A blend of unusual circumstances brought me to the China Import and Export Fair, also called the Canton Fair, from October 15, 2010 to November 3, 2010. As this was the first time I traveled to China, it was no wonder I was excited while boarding the airplane; after all, China is now one of the top world travel destinations, trailing only Spain, France, and the U.S. What I saw there was fascinating and worth reporting. In this article, I will share my impressions about the Canton Fair; Guangzhou city, where the fair took place; Chinese daily life; and my considerations regarding political and economic implications of rapid Chinese progress toward becoming the first superpower on a global scale. Thanks to the functionality of the Internet, I am able to provide plenty of photographs, supplementing descriptions with visual details.
China’s spectacular industrial development impacts the whole world with ever-increasing velocity. The Canton Fair – the biggest fair in the world – is a vivid demonstration of China’s economical strength. Its significance is better understood from the perspective of short history, which reflects the country’s dynamics in the last 50 years. It is interesting, intriguing, and opens the window through which we can see China’s future and her impact on global affairs.
Short History of the Fair
The humongous structure of the fair is located in Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong, the southernmost province in China. It historically remains a vital import-export and industrial region. On its ocean waterfront located two Chinese entities with a special status: famous Hong Kong, one of the biggest Asian financial centers, and Macao, the gambling paradise of American magnitude.
Although Canton Fair started in 1957, it was not meaningful until the Mao era ended. The two largest communist countries – the Soviet Union and China – had lived, up to this point in time, in accordance with the principal of state ownership of economy and the outdated doctrine of spreading communism throughout the world. In the 1960s, more than half of the Soviet Union economy was serving military. Soviet government, filled with dumb heads of Stalin’s era, intended to bring America to its knees with an arms race. At that time, America had comparable military production and service, but the military budget was about 3% of GDP, which was approximately the total production of all prostheses and optical glasses during that time. One might wonder how the arms race idea could be the focal point of sane politicians. Common sense was not a respected talent in the Soviet Union.
Soviet leaders in the second half of the past century rose to high ranks at the time of Stalin and Khrushchev, when having a brain was not a component of the selection criteria. Loyalty to leaders and communist ideology were the common denominators. But ideology can not amend faults of stupidity.
When China’s reforms started, the Soviet Union was economically, politically, and morally bankrupt. With its large-scale production of tanks and nuclear bombs, it was not capable of producing toilet paper (the reader is at liberty to fantasize how the population had lived without it). The country was firmly in the grips of a rigid communist doctrine and an inflexible, inefficient economy. At that time, a popular anecdote was born about a Japanese delegation that arrived in Moscow at the Fair of Soviet People Industrial Achievements (Translation from Russian). When asked how they liked the exhibition items, the Japanese looked aside and said: ‘You have beautiful kids around here.’ The Russian guide eventually got irritated. ‘Forget the kids,’ he said. ‘How’d you like our machinery?’
One of the Japanese shook his head. ‘Your kids are beautiful,’ he said, ‘but whatever you produce with your hands is trash.’
When Gorbachev came to power, he started his reforms under the principles of ‘Glasnost’ (openness) and ‘Perestroika’ (restructuring). This was too late and too little, almost nothing with comparison to Dong’s reforms. The result was the collapse of the Soviet Union, and with it the collapse of communist governments almost everywhere in the world. Most intellectuals thought that with the advent of democracy, prosperity would come to Russia and all former Soviet republics. This did not happen. Instead, chaos was the result: the Soviet economy collapsed, and with it collapsed and disintegrated the whole European Communist Bloc. Most commercial activity fell into the hands of criminals.
Russia and also former Eastern Bloc communist countries are still in the grips of socialist mentality, unable to shake off the legacy of previous regimes.
Not so with China: still a communist country, it is much more advanced than the whole former Communist Bloc, and moves forward to the Western World type of prosperity with the same vigour and agility.
China’s example is worth admiration. When Mao died in 1978, Dong Xiaoping and his group took the power. Fortunate for the country, these were people with vision, courage, wisdom, and brilliant political minds. They adopted drastic reforms, in essence, anathema, to communist ideology: free, capitalist style economy under the communist rule. This was a combination of mutually exclusive principles for communist dumb heads, but it carried China, one of the poorest countries in the world, to economical, military, and political superpower in 2010. Who could image thirty years ago that the capitalist economy system would prosper under the communist regime!
