ALLISON HIGHT - 22 JUNE 2012
When China last surpassed Japan’s economic output to become the second largest economy in the world in 2010, reactions in Japan were mixed: while many celebrated the success of a fellow East Asian country and acknowledged China’s role in the development of their own economy, others regretted the regressive fall. Although the change in placement was due more to China’s relentless growth than any major shortcoming of Japan, it does serve to add to the world’s growing conviction that Japan may not possess the resources necessary to remain competitive in an increasingly globalized society. In the past several decades, the country’s population growth has slowly leveled out, peaking in 2005 at 127.7 million, and is expected to decline to 105 million by 2050 (Usui 37). This decline includes a distinct shift in demographics, for as the latest baby boom generation passes the age of sixty-five and women have fewer and fewer children than in the past, an increasingly large elderly population is becoming dependent on a shrinking working body. Currently, there are approximately three workers to support every elderly retiree; by 2025, that number is expected to fall to two, a far cry from the 11:1 ratio that existed in the 1960s (40-41). Still, although the numbers look bleak, by themselves they do not necessarily spell out Japan’s economic ruin. Rather, it is the addition of Japan’s strict immigration policy that severely limits its ability to compensate for this demographic shift with foreign workers that bodes ill for the country’s future global competitiveness. Indeed, “[t]he Japanese government, which adheres to the myth of Japan as an ethnically homogenous nation that is not and never has been a country of immigration, has one of the most restrictive immigration policies among advanced industrialized nations” (Tsuda 13). Although so far “Japan is an international anomaly in that it succeeded in its post-war industrialization and economic modernization without depending on foreign labor” (Brody 32), many believe that its restrictive policies are finally about to backfire. At the heart of the country’s strict laws is the cherished ‘myth of homogeneity’ that firmly believes in the value of a one-size-fits-all culture, language, and ethnicity. Within the context of this myth, then, this paper explores the research question, what role has Japan’s pure ethnic perception played in their immigration policy in the past and how will it affect its future role in world affairs? Because we live in a time that is rapidly becoming globalized, it is crucial to examine this question to understand the different future roles Japan has the potential to play and how the country should proceed to reach the most desirable outcome for both itself and the world as a whole.
The myth of racial homogeneity arose naturally because of Japan’s 200 year isolation period. Of course, after opening its borders again, the country’s past policies of separation were not immediately followed with strong movements to integrate foreigners into society or immediate globalize, so it has been relatively simple to maintain a culture of perceived ethnic “purity.” Today, the “Japanese national identity built around the notion of racial purity and cultural integrity developed in part because of Japan’s geographical isolation as an island nation and in part because of conscious political efforts to create a mythology of a ‘pure’ ethnic nation” (31). This idea mainly manifests itself in two ways: first, there remains today a strong societal value of homogenized behavior as well as culture. There is little emphasis placed on the individual, and people instead derive their worth and usefulness from their ability to work as part of a team. Uniforms are widely used in both early education and the adult workforce, and form is emphasized over function to acknowledge people’s commitment and duty to those around them. Second, “[e]thnicity, language, and culture are the keystones of Japanese self-image and national identity” (32), and the discourse surrounding each of these three elements necessitates discussion of the other two as well. During the colonial movement, for example, the government justified its exploits by emphasizing the unique superiority of the Japanese ethnic identity that was composed of several different Asiatic races and cultures (Shin 332). Because the Japanese language contains a similar mix of various Asiatic influences, this idea became bound up in both the language of the people and the nation’s domestic cultural practices as well. Today, the three elements are so closely intertwined that they are practically interchangeable, and each is still considered an integral part of the Japanese identity.
This myth of homogeneity has had profound influences on Japan’s immigration policy and foreign worker populations over the years. Although occupants of many different countries have had difficulty integrating into Japanese culture both culturally and lawfully, the two groups of Koreans and Nikkeijin have been particularly affected because of their relatively large numbers. First, during the colonial era, harsh policy made it impossible for many Koreans to continue their occupation as subsistence farmers, forcing them to search for employment in Japan instead (Mori 156). Most of the workers who came to the country were young men who intended to stay only long enough to save some money and therefore had little motivation to integrate into Japanese society or compete for high-level jobs. This population segment became more firmly established in the 1930s when Korean women were recruited for work in Osaka’s spinning industries and families began to take root. By 1940, the number of Koreans living in Japan exceeded 1.2 million (157-158). When the country had its independence restored in 1952, however, Japan denied this ethnic group citizenship status, even for those who had at this point resided in the country for decades as a result of the country’s colonial legacy. The Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act of the same year provided a limited avenue to citizenship, but then only as one of eighteen categories of foreigners that in many ways only served to reinforce their social status as ‘outsider’ (2). Even after the country’s 1990 Immigration Reform, which slightly improved foreigners’ integration into the cultural framework of Japan, some still make a strong argument that
[o]fficial immigration and immigrant policy in ‘ethnic citizenship regimes’ suggests that ethnicity is the critical factor in framing questions of membership [. . .] [E]ven those long-settled in the country like [. . .] the Korean minority in Japan, are discouraged, through restrictive policies on naturalization, from becoming citizens. They are, regardless of the length of their stay and intentions to remain in the country, always ‘foreigners’ since they are ‘unassimilable.’ It is ethnicity rather than language, culture, or even religion that bars these residents from full inclusion in society. (Brody 28)
While this argument does reinforce the strong Japanese connection between ethnicity, language, and culture, because it also contains the implication that it is possible to acquire at least the latter two – providing a small window for potential assimilation – it emphasizes the strength of the Japanese insider/outsider binary and how easily both of these factors are trumped by ethnicity. Debora Ortloff further explains that Japan’s immigration policy has “traditionally been based on jus sanguinis, the principle that one’s nationality at birth is the same as that of one’s biological parents. These boundaries of nationality and citizenship close the door to many long-term, non-national residents” (447), including not only the Korean population but also those of Chinese descent who also began their residency prior to WWII and in some cases, the small population of mixed ethnic descent.
Even those who did manage to naturalize continued to face discrimination in the workplace, including companies that blatantly refused to hire workers of Korean descent (Shin 226). This strong discrimination had the interesting effect of forcing many Koreans to hide their national background, for “[a]s a means of survival, many immigrants submitted themselves to cultural assimilation. Many used Japanese names, a legacy of Japanese colonial assimilation policy, to disguise their ethnic identity to avoid overt racism” (Shin 336). Today, some parents still shelter their children from the knowledge of their original ethnic descent in the hopes that ignorance will smooth the way for assimilation and integration. Although this technique has proven successful in many individual cases, overall it adds to the insider/outsider dichotomy, because “[t]he marginality of these colonial immigrants and their acculturation created an illusion of Japanese homogeneity which helped to reify the new Japanese national self-image as a homogeneous nation and justified the exclusionary structure of Japanese society” (336). If the only perceived way to become an insider is to renounce any remnant of non-Japanese ethnicity, even foreigners who do manage to naturalize will not be able to help bridge the divide between the two, simply because their naturalization will not be visible to either the individual or the government. Though unique because of its members’ long residential status in Japan, the Korean struggle for inclusion is representative of all foreigners’ hardships.
Nikkeijin – or foreigners of Japanese descent – though the literal opposite of long-term Korean residents in terms of ethnicity of belonging and homeland, have had remarkably similar experiences when attempting to naturalize to the country. These individuals began to enter in large numbers after the 1990 Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act in response to a growing need for foreign workers to fill in gaps left by the native population. In the past, Japan had explicitly prevented unskilled workers from immigrating to the country, and although the 1990 reform did not wholly change this stipulation, it did create a “back door” method through which unskilled workers could enter (Brody 41). Although this slight policy change allowed over 300,000 Nikkeijin to return to Japan, the majority coming from Brazil, little national effort was put forth to smooth the workers’ integration into the country. As these individuals began to enter in large numbers, two contradictory positions on their perceived role in Japanese society arose. First, there existed a widespread assumption that integration and transition for these individuals would prove simple, and there would soon be little difference between Nikkeijin and Japanese nationals. This idea ultimately proved false. Despite their ethnic background, many of the Nikkeijin were several generations removed from their Japanese origins, and although a number had enrolled in Japanese language classes back in Brazil, the language barrier proved a large obstacle to their assimilation (Ortloff 453). Japan did revise their “Lifelong Learning Promotion Law” in the same year as their immigration reform to promote adult learning, but they failed to provide any adjustments to cater to the needs of the newly-arrived foreign workers. As a result, even though Nikkeijin were not subjected to the racial discrimination and hiring bias that the Koreans suffered, because they were largely unskilled coming in and were forced to remain so because of the strict language and cultural barriers, they were restricted to the margins of society, filling no role but that of the manual laborer by which they had originally been tempted. Second, however, the 1990 Immigration Act that paved the way for the Nikkeijin’s migration exhibits calculated exclusion. The Act expanded the number of 1951 immigrant categories from eighteen to twenty-seven, and one of those added carried the exclusive label of Nikkeijin. As Shin argues, “[b]y creating a differentiated visa category exclusively for Nikkeijin, the Japanese state attempted to maintain its national self-image as a racially and ethnically homogenous nation” (338). Contrary to what was advertised to the foreigners, this “suggests that [the national government] view[ed] the Nikkeijin as short-term guest workers rather than residents” (Ortloff 458), a mindset only exacerbated by some of the Nikkeijin’s own personal beliefs that their stay in Japan was temporary (461).
