible for us to fully institute economic structural reform. The gains we have made … may be lost, new problems that have cropped up in China’s society cannot be fundamentally resolved and such [a] historical tragedy as the Cultural Revolution may happen again.” Wen has since courageously added that the state-controlled banks are a “monopoly” that must be broken.
Let’s look next at governance. “The Party” was published in 2010 by Richard McGregor, former China bureau chief for the Financial Times. It documents the continuing Party grip on the government, courts, media, and military. Among its observations:
• “Top leaders adhere to Marxism in their public statements, even as they depend on a ruthless private sector to create jobs. The Party preaches equality, while presiding over incomes as unequal as anywhere in Asia.” (Among the handpicked delegates at the recent National People’s Congress were 61 billionaires. The net worth of the 70 richest delegates added more to their wealth last year than the combined net worth of all 535 members of the U.S. Congress, President Obama, and his Cabinet, and the nine Supreme Court justices, according to Bloomberg News, Feb. 26, 2012).
• “[The Party] has eradicated or emasculated political rivals; eliminated the autonomy of the courts and press; restricted religion and civil society; denigrated rival versions of nationhood; centralized political power; established extensive networks of security police; and dispatched dissidents to labor camps.”
At a recent conference on Tibet in Ottawa, addressed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, with parliamentarians from about 30 countries participating, points were made by a number of China experts. I’ll mention only a few:
• Public anger about social, political, and economic conditions across China is growing, with 180,000 public protests reported during 2011 alone. One-party authoritarian governance has no democratic legitimacy; the so-called “performance legitimacy” will disappear overnight if the economy stalls, probably precipitated by a burst housing bubble. Dealing effectively with government corruption requires multiparty democracy, independent judges, and the rule of law.
• All of the candidates for membership on the Standing Committee of the Party, including President-designate Xi Jinping, suffered during Mao’s Cultural Revolution. They know that all modern societies are democracies and that Premier Wen is correct that without political reform China faces a dead end. The self-explosion of Bo Xilai and others demonstrated for the world the flaws of political Leninism.
Continued on the next page: 75 percent of Canadians were opposed to Chinese state-owned companies gaining controlling stakes in Canadian firms.