There are only four other countries that are still under the communist rule. A quick comparison with them will emphasise China’s phenomena.
North Korea: one of the poorest countries in the world
Cuba: one of the poorest countries in the world
Vietnam: poor country; adopted reforms; still very poor, but in rapid progress
Laos: one of the poorest countries in the world
If modernization of China will keep its contemporary pace, in the next 30 years, it will become the largest world economy and, for sure, the strongest superpower.
China Import and Export Fair – Fall 2010
The humongous structure of the Canton Fair, 395,000 sq. m. in total, is located in Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong, the southernmost province in China. In two buildings, accommodating over 170,000 visitors and over 20,000 exhibitors, one has to walk about 50 kilometres, if not more, just to catch a glimpse of over 60,000 booths. Nobody comes here for such a long promenade, of course, but even attending the limited area of one’s interest is an overwhelming task of a few days of hard work. The fair has everything. The most laconic way to describe the variety of its goods would be to cite a sign placed once over the door of a New York department store: ‘If you don’t know what you want, come here, we have it.’
All exhibitors were Chinese. The majority of visitors were men from all over the world, but I rarely saw a Chinese face among them. Many had wheeled suitcases, which they used to store numerous and heavy catalogues of selected merchandise. Rolling this load is much easier and convenient than carrying it in a bag – the weight of it could exhaust the strongest.
Security at the fair was tighter than in any American airport. The visitor has to place his/her badge, identifying the face of its holder, to an electronic device, and then he/she has to place the carrying bag into an x-ray machine, well familiar to air travelers. Inside the buildings, are soldiers and police in great numbers, perhaps a thousand.
It was funny to watch a serious Chinese soldier, stiff as though cast in stone, with a smiling young woman at his side posing for a picture. Everyone around was having a good time. If I were this soldier, I would eventually roar in laughter, but I imagine it would have been a grave break of military discipline and subject to severe punishment. The soldier probably laughed later.
Walking past him, I entered a street inside the building. It was 30 metres wide and approximately half a kilometre (more than ½ mile) in length. On both sides were rows of exhibitors’ booths. There are five floors, all humming with animated conversations, negotiations, and deal making.
We often hear complaints that Chinese products are poor quality. This is too generalized and not a fair statement. Chinese offer all range of quality, from poor to outstanding. There are buyers who prefer to buy a low quality and cheap product, in the hope of selling it faster than a more expensive and good one.
Some Chinese producers, as everywhere in the world, resort to shortcuts in making money. Sometimes it works, but sometimes it backfires. I was told a funny story about a manufacturer producing dog food for export to America. He added a substance to it, which was potentially harmful to animals, but the likelihood of something serious happening was very low. Not a big deal anyway, the manufacturer thought; after all, a dog is an animal. Who cares?
The course of events was the least expected. A couple of dogs died in North America while enjoying this inexpensive treat. It turns out to be a tragedy that caused a huge splash of wrath in the media, with headlines usually spared for very important issues, such as conflicts in the Middle East or new swimsuits of Charlize Theron. The scandal was a cultural shock for producers, but who in business does not make mistakes?
Not everyone has a catalogue or even a Web site. It does not mean that the company is not a trustworthy manufacturer or has no funds to produce quality merchandise. Their concern is that the competition may copy their design. Chinese, in the past so disrespectful to copyrights of others, are now designers whose products are copied.
All faces in the catalogues and printed materials are of Caucasian complexion. Even dolls – an impressive number of booths exhibited them – are white skinned, European style, mostly with blond hair and blue eyes. None of them had Chinese features. Ads are the same, particularly in the lingerie section. Looking at them, I recalled the movie ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.’ Well… I don’t blame them.