Ultimately, neither one of these attitudes proved positive in welcoming and integrating the Nikkeijin into Japanese society. The former, that of assumed integration, was not only demonstrative of the Japanese government’s tendency to view “foreign workers strictly as labor power to be regulated and not as people with human rights and needs” (Tsuda 4), but in the specific case of the Nikkeijin, was a further indication of the extreme emphasis placed upon ethnicity in Japan and the perceived connection between ethnicity, culture and language. Because the Nikkeijin had Japanese roots, people presumed that their ethnic background would automatically fill in any cultural gaps and often refused to change their mind about the matter even as this assumption proved sadly false. The second attitude strongly reinforced the idea of Japanese ethnic purity. Arguably, under the ideas and ideals of the country, the group of people easiest to integrate into Japanese society would be foreigners of Japanese descent. To create an atmosphere where not even these individuals are welcome in the long term is to emphasize cultural purity as well as ethnic purity. The Japanese population in Brazil was large enough and existed for short enough a time that many people stayed within the bounds of the Japanese community and did not intermarry with Brazilians. Although theoretically this could have provided the opportunity for the Japanese government to see returners as still ethnically “pure,” they chose instead to focus on the different cultural influences – for WWII-era assimilation policies caused many to adopt Brazilian practices and beliefs – and in doing so, created an even stricter set of criteria for people to fulfill to be considered properly Japanese (Ortloff 453).
Even as developing solutions for ethnic and racial difficulties remained largely ignored on the national level, though, local movements have gained considerable precedence in the last several decades. Exemplary among these efforts has been the establishment of the “Committee for Localities with a Concentrated Foreign Population,” an organization that “unites sixteen cities in their efforts to deal with immigration issues” (Tegtmeyer Pak 68). Since its formation in 2001, the Committee has made deliberate efforts to emphasize the value of foreign workers’ contributions to Japanese society and to create potential avenues to nation-wide policy changes. Adult education programs are also developing on the local level to incorporate the needs of foreign residents, and, tellingly, there is a direct correlation between “the availability of adult education services” and “the degree to which foreign residents [. . .] have been accepted and incorporated into the existing social service and educational infrastructure” (Ortloff 460) because “where there are long-standing and dominant national languages, language proficiency is the first step toward political, economic, and cultural participations” (450). As one would expect, language acclimation largely affects residents’ comfort level in society, quality of relationship with fellow community members, and potential to rise higher in the workforce, so while these programs are still small, they have already had significant positive effects on individuals and communities.
In context of Japan’s economic status and rapidly aging population, though, critics, scholars, and politicians argue that these small, local efforts are far from what Japan needs to stay competitive on the global market. These carefully measured groups of foreigners brought in to work temporarily may stabilize the country for a time, but data analysts predict that if Japan’s economy and population continue to grow at a similar rate, there will be a labor shortage of 10 million workers in 2025 and 20 million in 2050 (Mori 92). To compensate, the same number of foreign workers would need to be brought in at the rate of approximately 400,000 workers per year. While this would certainly stimulate the economy and provide opportunities to both provide greater care for the elderly population and turn around overall population decline, the approach is highly controversial and would certainly transform current Japanese society more drastically than anything past changes have done.
However, there is also much debate over whether such a radical plan is even feasible in the current set-up of Japan. Because of the strong cultural values of homogeneity and the group over the individual, Japanese middle schools, for instance, are sites of incredible “assimilationist pressures and deculturalizing education for non-Japanese students” (Ortloff 449). Few bilingual schools exist (Brody 110), causing many foreign children to be sent outside of the country for education purposes, and those that do exist are usually either incredibly expensive or volunteer run. Adult foreigners report “language difficulty, isolation, and prejudice as their primary concerns at work” (64) and housing discrimination based on status and ethnic background is rampant. Further, “[f]oreigners, or gaijin, are seen as so completely outside of Japanese society that their rights have generally not been addressed in Japanese law” (6), and as a result, they hold very little political power. All of these issues are only “compounded in Japan by a general unwillingness to even acknowledge the substantial non-Japanese population, and by underdevelopment of research, education, activist, and political organizations to address and push for solutions for Japan’s foreign populations” (Ortloff 464). Of course, an influx of 20 million foreign workers would act as a natural catalyst to change, and no doubt currently marginalized segments of the population would gain much influence as their numbers increased. To what extent would the Japanese government start such efforts, though, and to what extent would foreigners have to demand that they be given rights? The answer remains unclear. Although the current Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda, has expressed interest in attracting more and diverse foreigners to the country, as of yet his words sound little different from the lip service that politicians have given the issue in the past. It appears that the nation stands at a crossroads: “The effects of the globalization of international economies, as well as the globalization of human rights norms, have caused a collision in Japan between traditional conceptions of membership and citizenship on the one hand, and new policy initiatives promoting ‘internationalization’ on the other” (Brody 1). It remains to be seen in which direction Japan will proceed and how they will strike a balance between tradition and modernity.
One final possibility does remain: if job conditions grow as dire as data analysts currently predict they will, there is a high likelihood that the events of the 1980s, when Japan last had a large shortage in the labor market, will repeat themselves: the country will experience large amounts of illegal immigration (3). Although more difficult to enter than most countries considering its island status, the prospect of people increasingly overstaying their visas is a tangible outcome of the current situation. Though certainly not the most desirable of options, especially considering Japan’s past history of extremely harsh treatment of discovered illegal foreigners, it is one of many possible turns of events that the government will have to consider when moving forward in the years to come.
Considering its strength throughout the years, it seems unlikely that the belief in the value of Japanese homogeneity will disappear anytime soon, even if large amounts of foreign workers are brought into the country. In the past, this conviction has driven the nation’s immigration policy, educational approaches, and behavioral norms. While preserving the perceived purity of Japanese blood is certainly desirable on several levels, especially considering the long and rich history of the people, it may finally be time to push past the boundaries of ethnicity and embrace the integrative aspects of globalization that appear to be becoming increasingly inevitable. Although as the Nikkeijin can attest, such integration will not be easy, and tensions and supremacy struggles are bound to arise, it may be the best option if Japan wants to continue to thrive on a global level.
Brody, Betsy. Opening the Door: Immigration, Ethnicity, and Globalization in Japan. New
York: Routledge, 2002.
Mori. Hiromi. Immigration and Foreign Workers in Japan. New York: St. Martin’s Press Inc.,
Ortloff, Debora Hinderliter and Christopher J. Frey. “Blood Relatives: Language, Immigration,
and Education of Ethnic Returnees in Germany and Japan.” Comparative Education Review 51.4 (2007): 447-470. Web.
Shin, Hwaji. “Ethnic Legacy of Ethno-Racial Inequality in Japan.” Theory and Society 39.3/4
(2010): 327-342. Web.
Tegtmeyer Pak. “Cities and Local Citizenship in Japan: Overcoming Nationality?” Local
Citizenship in Recent Countries of Immigration: Japan in Comparative Perspective. Ed. Takeyuki Tsuda. Oxford: Lexington Books, 2006.
Tsuda, Takeyuki. “Localities and the Struggle for Immigrant Rights: The Significance of Local
Citizenship in Recent Countries of Immigration.” Local Citizenship in Recent Countries of Immigration: Japan in Comparative Perspective. Ed. Takeyuki Tsuda. Oxford: Lexington Books, 2006.
Usui, Chikako. “Japan’s Demographic Future and the Role of Foreign Workers.” Local
Citizenship in Recent Countries of Immigration: Japan in Comparative Perspective. Ed. Takeyuki Tsuda. Oxford: Lexington Books, 2006.
In his book At the Crossroads of Justice, Paul J. Noto explores the true sequence of events that led up to the massacres at My Lai and Son Thang in 1968 and 1970, respectively. He argues that from the general practices of the Vietnam War and the specific circumstances that transpired on the fateful days of those two massacres, the end results were understandable; however, under no circumstances does that mean that they were acceptable. Repeatedly, Noto draws this line between understanding and acceptance, advocating strongly for the former, but warning that the latter can too easily lead to forgetfulness and complacency. He further argues that because of the United States’ current engagement in Afghanistan, this complacency should be even more sharply rejected than usual, because it could lead to another My Lai-esque atrocity.
Noto begins by exploring what conditions cause people to overcome their natural aversion to killing in the first place, recognizing that “[a] key difference in the psychology of killing is distance. It’s easier to kill when you cannot see your victim” (7). By contrasting people’s current emotional reactions to WWII’s Tokyo bombing against the Holocaust (vague sympathy versus outrage), he effectively illustrates the extent of the psychological obstacles the men who committed the massacres had to overcome to kill in such close quarters. This places those men in an interesting and unique position: in part, it makes them objects of sympathy, because the initial breaking down of their barriers to kill occurred at the hands of the United States’ military training and the harshness of the methods they used; in that light, the men were victims of circumstance. Conversely, it alienates them from sympathy because of the difficulty of the ordinary U.S. citizen to imagine the extremity of the conditions under which strong psychological boundaries could have been broken so effectively; viewed as such, the perpetrators become monsters with little resemblance to ordinary human beings.
Admirably, Noto does not even come close to taking one of these sides in his writing, but walks a fine analytical line that allows for exploration of both possibilities. To provide context for the events, he provides a detailed explanation of the many techniques that were used to condition soldiers to kill in much higher numbers than in past wars (the ultimate ratio of deaths was ten Vietnamese for every one U.S. citizen), and the specifics of the events directly before My Lai and Son Thang. Using court transcripts and the work of previous researchers, Noto constructs a factual, play-by-play account of both massacres that follows the main perpetrators and those who abstained from killing alike. One particular individual to whom he pays close attention is William L. Calley, the lieutenant of the so-called “Charlie Company” that executed the killings at My Lai, and the man who ordered and enacted many of those killings himself. By exploring Calley’s reasons for joining the war effort in the first place, his unpopularity among his men, the escalation of events, and the results of his military trial, Noto presents a fully-fleshed out character whose reasons behind his actions, though far from justifiable, remain understandable. This technique is far more effective than if he had simply assigned blame. In our still turbulent society, it is crucial to remember that a person’s actions are never the result of him or herself alone: rather, a plethora of factors come together to produce the end result. By making Calley a scapegoat (a popular view that was held at the time) and blaming the entire company’s actions on him, one could easily dismiss the case as an isolated incident, unlikely to happen again. By putting a very human face of Calley, Noto reminds us that, given the appropriate circumstances, any individual today could be pushed to the same extreme.