It was already dark when our hotel shuttle bus arrived at a downtown plaza, its name, written above its entrance in Chinese, I don’t remember. ‘It is here,’ the driver said in Chinese (I thought he said that) pointing his finger at the dark building, supposedly the shopping mall we were looking for. Soon, we found out that this was not it, as there was not a single store. A lonely security guard came to our rescue; he asked us something in Chinese, and we responded in English. He did not understand a word. After five minutes of animated gesticulation, the guard gave us a sign to follow him. At the corner of the building, he used his arms, fingers, and Chinese to explain to us in what direction we should go. We followed his instructions and in a few minutes’ walk, we got back to the same place. The guard was stunned. I am sure that he took us for imbeciles who not only did not know Chinese – the most spoken language in the world – but also did not understand his gestures. Our foolishness from his point of view was beyond reasonable boundaries of stupidity, I’m sure. He went out again, walked to the corner of the building, and pointed his finger in the same direction. To make sure that we understood him, he shook everyone’s hand while looking into our eyes. We thanked him and went in the opposite direction, which was the right one. In ten minutes, we got to the place we were looking for.
Surprise, surprise, it is not easy to find someone in Guangzhou who knows English well enough to communicate with. Even sales people and hotel receptionists know little or no English. But all of them are friendly, kind, polite, everything else in their favour, which somehow helped in my travels.
Salespeople, though, know their way in negotiating with foreigners. When asked ‘how much is it?’ they produce a calculator with a large display and punch the number. If you wish to bargain, take this calculator from the salesperson’s hand and punch your own number. As an alternative, take a writing pad with you and write the price on it. Your offer will be either accepted or rejected with the same nice smile. They do not follow you around the store and do not annoy you with their explanations and offers, as some salespeople do in North America.
Walking along downtown streets of Guangzhou, I forgot about being in China. This is a city of wide streets, tall buildings – almost New York-type skyscrapers – an endless succession of plazas and malls, stores and boutiques. At night, a flood of neon lights fills up the cityscape. Trees, shrubs, and flowers are everywhere; everything is clean and sparkling; you wouldn’t notice even a small piece of litter, no matter how far you go. The way people dress, buy, sell, and treat each other is no different from what we see in North America.
Guangzhou is known as a shopper’s paradise. This is generally true – I will provide some details of this later – but its downtown is not in this category. The prices there, particularly for brand names, are the same as in New York or Toronto, or even higher. In spite of this, expensive stores flourish. I found three big Rolex shops located on the same street, short distances from each other. How in the world can they coexist in such proximity? My first thought was that they were for foreigners. I was wrong.
If you visit one of these stores, you will see only Chinese faces. As anywhere else in the city, European people are rare. Although China is still not a rich country, the number of well-to-do who can afford to buy luxury goods is staggering; it is greater than the total population of any large European country. That’s why stores selling Rolex, Patek Philippe, Mont Blanc, Louis Vuitton, and other brand names can prosper in this and other large Chinese cities.
Watching auto and human traffic on Guangzhou roads is as thrilling as a performance of Cirque du Soleil. Although cars usually obey traffic lights, everything else is optional. If a driver wants to make a left turn from the rightmost lane, he/she does not hesitate to cross three or four adjacent lanes, no matter how heavy the traffic is. Pedestrians in Guangzhou, it seems, think that traffic lights are only for cars. They cross the roads whenever they feel like it, disregarding traffic signals and dangers. That is why at all major intersections there are police regulating the traffic.
In some situations, both cars and pedestrians stop in a gentlemanly manner, demonstrating courtesy and respect to each other. For a visitor, I suggest you ignore the traffic lights, including ‘walk’, in a different way: cross the road only when there is no car in sight, or when all the traffic stops either at a red light or because of an accident.
There are places in Guangzhou where Chinese exotic is more distinct. To see it go to Haizhu Square Station and walk westward and then north on any street. No matter how long or how far you go, you will have to dodge within an endless and dense flow of people. Small, shabby one- or two-story structures mingle with tall modern buildings. All first floors along the streets are taken by businesses: small shops selling very cheap, low quality merchandize, and eateries serving a variety of local cuisine. The smell of cooking mingled with dust and pollution from the endless procession of cars is sometimes too much to bear. In some places, the odour can knock the novice down. This is where delicacies are offered to the connoisseurs. The traffic on the narrow roads can be imitated only with the help of computer graphics. People manoeuvre between the cars and cars manoeuvre between people. Bicyclists drive against the traffic on one-way streets, workers pull their overloaded two-wheel carts in all direction, assuming their right-of-way and not looking aside. In the two-meters-wide passages between the run-down buildings of side streets, you’ll see dirty and littered ground, tiny shops manufacturing local crafts or sewing clothes, and laundries hanging on strings for drying in the open air.
During weekdays, the streets, although very crowded, are still passable. However, on weekends, the influx of people in this place can make you think that they came here for free money distribution. To compose mental pictures of this, imagine that a free concert of the Beatles or the Rolling Stones takes place on a small square near you. There would be not an inch of free space between people in this square and all adjacent streets. Now imagine that every one of them moves around, busy with shopping, eating, and getting back to the concert. It is still a mystery for me what they do there, as most shops and services are not busy, having a few or no people inside.
Police and soldiers are everywhere and in great numbers. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why this place – as well as all others – is very safe. However, I am impressed how nice and courteous the people there are. Although no one knows a word in English, they all are eager to help. Show them a map, put a finger on the place of your destination, and they will explain the directions to you using gestures accompanied by explanations in Chinese. While being at one crazy intersection there, we asked a teenaged girl to help us find a taxi. She ran to the middle of the road, on which the traffic was bumper-to-bumper, stopped a taxi, made it turn across four lanes of moving cars to a side road, and then ran to us with a happy smile. Where in the world can you find people like that?
Is it worth your while to go there for a bargain? It depends on your preference. Clothes in the stores look nice. They are cheap, but usually of poor quality, often 10 times less than the ones in the Guangzhou downtown department stores. However, the real bargain there are crafts from jade and fresh water pearls. Surprisingly, the store location for pearls is hard to find. It seems that none of the locals knows where it is, or is aware of its existence. You can purchase excellent quality jewellery for a fraction of the price we pay in North America. The address of the place is Haizhu District, the intersection of Renmin Elevated Rd and Xia Jiu Rd or Kangwang South Rd.
Residential quarters of Guangzhou’s well-to-do people look charming. Moderately high buildings are separated by wide passages designated for pedestrians only. Access to motorised vehicles is blocked. There are some boutiques carrying good quality – and not that expensive – merchandise, small grocery stores, and other businesses, set up for the community convenience. The streets are immaculately clean and never crowded, unlike the new districts built to accommodate the influx of migrants. One has to see them to understand what they are.
Governments of China on all levels had not been prepared for such rapid urbanisation. Having little or no experience in city planning and development, they resorted to building in frenzy with whatever limited skills were available to accommodate the inflow of workers and demanded by rapid expansion of industries. In the last 30 years, since reforms started, more than 200 million people moved to cities from rural areas – the largest and speediest migration in history. For a country with little experience in urban planning, development, and maintenance, coping with such a scale of construction and associated problems was an overwhelming task. Some districts of Guangzhou are a vivid demonstration of this. They look like stone jungles: high-rise structures, 25-30 storeys and up, placed just a few meters apart in endless rows on both sides of narrow streets. Such cityscape looks frightening and depressing. No sign of life in it, no individuality, no human spirit.
I was not able to make a close shot of it, as the photo camera can not capture the height and width of such distorted proportions. However, the picture below, taken from the bus, shows the sight of new district of Guangzhou, built in this manner.
However large, this unprecedented urbanization is just the beginning. As of 2010, two thirds of the Chinese population lives in rural areas, which is, calculated from the total 1.3 billion from the 2000 census, is about 800 million people. When China becomes a fully developed country – this is expected to be in 30 to 50 years – its rural population will be similar, percentage wise, to contemporary developed countries, approximately 5% of the total population. This means that more than 700 million people will move to the cities in the next few decades! Will it happen peacefully, or shall we expect a cataclysm reverberating through the whole world?
The subway in Guangzhou – the Metro – is a blend of immaculately clean passages and platforms, high technology, good maintenance, and tight security. In some stations, you can’t miss two soldiers that stand still like statures, doing nothing but rolling their eyeballs at you as you pass by, as shown in the picture.