By presenting the events of My Lai and Son Thang side by side, he also provides an interesting parallel to Calley’s story: that of Randall Dean Herrod, the main actor in the Son Thang massacre. In the My Lai trials, Calley’s weak defense was torn apart, and he “was found guilty of murdering twenty-two civilians as well as assault with intent to commit murder” (43). Conversely, for a variety of factors, Herrod was found not guilty on all counts. The juxtaposition of the ultimate verdicts of these two men who played almost identical roles in the two atrocities allows Noto to communicate a crucial lesson on the subjectivity of evidence that can be cross-applied to the entire book. Indeed, despite his seemingly air-tight evidence, he fully admits that “[w]e may never know what really happened at My Lai and Son Thang” (103). A reader would do well to remember this in situations when it is all too tempting to reach hard and fast conclusions.
Despite the thoroughness of his analysis, there are parts of Noto’s book that must be questioned. For instance, he argues that “[i]deology played little role in the training of the military for service in Vietnam. Thus the massacres at My Lai and Son Thang had no ideological component” (78). This broad, blanket statement cannot be ignored, for to claim that the greatest atrocities of the Vietnam War derived from psychological components alone is far too reductive. In his memoir, Body Count, Calley himself explains, “We weren't in My Lai to kill human beings, really. We were there to kill ideology that is carried by-I don't know. Pawns. Blobs. Pieces of flesh.” Though one could argue that Calley made this statement simply to secure further sympathy from the citizen population, it still cannot be ignored that he draws an explicit connection between ideology and incentive to kill. For him, it appears that the Vietnamese who were murdered represented the communism that the U.S. soldiers were there to combat in the first place. Because of Noto’s careful research into many aspects of the events of My Lai, it seems strange that he would ignore such a significant and highly quoted statement from the very man whose story he tells.
Further, in the chapter following his broad statement, Noto presents his readers with the arguments of authors Christopher Browning and Daniel Goldhagen, both of whom write about the Holocaust. As Noto explains, Browning dismisses ideological components, reducing the events to people’s personal needs to obey authority and conform within groups; Goldhagen far overstates ideology by claiming that the Holocaust was allowed because all Germans were anti-Semitic. As he is prone to do, Noto once again provides a middle ground, asserting that while ideology certainly played a role in the events of the Holocaust, many other factors came into play as well. His statement that ideology played no part in the massacres at My Lai and Son Thang, then, is overly reductive and not sufficiently backed up by evidence.
If one does accept Noto’s assertion as true, though, many interesting conclusions can be drawn both about the Vietnam War and war atrocities in general. Clearly, the Vietnam War was based in ideology: namely, to stop the spread of communism. Even when the war effort itself went sour, the U.S. government continued to preach the evils of communism and the value of fighting against it. To argue that the military training had no ideological component, and that when it came down to combat itself, soldiers acted out of instinct and social conformity instead of ideology is to argue that the anti-communist ideology worked in theory but not in practice. Preaching ideology provided an inspiring rhetoric for both the government and the citizen population, both of whom were far removed from the actual war effort, but failed in application. If this argument holds, it provides a terrifying assertion that warfare is solely exploitation of the United States’ citizen population to promote a governmental agenda. Though this argument has been made many a time, it falls apart in face of the many statements made by soldiers across the decades that they have fought to protect their country and firmly believe in the causes for which they fight. Despite the training tactics used during the Vietnam War, there were still soldiers who remained loyal to the anti-communist cause and justified their actions upon a strong ideological basis.
However, it must be noted that Noto does not declare that ideology did not play a role among the soldiers in Vietnam in general, but in instigating the actions at My Lai and Son Thang specifically. As these are undoubtedly the two worst atrocities to come out of the Vietnam War, it would appear that Noto is making an argument about specific motivation behind civilian massacres. From the beginning, Noto makes it clear that the closer the distance between a person and his or her enemy, the more difficult it is to kill. This argument can also be applied to the distance between U.S. citizens and the perpetrators of these two massacres in ideological terms. Because for many years ideology drove the United States’ support of the Vietnam War, to take away an ideological component from My Lai and Son Thang is to increase the metaphorical distance between the two, which allows the U.S. to effectively “kill” its association with the massacres with few qualms. If ideology is the main driving factor behind a war, any events not driven by ideology can be treated as a separate entity. On the one hand, this is admirable, because it admits that there was absolutely no justification for these events. This was not our intention for the Vietnam War, one could argue; we will not use our ideology to defend these actions. On the other, taking away ideology distances the potential to understand My Lai and Son Thang at all. As the only connection many Americans had to the Vietnam War was via ideology, to reduce these killings to solely psychological components undermines Noto’s effort to allow his readers to fully understand why they occurred in the first place. Though Noto tries to draw a line between understanding and justification, it appears that the two concepts are often more closely connected than they appear.
Regardless, it is doubtful whether a broad statement can be made about large scale, civilian massacres even if they are reduced to psychology. Within the U.S., psychologists have performed studies on mass murderers outside of war efforts in order to predict patterns and potential killers; however, because the circumstances and motivation behind these people’s decision to murder is so widespread, these studies have produced no reliable patterns. It seems unlikely, then, that any such pattern can be detected in a context of warfare either.
Naturally, this is not to say that there can be no application from Noto’s analysis to the events of today. In fact, the author himself devotes time to drawing comparisons between the Vietnam War and the current war in Afghanistan that, while acknowledging significant differences, provide a chilling circumstantial parallel between the two situations. Though brief, Noto’s declaration that we must understand My Lai and Son Thang in order to prevent similar events in Afghanistan is one of the most poignant of the book. Of course, besides war tactics, many significant factors have changed within society. Today, violence is far more mainstream than it was half a century ago, and children are indoctrinated from a young age into the ways of aggression and killing. Though the intense training methods used on soldiers to allow them to overcome their psychological aversion to killing are no longer as widely or obviously practiced, there is the distinct possibility that societal norms compensate for this apparent decrease of encouragement of violence within the military. If distance is the main factor in the ease of killing, having children exposed to the ways of slaughter from an early age in the forms of media and video games, for instance, decreases the distance that killing holds from social norms, increases its distance from taboo practices, and makes killing easier than before. Though whether children’s exposure to violence actually makes them more violent is an ongoing argument, one would be remiss not to acknowledge that if in fact it does, this violence in far more likely to come out in the context of warfare.
Noto’s argument has also increased in poignancy in light of the recent rogue shooter in Afghanistan, Robert Bales, charged with the murder of seventeen innocent Afghan villagers – tellingly, only one more than the number killed at Son Thang. By some accounts, it would appear that Noto’s fears have become a reality: despite our changing military tactics and our increased emphasis on a “hearts and minds” approach to Afghan citizens, mass murder of innocents is still being committed. Many of the same issues have come into play: the stress of combat that might have had an impact of Bales’s actions, the clash of ideologies between the two cultures, and divided support, sympathy, and blame directed toward Bales. As in Vietnam, this massacre occurred approximately ten years after the start of the war. The make-up of the victims themselves is even similar, with many of them being women and children. One would be justified in fearing that My Lai and Son Thang are happening once again.
Fortunately, though, many important differences exist as well, the most obvious being the United States’ response to the matter. Unlike at My Lai and Son Thang, there was no attempt to cover up the actions of Bales. He was arrested and charged promptly after the murders were committed, and it was absolutely clear-cut that he was not provoked in any way. Though naturally Bales’s actions will further set back the troops’ relations with Afghan civilians, the military’s official response has perhaps prevented the worst of this corrosion. As Afghans clamor that Bales be tried in their own country instead of the U.S., their voices are being heard. Though the actions of Bales are highly regrettable, hope remains that despite the violence, the U.S. military has learned from past massacres such as My Lai and Son Thang and is moving toward a state where such atrocities will become a thing of the past.
BARON LAUDERMILK - 13 JANUARY 2011
It may be true that the peaceful resolution between Wukan, a coastal southern village in Guangdong province, and the local government and the party officials sets a new precedent for the future. It is indeed shocking and unprecedented to see an obscure village of just 20,000 people evict its corrupt communist party officials and police force and block off the city until its demands are met. For more than two weeks, the village governed itself without any state or central government control, and staged massive protests against the officials selling farmland to property developers without giving appropriate compensation to the owners of the land. People of all ages were fed up with the government’s abuse of its powers, land grabs, income disparities, and the possible police brutality case involving a local village leader. The Wukan people who had nothing to lose planned to protest until justice was implemented fairly. As one villager said, “If the government doesn't meet its commitments, we'll protest again.”
Despite the glimmer of hope that came out of Wukan’s success, China’s one-party system, which has been dominated by the Communist Party since the founding of the People’s Republic, has publically repeated that it will do whatever it takes to maintain its power. Wukan did have a victory, but it is far from a precedent that other villagers, activists and lawyers can depend on. I firmly believe that luck played a major part in saving Wukan from being swiftly quelled by an experienced police force.