At the entrance to a platform, you and your luggage shall pass through x-ray airport-type devices. Presence of police and soldiers is prominent; however, they are polite and never approach anyone without a good reason, but they are very busy in the rush hours, regulating a horrific tide of people flowing to and from trains.
Never before having a terrorist attack, China established a powerful security system, openly operated and secret, to prevent it. It is not Al Qaeda or other Muslim radicals outside the country borders that bothers the government. International terrorists know too well that fighting with communists is a suicidal mission for them all, not only the suicide bombers. Outcry of Western world nice liberals defending terrorists’ human rights means nothing for communists. But significant separatist movements in Tibet and the Muslim-populated province of Xingjiang are of more serious concern.
Access to trains is blocked by a glass partition with sliding doors, which open only when a train arrives, and close when it departs. This is another security feature: it prevents accidental (or intentional) pushing someone onto the rails, or suicide.
The subway is not expensive by North American measures, in average, about 40 to 50 cents, but for someone earning less than $200 per month – most Metro riders – it’s a noticeable expense. The payment system is more sophisticated than we have in North America. You buy tickets from an automatic machine positioned at the entrance before the x-ray check. Using a touch screen, you specify the station of your destination and put money, in any denomination, into the designated slot. The machine gives you the exact change and ejects a special token, which imbedded in chip memory – invisible to you – holds the final station of your journey. When going out, you place this token in the slot at the gate, and it opens only if it is the station of your destination, or any other before it. If you have any problem exiting after the station you paid for, police are always there to solve it.
During weekdays between rush hours, the subway is not very crowded. However, on weekends the density of the crowd makes you hold your breath.
Have you ever boarded the New York or Toronto subway train in rush hour? No place to squeeze in, right? Wrong! Push into it 20% to 30% more people and you’ll get the idea how the train in Guangzhou is packed. Density of the crowd waiting for train arrival is almost the same. This is the time when police are very busy, directing the flow of people, maintaining order, and interfering if necessary.
It is worth mentioning Chinese roads. I have seen them only in Guangzhou and around the city. They are broad, clean, and in a very good shape. Trees, shrubs, and bright flowers are planted along the whole stretch. Police and soldiers regulate the traffic on the largest intersections.
Not far from our hotel, on the fringe of a round square, I saw something that still puzzles me. A soldier stood under a small umbrella, in military attention pose, staring in front of him.
As soon as any vehicle approached from the left, the soldier turned to face it, and saluted.
When the vehicle was gone, the soldier returned to the original position, staring at the road in front of him. He saluted any vehicle, even the procession with Chinese straw hats, as in the picture.
During summer, when the temperature is above 40 Celsius and humidity is 100%, the heat could be life threatening. What was the reason for sending the soldier there? Perhaps disciplinary punishment? It beats me.
There is something that Guangzhou does not have, which is worth of mention. In the city of 11 million people I didn’t see beggars, poor musicians playing for a change in the subway, or homeless people. I’d rather abstain from comments.
Contemporary Way of Life and Peek in the Future
Before going to China, I had heard a lot about the growing disparity between the rich and the poor. In Phoenix, the city where our hotel was, I had a chance to have a glimpse of how reach people live.
Across a charming lake from our hotel, half way to the top of the mountain, sat a gated community for the rich. Security was tight: guards were not only at the gates, but also patrolling the streets. The side of the hill facing the lake was cut into a vertical wall from ten- to twenty-metres high, depending on the slope configuration, and re-enforced with concrete covered with decorative stones. Further, on both sides, on the lower stretches of the community borders, it was protected by a 3- to 4-metre metal fence, the top of which was decorated by a few rows of barbed wire.
Some mansions, like the one shown in the picture, were huge even by the North American standards. Unlike in our country, the building material was concrete, cast stone, and polished tiles. Fences of individual houses were also made of stone. Back and front yards, however, were comparatively smaller than the ones of their North American’s peers, and sealed with large decorative tiles.
I had no chance to see the houses of the much less fortunate, who are the majority providing cheap labour. Regretfully, I can judge their living standard only by statistics, sporadically provided by Chinese English-language newspapers.
Minimum wages in China vary from $130 to $200 per month. A middle-management pay-cheque of $600 per month in a manufacturing sector is considered a good one. Some articles reported about suicides, the reason for which was poverty. In our prosperous times, poverty, misery, and suffering are the foundation for low cost products. However, can we blame the Chinese government, or the country’s communist party for all the ills of their society? I don’t think so.
If anything, we have to give them credit for advancing China from appalling poverty and total authorities’ disrespect for human rights and destiny, so characteristic for the rulers in all previous Chinese history, to the second industrial, financial, and likely military power in the world. At least part of the population – hundreds of millions – has acquired the living standards of Western Europe and North America.
China’s industrial progress is spectacular. Even if the pace of GDP growth slows percentage wise – the volume in absolute numbers will still grow – in 30 to 50 years the country will become the first superpower in the world, economically, politically, and militarily. Some signs of Chinese financial strength are visible now. As of 2009, China bought more than $1 trillion American T-bills, whereby financing American debt and helping it cope with the financial crisis. Private Chinese financing of American companies is also impressive. Some Chinese companies grew larger than American international giants did. There is no need to elaborate on Chinese manufacturing strength. Everyone already knows that this country became a manufacturing hub of the whole world, wiping out such powerful competitors as Japan, Taiwan, the US, and Europe. This is not the grand finale, but only the work in progress. Where it goes?
We often hear complains from politicians and reputable commentators that America loses manufacturing jobs to cheap labour countries like China. I believe that the wording ‘lose jobs’ is misleading. Manufacturing moves out of the United States and Western Europe, but did we really lose jobs? The government statistics in America, before the recession struck, tell a different story: unemployment was around 5% or 6%, which is the bottom even for the most prosperous economy. This is about the percentage of workers whose skills and capabilities are no longer adequate for a meaningful employment in our technological age. We were losing manufacturing jobs, which is true, but creating others instead that require education, creativity, and a proper intellectual and technological environment. Western civilisation, so far, has been the ‘brain’ of technological progress. It has had almost a monopoly on it. Now its end is approaching, and faster than we think. The migration of jobs to Asia is becoming much broader. Intellectual, creative jobs began moving to Asia as well, with accelerated speed, and particularly so to China. GM already set up a design office there, in which mostly the Chinese work. The same trend can easily be traced in other fields of commercial activity: architectural projects, high tech, software development, communication – you name it – relocating with increased velocity to the Far East. The combination of manufacturing and intellectual jobs concentrated in Chinese hands will be deadly for all developed countries. No significant industry will remain in our country to provide jobs for the majority of our population. No re-training will be needed for those who lost an intellectual job, as most of them will be outsourced or migrated to the Far East.
Western World dominance in the international economy and political affairs is coming to its end. The cause will not be a military defeat, but a consequence of business globalization, freedom of labour capital movement, and employment of cheap labour. Our democracy, our principals of humanity and freedom will bring us to ruins, on which dominance of new political structures will emerge.
In conclusion, I would like to briefly overview the Chinese internal policy, principles of democracy, if any, and respect to individual’s human rights.
China’s political landscape is dominated by the Communist party, which, according to a 1998 census, is 68 million members strong. There are eight other political parties, altogether 600,000 members, none of them being in opposition. Not a democracy, would you say? Don’t rush to conclusions.
If a novice to the Chinese press opens “Chinese Daily” in English, he/she won’t find much difference in its contents from the spirit of the Western World media news. You will read about strikes in China, voices of dissidents, some of whom are in prison, illegal use of the Internet, and many more. These kinds of articles would be unthinkable in any communist country, particularly so in the former Soviet Union and its Eastern Bloc satellites. Democratic centralism suggests unanimous consent and happiness of the whole population. It was the central motif of every newspaper in the whole period of Soviet-type communism. Some articles about enemies of the people were allowed, just as a reminder that hostile capitalists were out there.