On December 18, 2011 it appeared that the Chinese government was ready to break down the barricade the Wukan people had made to repel the police force, and brutally regain the city. There were three main reasons why this seemed like a possibility. The first one was that many foreign journalists were expelled, which was a gloomy forecast that the police were preparing to take control over the village and solve the problem through forceful means. Hong Kong-based Cable Television
journalist Lam Kin-Seng, three of his colleagues, and three Japanese journalists were forced out of Wukan by the police. A few foreign journalists were allowed to stay, including the New York Times and the UK Daily Telegraph, but their movements were restricted by the presence of armed police officers. According to Lam, he was in a restaurant in Wukan writing an article about the situation until he was stopped by several plain-clothed police officers. They told him to leave because the “village has internal conflicts” and “for the protection of his own safety”. Lam insisted that he did not feel threatened, but then the police encircled him and forced him out of city.
The second sign that demonstrated the police were ready to take out Wukan's protest was that they shut down the Internet and censored the word "Wukan" across the country. IFJ sources
claim that local Internet service providers received an order from the government to shut down all the Internet connections in the village. This approach was also implemented right before the riots in Xinjiang were squashed in 2009. The internet being forcefully shut down was another grave sign that indicated the Chinese authorities were planning on forcibly taking down the village and “socially harmonizing it.”
The third sign of the government’s preparations to eliminate the Wukan protest was that they had surrounded it by thousands of armed policemen, cutting off food and water to and from the village. On December 19, 2011 the police force increased its forces and encircled the whole village. No one was allowed to enter or leave the village, which was demonstrating against the possible cover-up of the death of Xue Jinbo, who villagers claim the police tortured and murdered.
The luck that the villagers of Wukan had was that they protested at the right time. Less than a year from now the highest party officials will step down and new ones will take their place. The highest official in Guangdong province, Wang Yang, was said to have been using this situation to ensure his image stays in a good light. He has aspirations for a top party position.
Wang Yang is aware that if it had crushed these protests, social media outlets such as Weibo and Renren, the Chinese version of Twitter and Facebook, would have demonized him. The last thing he wants right now is blood on his hands. Mr. Yang decided to use peaceful means to settle the protest in order to keep his name intact to ensure his rise in the Communist Party.
Many people who study protests and movements in China have said that the Chinese government must take this Wukan incident seriously. Elizabeth C. Economy, a Starr Senior Fellow and Director of Asia Studies and an expert on Chinese domestic policy, commented in an article called Occupy Wukan: China’s 99 Percent
that although the Chinese government will probably not change much after the Wukan protesting, they need to or the people will take matters into their own hands. Beijing’s take-away from the Wukan protest probably won’t be much more than, “It’s time to launch another [ineffective] anti-corruption campaign.” The real take-away, however, is that it is time to listen to what Premier Wen Jiabao had to say a few months ago
“We must govern the country by law… We need to uphold judicial justice…People’s democratic rights and interests prescribed in the Constitution must be protected. The most important ones are the right to vote and to stay informed about, participate in, and oversee government affairs.”
Put more bluntly, if the 5th generation* of Party leaders doesn’t listen to Wen and seize the initiative on political reform, it is looking more and more likely that the Chinese people will.
Frequently the Chinese officials call out for the protection of human rights and for the rule of law to support people’s property, but such action rarely materializes. There is an estimated 180,000
protests that erupt throughout China every year, all for different reasons. The majority of them are censured, and quietly silenced without a peep. As the New York Times said in October 2011, “local authorities have so far shown they are not afraid to spill blood, or at least knock a few heads (to evict someone for land development)”.
The success of Wukan has not stopped the Chinese government from detaining people who pose a threat to the Party’s rule. On December 23, 2011, Chen Wei, a democracy activist, was sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment
for inciting subversion of the Chinese government. He was detained in February for writing four essays that argued the Chinese should imitate the protests that occurred in the Middle East and North Africa during the Arab Spring. During his trial, Chen’s lawyer’s arguments were frequently interrupted and ignored. Chen’s wife and many others believe that the punishment does not fit the crime. His wife told Time that he is innocent, and that he should be able to express his views. "He is innocent and the punishment was too harsh. The court did not allow him to defend himself and his freedom of speech was completely deprived of…What's wrong about a person freely expressing his ideas?" Just last March, Wang Lihong was also detained for staging protests. The Chinese central government has not changed its attitude towards protest despite the glimmer of hope we saw in Wukan.
On December 28, 2011, Wen Jiabao, the Chinese Prime Minster who is recognized as the voice of democratic progress and the protection of civil rights, called for officials to better protect the rights of farmers to ensure that they receive a fairer and more equal share of protection, especially when farmland is being sold for residential and business use. Construction accounts for about 13 percent
of China’s GDP. The bubble-economy has not burst yet, and investors are still attempting to make fast money through this outlet. But until the Chinese government can ensure investors that its banking system is sound, investors will continue to pour billions of dollars into real estate. Many wealthy real estate investors depend on government officials acquiring farmland-rights so they can build new residential homes, hotels, office spaces and malls. As long as the real estate moguls and the government officials scratch each other’s backs, the 99% in villages near expanding cities will always be a threatened by the 1 percent. The people of Wukan were able to fight against this well-established relationship between the real estate investors and the government, but many villages, that are much smaller and less organized, are potential victims.
There is no doubt that the success of Wukan will vibrate into the future of China. I am sure that other villages, activists, and lawyers have learned that the Chinese government does have weaknesses. China is no longer what it was during the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre, when it killed innocent students protesting in the streets of Beijing for democracy and civil rights. China is now aware that the world expects it to act like a leader, which means they must peacefully solve internal conflicts. Yes, China still detains citizens it sees are a threat, and it still subdues protests, but it has become relatively more peaceful and uses different tactics to extinguish protests. Only two people were killed during the protests, Xue Jinbo, who suspiciously died in police custody, and a child.
I agree with Dr. Elizabeth Economy that the Chinese government will probably just launch another anti-corruption campaign and have Wen Jiabao demand change. But nothing significant will change. The invested interests are deep. The only way to create major change throughout the political system would be through completely altering the economy and how its leaders are selected. This is a process that we may not see in our lifetimes. Scholars have been arguing that it is just a matter of time before China’s Communist Party falls, and a democratic government replaces it. They point towards the local village elections as proof that change will come. But the central government ensures
that the Party itself chooses important village leadership positions. Furthermore, the village elections have not at all penetrated the central government, which is still handled behind closed doors. Wukan’s success will be a glimmer of hope for Chinese political activists and for farmers and migrant workers across China. But the status quo will not change unless a massive farmer rebellion spreads to other villages across China, which is unlikely, or the elites’ ideology changes. Such a massive change in belief is more possible than a large-scale rebellion, but still unlikely in the near future.
Image copyright of Tim Simpson
Baron Laudermilk - 06 December 2011
Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, desperately urged the United Nations to take immediate action to save the Syrian people from being “ruthlessly repressed” by the their government. Many human rights activists, governments, and the European Union agree with her idea that action must be taken now. Navi Pillay never clarifies what she means by intervention, but it is clear that she does not mean economic sanctions. The sanctions from the West and the Arab League that were implemented last week have not impeded Assad’s method of maintaining power by brutally cracking down on the protestors in the streets of cities across the country.
Simply looking at the pictures of the atrocities that have occurred in Syria, and those that are occurring every day, make the idea of intervention a legitimate one. Since March of this year, more than 4,000 people
have been killed in military crackdowns on protestors, and an estimated 14,000 people have been detained. Reports have been seeping out of Syria stating that the Bashar al-Assad administration is severely violating human rights by raping women, torturing people, and by killing more than 307 children
But despite the vast amount of evidence that has proved there is in fact an overwhelming number of human rights violations that have occurred in Syria since the protest began in January, and despite the unwavering support from the West to directly intervene in Syria, China (along with a few other members) voted against a resolution backed by the Arab League to condemn Syria’s human right violations. A Chinese envoy said,
“It is our consistent view that constructive dialogue and cooperation are the right approaches to promote and protect human rights, whereas finger pointing and pressurizing give no solution to any issue.” Xinhua, the Chinese government’s mouthpiece, said “The Chinese representative stressed that [action] to promote and protect human rights should not in any case be taken by any country as pretext of intrusion over another's territorial integrity and sovereignty.” What the Chinese government wants to say is that there is no reason—ever—for a government to intervene in another country’s affairs.
Naturally most people would disagree with this. Many countries, including the United States, regret not intervening in Germany when it was committing genocide against the Jews in World War II. Many people, including scholars and human rights activists, wonder why nobody stepped in when Japan was slaughtering the northern Chinese during World War II. And many people still wonder why the West did not intervene in Rwanda when more than 800,000 people were murdered over a course of 100 days
. Clearly, when a government or a group of people is killing an overwhelming number of other people, it is only morally right to intervene.
The question is: Why is China against military action in a nation that is clearly violating human rights? Why won’t China step up to the plate and demonstrate to the international community that it supports the United Nations in preventing the bloodbath that is occurring in Syria?
The Chinese government does not want foreign forces intervening in any nation for several reasons. First of all, China has a long history of being invaded by foreign nations and controlled from afar, by both Japan and the West. It is possible that China does not want to see the West tamper with other governments’ affairs, because if the West can intervene in smaller nations, it may, one day, intervene in Chinese affairs, as it did two hundred years ago. Also, China has a reputation for violating its own peoples’ human rights. If a nation is not being punished for atrocities that it is committing, but apparently sees other nations being punished for the same things it is doing, it becomes apparent that the domino effect may take place. China does not want Syria to establish an unwritten precedent for governments to intervene in nations who are committing human right violations. And, finally, the Chinese government does not want its people to see men and women across the world sacrifice their lives for civil rights and democracy. The peak of the Jasmine Revolution, when Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya saw their governments fall to young people demanding for their civil rights and democracy (supported by Western governments), made the Chinese government realize that one day this could happen to them. It forced the Chinese government to rethink what happened in Tiananmen Square in 1989, and compelled it to hide this information from its people in fear that they may use the Middle East’s spring to democracy as motivation to demand it in their own country. China does not want foreign ideas of democracy, civil rights, and the possible threat of a nation invading it.
I find it reasonable for China to be a little paranoid about seeing the United States and the rest of the West intervene in other nations’ affairs. China has a long history of being invaded by foreign nations. Around 1075, China’s next door neighbor, Vietnam, a country it had been doing trade with since its existence, invaded Song Dynasty China. The Manchurians, at that time barbarians according to the Chinese, invaded China in 1644. The French and British invaded China in 1856 to force them to liberalize their ports and to do trade with the West in the Opium Wars. And then Japan, a country that has historically had wars and territorial tensions with China, invaded China in 1895, 1931, and, the most famous time, during World War II. All these nations that had invaded China had attempted to force it to change the way it did business with other nations, or the way it operated in general. This long history of being forced to open up to foreign ideas has rightfully caused China to be more cautious when it sees nations intervening in other nations’ affairs.
But, regardless of China’s extensive history of seeing imperialism first-hand, China should start acting as a world power. Or in the words of Fareed Zakaria
, “Beijing needs to recognize that it has become a world power, that its every move is now deeply analyzed, and that it is expected to play by the rules - indeed, it is expected to help maintain the rules.” With great power comes great responsibility. The Chinese government becomes irritated when the West wants to step into its affairs, such as the territorial disputes
in the South China Sea. But the United States and other Western nations feel that they must step into China’s affairs because although it is economically and militarily a global power, it is not acting like one.
Beijing uses its history to justify to the world that nations should not intervene in other nations’ domestic affairs. But Beijing should use its history to accept that foreign intervention is necessary when a government is brutally killing its own people. When the Japanese were controlling Manchuria, they treated the Chinese as second-rate citizens and, during the war, brutally killed them and raped their women. The history China uses to justify to itself that foreign intervention can cause imperialism can also be turned around to support intervention when a nation is being dominated, regardless if it is committed by domestic or foreign forces.
My second point: it is hard to criticize someone for something when you are doing the same thing. China has a reputation for violating its people’s rights. In fact, what Syria is doing now—preventing the people from overthrowing the government and possibly installing a democracy— China did in 1989
during the Tiananmen Square Massacre. The Chinese government has made progress since it massacred young, peaceful protestors in 1989, but it still has a long way to go before the Chinese people have civil rights that are protected by the rule of law. The Freedom House “Map of Freedom 2010
” ranked China’s political rights and civil liberties very low compared to Western nations. The overview of the report highlights the Chinese government’s major human rights issues: The Chinese government continued in 2009 to demonstrate high levels of insecurity and intolerance regarding citizens’ political activism and demands for human rights protection. Aiming to suppress protests during politically sensitive anniversaries during the year, including the 60-year mark of the Communist Party’s rise to power, the authorities resorted to lockdowns on major cities and new restrictions on the internet. The government also engaged in a renewed campaign against democracy activists, human rights lawyers, and religious or ethnic minorities, which included sentencing dozens to long prison terms following unfair trials. Repressive measures were intensified in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, especially after ethnic violence erupted there in July. Nevertheless, many citizens defied government hostility and asserted their rights to free expression and association.
So it appears that China is not in the position to censure other governments’ foreign rights violations when it are also committing serious crimes against its own people. But China needs to make efforts to prove to the international community that it is capable and willing to become a leader of the world. It has made steps in accomplishing this. Democracy
is being experimented with in many villages, people are virtually allowed to say and do what they want as long as they do not threaten the government, and the government has published many official papers stating it will further protect human rights. The world has seen this and has applauded China in its efforts to incrementally improve its protections of its people’s rights. But if China would have wanted to show the world that it truly supports the rights of people from all over the world, it would have supported that resolution and even offered economic and military resources to aid the United Nations. Clearly China has no intentions, as of now, to fully support the rights of its own people and people abroad.
Seeing dictatorships toppled by the demand of civil liberates and democracy is a scary thing for the Communist Party. Earlier this year, when the Jasmine Revolution was catching the attention of the world, the Chinese government swiftly censured the word “Egypt” and the phrase “Jasmine Revolution” from its search engines to ensure that the Arab Spring did not spread to China.
Despite the Chinese government’s well-coordinated and premeditated information chokehold on the Arab Spring, traces of the movement leaked into the minds of young Chinese students across the Middle Kingdom. In February of 2011
, there were signs that some Chinese people were going to protest in Beijing and cities across China demanding democracy and civil rights. The Chinese government took action the way it typically does when it feels threatened by protestors. It filled the streets of Beijing and other large cities, where there were rumors of planned protest, with police officers who were cradling guns and bats. There were not any protests that day, and none in the near future directly related to the Arab Spring, but the fact that the Chinese government deployed an overwhelming force to quash any protesters demonstrates the government’s paranoia and its unwavering will to maintain its hold on society and politics, regardless of the cost.
The Chinese government has astonished the world with its economic progress since the late 1970s. It has pulled over half a billion people out of poverty, it has build megacities that maintain fine public transportation systems, and it has given the average person the chance to become wealthy. But that is it. The Chinese Communist Party will allow the Chinese people to seek wealth, but nobody is allowed to challenge the party, nobody. As long as the Communist Party maintains the idea of holding its power at all cost, it will manipulate its history to justify its actions, and use its military to crush domestic opposition. It surprised the world that even when China had the opportunity to give a hand to the struggling Syrians against its relentless government, it decided not to. But that is not surprising. Everything the Communist Party does, from voting in the United Nations on critical issues regarding the livelihood of humanity, to buying natural resources from South America, are for one reason: Maintaining the Party’s Power. As long as the Communist Party desires to uphold its power and deny civil rights and liberties to its own people, the people around the world who desperately need their civil rights protected will not see a helping hand from the Chinese government.
BARON LAUDERMILK - 08 NOVEMBER 2011
Ten years ago, when people thought of free market capitalism, they imagined the United States’ robust and seemingly unstoppable economy. For the most part, they were right. The U.S. had an efficient and productive private sector, establishing billion dollar companies all over the world in a laissez-faire political environment, with little industrial, political or financial regulations.
People around the world believed that the American economy was an example for the world. It strategically survived the Great Depression and came out with a victory in World War II. It saw an economic boom under both Ronald Reagan and the fall of the Communist block and the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and early 1990s, which was thought to bring about “the end of history,” Francis Fukuyama, one of the world’s most respected political scientists, argued. The United States’ specific style of democracy and capitalism did seem to be the best example for countries to look up to.
But the world’s economic downturn in 2008 demonstrated that the U.S. system had major economic and political cleavages. While the United States was juggling high unemployment and soaring deficits and the European Union was struggling to keep the euro alive, China proved to the world that its state-run capitalism was an effective and highly productive system. China went virtually untouched during the 2008 economic crisis and came out of it as the world’s second largest economy. Western nations are still shocked as to how a country that did not have a functioning economy just fifty years ago was able to become one of the richest states in the world.
China’s method of achieving unprecedented economic progress in the last few decades is no secret. The Chinese government has carefully, deliberately, and strategically guided and manipulated its private sector to become loyal participants of the Communist Party’s game. The Middle Kingdom’s capitalism is a constant game of tug and war between the Communist Party and China’s private sector. This game has resulted in a stalemate, in which both sides are not able to pull the other side into the middle. The Communist Party wants to ensure its power over the state, but the private sector is constantly pulling for its own interests.
While the government’s bureaucrats have been getting their hands on many resources, and while the bosses in the private sector have made their fortunes, the inequality amongst the people is rising. The Gini Coefficient, a standard measure of income inequality in a society, is over 0.5, which is similar to many unstable, heavily corrupt nations in sub-Saharan Africa. The nation’s nearly 10 percent annual growth in GDP has pulled a half billion people out of dire poverty, but compared to the wealthy class in China, which consist of bureaucrats and executives, the average households is on a tight budget. The government has kept interest rates
on savings accounts so low that they cannot keep up with China’s rising inflation. This system, which is in place to benefit state-run banks and their rent-seekers, has moved the wealth from the average Chinese person to state-operated banks, which are directly connected to affluent corporations and government-supported organizations. The stalemate in this game of tug of war between the Communist Party and the private sectors’ executives have made them strong and rich, but the people have not seen these benefits yet. There are only two players in this game of tug of war. The people are barred from this match.
The constant fight of power between the Communist Party and the private sector has resulted in a unique form of capitalism that I call “The Middle Kingdom’s capitalism”. This new Chinese style of capitalism has three classes. The most powerful class is the Communist Party. This class consists of any government worker who has been brought into its club. This brings protections, benefits, and networking opportunities to their close family members. The children of the Communist Party members, infamously known as “princelings,” are born with a silver spoon and they die with a silver spoon. They are guaranteed a cushioned life and access to high-paying jobs. The princelings are almost able to get away with murder,
and their connections with the government allow them to bypass the weak, paid-off legal system.
After the Communist Party officials, the government executives and their families come in a close second. They are close to Communist officials
, especially if they are working in industries that the government is interested in, such as commodities, information, and technology. The third class is everybody else; the students, farmers, city dwellers, etc. If an ambitious Chinese student wants to be successful, he or she must find a way to get into the first two groups.
The Middle Kingdom’s style of capitalism has compelled executives across the globe to pack up their businesses and move straight to the heart of China. U.S. companies have a particular interest in China. China is not just attracting U.S. companies because of China’s cheap labor and low taxes, but because the Chinese government is more receptive to capitalism than the U.S. David Rubenstein, the co-founder and managing director of the Carlyle Group, a massive equity firm, told Thomas Reuters that he thinks
China’s new style of capitalism is more open to business ideas than Washington’s. In his words, “I would say that today when I go to China, I find more people in government who are interested in learning about the things that private equity can do to help an economy and help companies than you often do in Washington… Washington, for a number of reasons, is not as focused on the joys of private equity… So very often, you have to defend yourself when you’re talking to a member of Congress.”