I do not suggest with this superfluous observation that Chinese governance is a democracy of Western type. Its communist leaders openly oppose it, arguing with proponents of drastic democratic reforms. However, shall we consider the Chinese regime a dictatorship? It all depends on definition and our perception of what democracy is. If we compare the present China with the former Soviet Bloc, we inevitably will conclude that it has very little, if any, similarity with the communist dictatorships of the past. There are basic freedoms in China, unthinkable under the Soviet rule, and even contradictory to the communist principle of total slavery and control of the population. I’d like to mention just the basic few.
1. There is freedom of commercial activity in China. To comprehend its significance, let us look at it from the communist perspective. Private business activity was a criminal offence in the Soviet Union, often resulting in a maximum prison term or even capital punishment. A private enterprise meant financial independence, having which, people could afford their own opinion on all political affairs. Everyone had to be dependant on the government distribution of earnings, or mindful of economical punishment for decent.
2. There is freedom to leave the country and return. People of a developed world take it for granted. Suffice it to say that even in the latest era of Soviet communism, many people were put into prison just for applying for an exit visa.
3. Limited freedom of protest does exist in China. Newspapers report workers strikes, demonstrations, and even clashes with the police. Such news never appeared in the communist countries’ newspapers. Whenever such sporadic protests happened, they ended with bloodshed and imprisonment of initiators.
The majority of the Western World population believes that democracy is the only just and fair system for any nation around the globe. Even if we assume that it is true, each country has to come to it in its own way. The population has to be prepared for it: its mentality, attitude towards others, environment, and respect to moral principals have to be compatible with the principals of democratic governance. Democracy can not be built on a foundation that can not sustain it.
True democracy has many problems and pitfalls, which could be insurmountable to less developed countries. For one, unlimited freedom of individuals coexisting with protection of their rights suggests a very large and sophisticated legal system, which is very expensive. None of developing countries could afford it with their limited resources. Moreover, it is highly unlikely that the population of these countries would understand it, or appreciate it.
To better comprehend this point, let us compare China’s communist rule with the Russian democracy after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Doing business with China is easy and pleasant. Doing business with Russia is not for a weak heart: the country is ranked 123 on the international scale.
In China, less that 24% of the country’s economy belongs to the government. In Russia, 50% of the economy belongs to the state.
Obtaining credit from banks in Russia is a prodigious task. If one is successful, he/she will pay more than 20% interest.
Russia now is one of the poorest countries in the world. Its population – outside Moscow – is oppressed and at the mercy of the administration, which is locally called ‘occupational force.’ A lot of journalists who criticized the government policy or disclosed damaging information have been killed. Harassment of journalists in this country remains widespread.
The Russian government, at all levels, is one of the most corrupted in the world. The same could be said about the judicial system, and particularly police, which consider the population at large as fair game. The face of democracy could be ugly.
In democratic countries, destructive forces are always at work. Different groups pursue their political, economical, or other goals. Democracy is a fertile ground for those who contemplate its total destruction. Case in point is Hitler’s party, which came to power by democratic means. In the past, there were large communist parties in West European countries, all cooperating with the Soviets; peace movements, advocating total surrender to the Communist Bloc as an option of survival; and many others. What would happen under true democracy in China, with its 1.3 billion people? Who could assure that it would not be a disaster of astronomical proportion to China, and the whole world?
Judging by what I have seen in China, this country is on the way to the Western type of democracy with a similar prosperity and living standard. This means enormous consumption of resources, unprecedented use of land space, and an increase of tensions. I believe that the next generation will witness Chinese expansion, as the country simply has no other choice, regardless of political structure. This expansion will be massive, brutal, and relentless. In 30 or 50 years, when China becomes a fully developed industrialised country, it would be able to maintain an army of about 3% of its population, which is around 50 million soldiers, or more. This is not only infantry; this is a fully-equipped military machine, with millions of tanks and armoured vehicles, tens of thousand of aircraft, heavy artillery, and all other gadgets of destruction and death. And yes, the country has a nuclear arsenal, not necessarily for strike, but rather a psychological deterrent to others, contemplating the use of weapons of mass destruction. China has already declared that by 2020 it will have complete global coverage with 35 satellites, satisfying all its civil and military needs and challenging our GPS system.
The tide of change is already seen on the horizon. Empires come and go. Will China be the next one?
Alex Markman, Writer