The Middle Kingdom’s style of capitalism consists of the state owning all the major firms, but it allows smaller firms to work without much regulation and interference. The Chinese government may want to maintain its power over its massive state-owned companies, but it should realize that the smaller, private companies are more profitable and effective. According to a paper by Liu and Alan Siu
, unlisted private companies have an average return of around 10 percent a year. State-owned companies are earning a mere 4 percent a year. These private firms are rapidly growing. Between 2000 and 2009, registered private companies grew by 30 percent. Non-governmental industries are producing two-thirds of the country’s industrial output. Yet there is still fear that these businesses could be shut down on a whim.
Yes, the Middle Kingdom’s style of capitalism has produced a robust and booming economy. There does appear to be a healthy mixture of state-owned companies and private enterprises in China. There is no doubt that it would be foolish for an international company to not get involved in the Chinese market. Yet the fear that the Communist Party can just can suddenly shut down a company and choose favorites, and the fact that the legal system is fragile, strikes fear in all private and corporate businesses, foreign and domestic. Richard McGregor, the former Beijing bureau chief for the Financial Times
, clearly said in his excellent book The Party
that the Communist Party can fire, replace, and move executives of its state-owned international company spontaneously, with little to no notice. What kind of international company, or even a privately owned Chinese company, would put all their eggs in China’s basket?
This new form of capitalism will see its economy stagnate if the government does not allow freedom of speech and the press. All journalists, novelists, essayists, lawyers, and good politicians must be careful of what they write and say. The Communist Party has frequently demonstrated that it has no problem with incarcerating famous critics, as we have seen with Ai Weiwei and Lu Xiaobo
. There are a variety of industries that are not able to grow because people are not able to think for themselves. The regulations on freedom of speech and press must be eradicated in order to allow the spread of ideas and business.
China’s new style of capitalism will slow down in the next decade because of the attempt of the government to transition the economy from one based on exports to one based on consumption. As Hugo Dixon argues in The China Files, Part 1: How fast can China grow?,
“These trends can’t continue at the same pace. The country’s exports are now so big that it can’t keep expanding its share of world trade so fast. What’s more, its indebted customers in the West have a limited ability to keep buying.” The Chinese government rightly laid out in its last five-year plan (2011-2015) that it will boost domestic consumption and rely more on its services. But in order to do this, China must alter its education system, which is based around memorizing text and obeying authority instead of thinking for oneself, and back off of the economy and the nation’s politics.
The Middle Kingdom’s form of capitalism has pulled a half billion people out of poverty, made millions of people across the world rich, and will probably keep loaning to the United States and Europe. But at the same time, people should be skeptical of this mutation of capitalism. It is still an unpredictable system. This elite group will do what it takes to stay in power, as we have seen in both Mongolia and Tibet, a move which is bad for business. We must give the Chinese government credit, for they have proved that state-owned capitalism is possible, but now let’s see them peacefully make the transition to a more free and open society.
BARON LAUDERMILK - 25 OCTOBER 2011
Beijing has a long history of using propaganda to spread its nationalist message and the Party’s core principles to its younger citizens. It has utilized television programs and newspaper outlets to counter subversive narratives. And Beijing clearly has not accepted any type of challenges to its propaganda. But since the emergence of social media in China, which has captured hundreds of millions of its netizens across the country, Beijing’s Propaganda Department faces a direct challenge. Using social media has become a normal part of life for more than 200 million urban Chinese people. They are using social media websites for the same reasons Americans are in the West: to talk about politics, the news, and probably most importantly, to acquire the facts about social, political, and economic issues. Social media outlets, including Renren, Weibo, and even Facebook, are spreading the truth about corrupt officials, scandals, and questioning and countering messages from the central government. Social networking in China is undermining Beijing’s official stories goals and even threatening to subvert the government’s credibility.
Before the advancement of social media, Beijing was able to maintain a strong hold onto its power by controlling all outlets of communication. Prior to the explosion of social media, Chinese peoples were not able to tweet new information they found that could expose a corrupt official, or quickly organize people to protest in the streets. Although young Chinese students were able to shake the Party to its core in June 1989, they were severely disadvantaged because of the lack of communication tools they had at their disposal. During that time, China’s cities were still in their beginnings, and government agencies could easily regulate and monitor email, letters, and cell phone calls
During June 1989 in Beijing, China, the only people who had the technology to protest were the students; they had access to computers, emails, phones, and some information, though regulated and monitored by the government. The majority of the factory workers and farmers were left out of the loop. Imagine if an outburst with the same scale as the 1989 incident took place today. Social media itself would have transformed the 1989 incident to something similar to the Arab Spring.
Despite the government’s deliberately opaque procedures and corruption, social media has brought down some of the Party’s most powerful members. As I said earlier, five years ago, this would have been impossible. In 2008, a Lin Jiaxing, a former party secretary of Shenzhen Marine Affairs Bureau, was sacked for accosting a young girl
when he was drunk. Video footage of him forcing the girl into a men’s bathroom and verbally abusing her was caught on tape. Bloggers got a hold of this information and uploaded it on Weibo and Renren. The story spread across the web like a wild fire. The government was not nimble enough to delete the overwhelming amount of post about the story. The popularization of the issue on the internet contributed to the arrest of Jiaxing.
Weibo (The Chinese version of Twitter) users have become more aggressive in striving to expose the actions of corrupt officials. Within mere hours of the high-speed train crash by Wenzhou in late June 2011, online users began publically demanding, all over Weibo, for a report that included the accountable officials. Within five days
, the Prime Minister of China, Wen Jiaobo, promised, with a sincere bow in front of hundreds of people, that he would investigate in the accident. Important officials who
governed the accident were punished. Certainly social media is shedding light on corrupt practices that are occurring deep behind the secret walls of the Communist Party.
Officials a few years ago could prevent a journalist from publishing something detrimental to their career by making a few phone calls to a newspaper company. But in this 21st century, in just a blink of an eye, an official can be fired over a tweet. Social media is empowering Chinese citizens and forcing their officials to be accountable for their actions.
One online Chinese activist, Huaguoshan Zongshuji,
saw an interesting pattern among corrupt officials. He noticed that although they drove simple cars, and did not wear elaborate suits, they wore extremely expensive watches, which are sometimes valued at one hundred times the government officer’s official salary. Via Weibo, he uploaded a forty-eight page PowerPoint Presentation of officials wearing high priced watches. Within days it was blocked by the government. His story is just an example of how powerful social networking can be in exposing corruption in China, and how the Chinese government is striving hard to protect its own members. The fact that the Chinese government blocked it shows that they knew it would cause the people to become upset. Zhongshuji believes that since there is not any legal method to express dissent, the only option is through online conversation.
Social media is also changing many Chinese peoples’ most fundamental views about the people around them. A long time ago, Beijing used filtered and selected information about Japanese people, particularly about their actions during the Nanjing massacre and their invasion in China during World War II, to spark nationalism in the youth. They did this by pushing pugnacious news reports, and emphasizing the negative parts of the Japanese history in textbooks. But social media has allowed more diversified perspectives to be seen, and circulated through social media and networks.
The East Japan Earthquake in March 2011 demonstrated that Weibo can allow the truth to come out
. Bloggers consistently posted pictures, news, and analysis of the issue. Chinese students studying in Japan also contributed to the discussion by talking about how their Japanese friends were upset and horrified by the event. Although the Chinese media did not air much of the turmoil that was going on in Japan, many Chinese people sympathized with the Japanese people because of seeing pictures of people suffering. In one online pole, 23,029 people expressed support and sympathy for the Japanese people who were affected by the earthquake, while only 260 people responded that they were happy that this happened.
Clearly the information that was sent to the Chinese in the 1960s and 1970s that were designed to push nationalist goals have become ineffective because of the widespread growth social networking. Social media is eradicating many of China’s older and outdated stereotypes and traditions. This will make it more difficult for Beijing to control overseas student’s thoughts, especially since they are exposed to free media and press, where they have access to many perspectives from a wide variety of people.
The Chinese government has showed that it is nervous and feels threatened by social media. In late February 2011, during the midst of the Arab Spring in the Middle East, police flooded the streets of Beijing
after the government realized that students and activities were using social media outlets and microblogging to organize protest. During the day of the protest, police officers were everywhere, armed and ready to forcibly dismantle anything that even slightly appeared to be a protest. No protestors showed up, but the police stayed into the evening to ensure that that there was not any viable threat. The Chinese government is very aware that social media, with its fast updates and connectivity with users all over China and the world, can easily organize people to protest within minutes.
Social media is transforming Chinese society and politics in an unprecedented way. Just five years ago, Party officials and government officers had nothing to fear from ordinary citizens. They could embezzle money, cheat whomever they wanted, and, for the most part, get away with it. If an average citizen had a complaint about an official, the official was able to pay off media outlets to ensure stories never leaked. But now, even though the Party still heavily censors media via television, email, and online content, it is having difficulties regulating, monitoring, and deleting the thousands of rapid post that occur every second on Weibo, Renren, and other social networking websites. Social media is bringing down corrupt officials, forcing a long time opaque government to become more transparent, and making officials at all levels more accountable. As long as social networking is thriving in China, it will empower the people, and slowly but surely equalize the people and its government.
ALLISON HIGHT - 14 OCTOBER 2011
After Japan’s former prime minister Naoto Kan took a decidedly anti-nuclear stance at the end of his term, it appeared as if the country could soon be heading in the direction of weaning off their dependence on nuclear energy. When his successor, Yoshihiko Noda, was elected from the same political party, the relatively new Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), there was a distinct hope that the government’s stance on nuclear power would continue along the same trajectory.
Within weeks of Noda’s inauguration speech, that hope remained shaky at best.
Following the March 11th, 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster, there arose a call as never before to end Japan’s dependence on nuclear energy. This call was echoed in many other countries as well, most notably Germany, who has pledged to phase out their power plants by 2022. Kan responded by taking an anti-nuclear stance and saying that Japan should engage alternate solutions to replace the energy produced by their fifty-four power plants. However, so vicious was the governmental backlash from his comments that he was forced to retract his words as a personal opinion instead of the official party stance on the issue. After he left office, the team of researchers assembled to address the repercussions of the Fukushima nuclear plant meltdown was disbanded.
Though Noda began his term in office by agreeing to produce a new energy plan in the next year to reduce Japan’s dependence on nuclear sources, higher-ups in the DPJ who have expressed anti-nuclear opinions find themselves distinctly in the minority, despite that fact that polls demonstrate that seventy percent of the Japanese people are in favor of alternate energy sources (up significantly from pre- March 11th numbers). The government and the people, then, are divided to such an extent that rare public protests have occurred in the last few months in an attempt to pressure the DPJ to change their stance on the issue.
However, past party policies and actions do not make it clear what position the DPJ should take. Established in 1996 and expanded in 1998, the DPJ was originally created in response to the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to serve as a voice for the people. Valuing small businesses, self-sufficiency, foreign relations, and environmental protection, the party has attracted left-leaning, middle and lower-class citizens, many of the same people who wish to phase out nuclear energy. Although one of the DPJ’s seven proposals is to “lead the world in global environmental protection” by “promot[ing] the use of renewable energy,” their current trajectory seems to be leading them in the opposite direction. Recently, not only has Noda agreed to reopen approximately two-thirds of the power plants that were closed following Fukushima’s fallout, but he is also planning to sell nuclear power technology to several other countries, including Vietnam, Lithuania, Turkey, and the United States, a decision that has left many questioning the government’s true future intentions in regards to energy sources.
Supporters of nuclear use argue that the DPJ’s support of healthy environmental policy falls right in line with their endorsement of the power plants. Indeed, when compared to other power sources, uranium usage is currently leading in dual efficiency and cleanliness, as it generates several million times more power than coal and petroleum when used in equal amounts, while producing a fraction of the carbon dioxide emissions. However, the long-term effects of nuclear by-products may prove even more devastating than atmospheric deterioration, as the waste produced by the uranium reaction takes thousands of years to reach safe levels of radiation.
The appropriate stance for the DPJ to take on the future of nuclear power, then, depends on how long-term the party wishes to think and whether they place more emphasis on the energy demand today or the burden of radioactive waste for future generations. Considering the recent political situation in Japan, it is not surprising that they are currently choosing to concentrate on the immediate need: in the past six years, Japan has had the same number of prime ministers come in and out of office, to the extent that most Japanese people no longer bother to keep track of the name of even the current minister. With the country still in upheaval, there is no evidence that Noda will break this trend. As there seems to be little use, then, in forming long-term plans without guaranteed time to implement them, Noda is focusing on what he sees as the best option for the people right now.
As in any political process, though, support for his actions is vital for significant progress to occur, no matter the direction. Though the majority of the people are not yet recovered enough from Fukushima to support the revitalization of the nuclear industry, causing Noda’s approval rating to steadily decrease – currently at 55% and dropping – a more immediate obstacle is the DPJ’s rival party, the LDP. Though the DPJ holds 106 seats in the upper body of legislation, the House of Councilors, the LDP is not far behind at 83. With a total of 242 seats in the House, both parties hold a significant enough amount of power to severely delay or stop any bills Noda wishes to push through. The LDP is already calling for more debate on the future of nuclear power, arguing that whatever the end result may be, more time is needed to discuss any and all possibilities. However, like the DPJ, they, too, are split among themselves on the issue, making its future even more uncertain.
Clearly aware that his current plan of action is unpopular with Japan’s citizen population, Noda has placed considerable emphasis on the tests that are being done to ensure further safety of the country’s nuclear plants before they are reopened. Though he claims that the tests are rigorous, it is highly doubtful that they can simulate the effects that another earthquake of the same magnitude as the one on March 11th could cause. Additionally, recent research produced by University of Tokyo professor Yoshinobu Tsuji that a tsunami up to twice as high as for what the city is prepared could hit the Hamaoka nuclear power plant has only served to further turn popular opinion against nuclear power.
Noda, then, will have to tread very carefully in the weeks and months to come. The scale of the Fukushima disaster clearly acted as a catalyst to invoke Japan’s public fervor, and unlike for past issues, the people are not willing to consign the country’s nuclear fate solely to the hands of the government. The two will remain at odds, then, until a compromise is reached: whether the people or the prime minister will have to give more, though, remains to be seen.
BARON LAUDERMILK - 12 OCTOBER 2011
The world has silently envied China’s incredible economic progress since the late 1970s. Westerners cringed with jealously when China came out as the world’s new economic engine after the United State’s economy tanked in 2008. China’s newly built capitalist economy guided by a one-party system is impressive, even for people who despise the Chinese government and its radical polices. To the average Joe, China seems to be building cities as large as New York city every year. And it seems that China’s bull market economy will be charging into the future without any problems.
Even at many U.S. universities, it appears that the Chinese students are the most affluent people around. They seem to be the new Joneses. At Ohio University, the Chinese students have reaped the benefits from China’s economic miracle. Many students stare in awe when they see a young Chinese student cruising in a brand new Mercedes Benz through the forests and Appalachia of Athens, Ohio. I have heard American college students say, “Those Chinese people are so lucky, their economy is making all the Chinese people rich.”
Unfortunately, the Chinese undergraduates in Western universities, whose’ families typically come from high government positions or state-owned industries, do not begin to represent the whole Chinese population. In Shanghai (average annual incomes are much higher than in almost every other city in China) , the salary of a average Chinese family just reached $10,000 a year in 2011
. Earning this income, even if a family saves two- thirds of it, would still not enable to the family to send their child to the West. So the questions become, are the middle class and lower class Chinese people seeing this new wealth to the extent Westerns think they are? How is inflation affecting their savings? Are their wages rising in proportion with the economic gains? What is preventing Chinese people from buying up Western goods?
There is no doubt that since China’s entrance into the globalized world people are better off than they were before 1978, under Mao Zedong’s leadership. The unemployment rate in China is relatively low compared to the developed nations and wages are going up. Coastal factories in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou are popping up every day, and minimum wages are skyrocketing. Surprisingly, and contrary to what many people believe, an overwhelming number of factories are raising wages because they are having difficulty finding full-time employees. Luckily, much of the rise in wages on China’s coast are incrementally and surely trickling out to all the different regions, including Tibet
, two of China’s poorest provinces. So yes, the Chinese people are seeing a rise of wages across the country, but the average salary in China is still low compared to the United States and European standards. The average wage in southern China is only about 75 cents an hour
But China’s low employment rate and rising wages do not mean Chinese people buy many of the new goods and services that are typically found in the West, such as cars, homes, laptops and smart phones, because Chinese people save a huge portion of their money. Why are they saving their money when the economy is booming? Here are five good reasons: (1) China’s volatile market puts off investors. To be more specific, savings interest rates are low. (2)The rise of inflation is much higher than saving account rates (3) The soaring price of food. (4)The lack of a dependable social net. (5) The rise of housing prices.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is keeping interest so low that it cannot keep up with China’s rising inflation. The New York Times interviewed a couple in Jilin
, China, who could not afford to own a home even though they made $16,000 a year, which is much more than the national average. This partly due to the fact that Chinese savings account rates are only three percent while China’s inflation is over six percent. The couple in Jilin, as with millions of other Chinese households, are skeptical of China’s unstable stock market, so they save more than two thirds of their money.Food prices are soaring
. The prices of pork, vegetables, edible oil, flour and even rice are all seeing drastic rises, making households’ budgets tight. Chinese people cannot spend their money on new gadgets and clothes when more than half of it is going towards food. Inflation is not the only reason that is pushing up the price of food. Flooding in southern China is wiping out important crops. A flood in Zhejiang province
in June 2011 damaged more than 241,600 hectares, and 432,000 hectares in total have been affected by flooding across the country. The constant rise of prices is making Chinese people stash as much money as possible until the market indicates stability. Currently, there are no signs that food prices are going to decline in the near future. Despite the CCP’s price controls
that were implemented in November 2010, the increase in food prices will not end any time soon.
One would think that as the Chinese economy develops, as China buys trillions of U.S. reserves, and as the Chinese government modernizes its military, that it would also funnel some of its new money towards its people in a social safety net. In the last three decades, the CCP eliminated its, “Iron Rice Bowl” socialist policy, which guaranteed people a steady job and retirement benefits, and instead shifted its economy to a more individualistic, take-care-of-yourself type of economy. This has forced Chinese people, even those reaping the prosperity generated by China’s economic boom, to take care of their aging parents
, and to save for their own retirement.
Homes throughout China, especially its largest cities, are as expensive as in London and Tokyo. IMF figures demonstrate
that a 70- square meter home in Beijing costs 20 times the average households’ income. A survey done by the People’s Bank of China in September, 2011, found that 76% percent of residents saw housing prices as too high, and a large portion of them believed that the prices would keep rising. The possibility rising housing prices across the country will not persuade its Chinese to spend more money on foreign goods. To the contrary, the very idea that housing prices may rise in the near future will compel many Chinese people, young and old, to save money.
The above five reasons why Chinese people are not spending money shows that the economic boom has not allowed the majority of the population to enjoy its benefits. Actually, China’s middle and lower classes are paying for the wealthy elites to live their extravagant lives. The average Chinese couple’s saving account rates are low so the banks can funnel that money into real estate. Inflation is high for the average person, it does not affect the government officials or corporate leaders as much. The lack of a social net increases the feeling of insecurity in the people, but keeps taxes on businesses low. And housing prices are making it virtually impossible for someone earning an average wage in Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou to purchase a home, but real estate speculators are becoming rich. Ninety-nine percent of Chinese people are paying for the other one percent to do whatever they want, and buy whatever they want. This situation appears to be very similar to that of the United States.
If the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) can find a way to encourage its people to spend, it will kill several birds with one stone. It will alleviate the West’s anger that China’s government and people save too much and don’t buy international products, and it will also mitigate the protest and dissent against the CCP growing among struggling households, a problem the CCP desperately wants to solve.
The CCP can increase spending by building China’s middle class. It can do this by allocating more funding to its social net to secure children and elders at the minimum.
A health care system which covers children and elders will allieve working young and middle aged workers’ worry about their children’s and parents’ health care, so they will spend more money on consumer goods. The CCP must ensure its people that housing, food and education prices are stable, and will not see random price hikes in the near future. The majority of Chinese people save a huge portion of their money to purchase a home, but if housing prices could be lowered people could spend more money on products, thus encouraging domestic spending across the board.
Finally, it is important that the CCP focus on increasing wages in both the private and the public sector while controlling the rise of inflation. If the CCP can secure a confident middleclass, the lives of average Chinese people will become drastically better. This will calm the West, bring security to the Chinese people, and even bring some legitimacy to the CCP regime.
ALLISON HIGHT - 2 October 2011
Loud caws of crows echo across the unnaturally empty landscape; water splashes quietly as volunteers wade through the mud of the river; a man’s clear voice sounds out across both as he speaks of how every effort of cooperation is one step closer to international peace: this is the state in which Iwate, Japan finds itself today.
On March 11th, 2011, the infamous 8.9 earthquake and subsequent tsunami that hit Japan struck coastal towns the hardest. Among these was Iwate, a town located not far from the country’s east coast that is heavily dependent upon the fishing industry. On that day, over half of Iwate’s livelihood was destroyed in the form of boats, ports, and supplies. Over six months later, the town is still working to rebuild their homes, businesses, industries, and communities.
Although far enough from Fukushima’s nuclear plants that increased levels of radiation were not a serious concern, Iwate has had its fair share of trouble. Only in the last month were the last of its evacuation shelters emptied; temporary housing is still prevalent as gaping holes and ghost foundations serve as reminders of the homes that used to stand on the same land. The recent typhoon also caused mudslides and additional evacuation for people who had been assured that their temporary homes had been built on safe ground. Economic stress has been added to the emotional and traumatic strain as the dire condition of Iwate’s fishing industry stretches into November’s peak sea snail season and boats remain stranded on land or in piles of rubbish.
Like in many other disaster zones, though, the perpetually admirable spirit of perseverance and steadfast determination remains very much alive in the people of Iwate, an attitude which has caused many to stay in the area despite the barren landscape in order to rebuild their community anew. With worldwide attention waning away from Japan, and when present, focused mainly on the progress of radiation quell, the stories produced in areas like Iwate go largely unheard. One such story lies in the work done by the non-governmental organization “Life Investigation Agency” (LIA). Established in 2010, LIA works to end illegal animal trades and halt environmental abuse. After the tsunami, LIA immediately jumped in to do environmental-related rehabilitation work to repair the damage done to Japan’s ecosystem. For example, when the waters swept onto the land, many of the trees on the lower hillsides were immersed in salt water; today, these trees stand as brown beacons of what transpired.
While LIA can do little for what has already died, they are not short of volunteers to heal what is only damaged. One of their most recent projects is to clean Iwate’s six rivers. Each day, groups of thirty to fifty volunteers pull on nagagutsu – Japanese high rubber boots – and wade out into the shallows. Armed with spades and tight-knit bags, they shovel off the top layer of dirt that was washed into the river during the tsunami, pick out any leaves, stones, or trash, deposit the dirt into the bag, and repeat the process for hours. After the dirt settles, the procedure is repeated several times in the same area. Even after this stage of the process is completed, the oil that remains on top of the water must be removed by different means.
Unfortunately, despite the rampant trash and sludge that washed into the river, many areas cannot be touched, as various wildlife is building their nests amongst the metal and plastic. As LIA’s primary concern is for the well-being of the plants and animals, they are waiting for an opportune time to approach these areas, a process that will take several years before it is concluded.
Seeing dozens of people working so painstakingly day after day in such a small area to complete a project whose end date has yet to be determined gives one a glimpse of the scope of the disaster: if this much effort must be put in to restore one small part of the landscape to its former condition, how much must be expended before the entire country returns to how it once was? And long will it take?
Surprisingly, efforts like LIA’s may lie at the heart of the answer to this question. While much foreign and national news coverage has converged on the human side of the story all along, the voices of environmental organizations have grown steadily louder in recent months. Currently, Japan stands as a crossroads: despite their renowned recycling and disposal system, the overwhelming amount of clean-up work to be done opens the possibility for irresponsible removal and placement of waste, a decision that could have devastating effects on the country in the future; in contrast, the environmental clean-up being done currently could be taken a step further to prepare the land for possible future disasters. Restoring crops and landscapes to a thriving condition would have the added bonus of affecting Japanese citizens’ day-to-day conditions for the better as well. Especially in Iwate and surrounding regions, where mountains and picturesque scenery is rampant, the value of environmental restoration should not be underestimated.
Fortunately, many people and organizations are reaching out to Japan to accomplish this goal. Among the most encouraging is the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which appears more than willing to share its knowledge and resources in order to assist Japan in necessary scientific and environmental endeavors.
In the days after the earthquake, while the rest of the world was still discussing the scope of the disaster, Japan was posting positive Twitter stories demonstrating the constant stream of citizens’ selfless actions, its nation-wide desire to help evacuees, and steadfast evidence that the country would rebuild in very short order. Today, that attitude persists in its ideal in Iwate’s readiness to accept strangers into their midst for the sake of reconstruction, their eagerness to share their lives and their stories with anyone who is willing to listen, and their ability to take a disaster of incomprehensible scope and turn it into an opportunity for friendship, bonding, and building.
Even in view of the sheer amount of work left to be done, then, Japan’s future is definitely looking more positive every day. Between national and international endeavors, it appears that the events of March 11th may cause the country to emerge even stronger and more resilient than before.
But of course, Japan knew that from day one.
BARON LAUDERMILK - 24 September 2011
Since Chinese businesses and entrepreneurs have fostered a “go-global” attitude, a number of them are strenuously seeking access to Northern Europe in order to tap their offshore financial sectors, utilize their highly skilled and productive workforce, and to acquire their innovative technologies and groundbreaking ideas.
Invest Sweden, a Swedish government’s agency tasked with attracting offshore investments in Sweden, established a solid business relationship with the Chinese government and many Chinese business leaders.
Eddie Chen, the Invest Sweden’s vise-president, told China Daily in late September 2011 that, “Our China Office was founded in 2002, and Sweden is one of the earliest developed European countries that has set up an investment agency in China.”
In 2002, Invest Sweden and China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) signed a noticed that said both organizations are in agreement with each other, and the laws and regulations regarding the contract are transparent.
Since Invest Sweden and the NDRC signed the agreement in 2002, both organizations have been in routine contact with each other to discuss policies and two-way investments.
The establishment of the Invest Sweden agency in Shanghai has triggered waves of Chinese businesses to invest in Sweden. In only nine years, Invest Sweden has aided and consulted more than 250 Chinese businesses to invest and initiate companies in Sweden.
“About two-fifths of the investment projects are industrial, and the remainders are business-oriented; for instance, investing in real-estate and setting up operation centers,” said Mr. Chen.
Chinese businesses are aware that Sweden is a strategic location for centralized market operations in Northern Europe, and a prime choice for corporate and regional headquarters. In Sweden, business leaders and investors are not only granted access to Sweden’s economy, but they also have access to the world’s largest free-trade market--the European Union (EU). The EU consists of twenty-seven countries and more than 500 million potential customers.
The Swedish economy is renowned for its resilience in world recessions, its advanced manufacturing exporting logistics, its offshore financial service sectors, and its innovative technologies and worldwide networks. Chinese enterprises have recognized this and have made major strides in acquiring some of Sweden’s precious assets.
In early May, 2011, Hawtai Motor Group, a Chinese car manufacturer, attempted to invest over 200 million dollars in Sweden’s Saab Automobile. Hawtai was not investing in Saab to save the nearly bankrupt company, but because it wanted to have access to Saab’s technology and business connections.
Richard Zhang, vice president of Hawtai, said, “Saab brand will give Hawtai access to innovative technologies and an international network which would take decades to build.” Although the deal fell through in late May 2011, the discussions between the two companies still demonstrated the Chinese desire to heavily invest in the Swedish markets to gain access to innovative technologies and global connections.
The Sweden-China business relationships will strengthen over time. In the next twenty years, bilateral trade and investment will increase between China and Sweden. Bo Landin, chairman of Sweden-Trade Council Stockholm, said in an interview to Xinhua in 2010, “By 2020, the scope of trade and development between Sweden and China will be vastly widened.”
China’s interest in Sweden’s offshore financial sectors and productive workforce, compounded with the Swedish desire to tap into Chinese markets, will continue to strengthen the business relationships between the two nations.