Gulliver’s China and the Tao of 2004

By Edward C. Lanfranco –
Beijing, China, Dec. 30 (UPI) — The Taoist symbol of a circle divided by a half black, half white, swirl representing yin-yang forces of dark and light aptly describes the situation in the People’s Republic of China during last year.
China glittered on the world stage as a rising economic leviathan, but in 2004 the country remained a giant in the dark, tied down by Lilliputian politics.

Much of the reporting on China in 2004 chronicled the positive progress of a rising powerhouse. The Chinese juggernaut posted impressive figures: an annual GDP topping 9 percent (two points higher than the official target), more than 330 million cell phone users, nearly 90 million Internet users, and is heading toward the critical mass of one percent (13 million) individuals owning automobiles nationwide.
China continues to do well in global economic competition with the world’s leading economies posting a large trade surplus with the United States ($150 billion), and smaller ones with the European Union ($13.2 billion).
The country took a highly significant step in November of offering to form a free trade zone with the Association of South East Asian Nations — ASEAN. China is also using its economic clout to forge close links with the Middle East and Latin America plus strategic ties with Russia and Central Asia as part of its quest for energy security.
China suffered from acute energy shortages of oil, coal and electricity needed to fuel its domestic growth. The country’s road and railway network, while continuing to expand in 2004, did not keep pace with transport demand.
Seen from the outside, the Middle Kingdom has become a workshop to the world, exporting the gamut of manufactured goods, and flexed the muscle of burgeoning domestic demand from a middle class of 100 million people, a figure expected to double in less than a decade.
Concomitant to the economic miracle and emergence of China during the last 25 years is the bill due the Chinese people of a better life for the Dickensian sacrifices that have been made and new leadership’s promise of building “a moderately well-off society.”
At the National People’s Congress in March 2004, premier Wen Jiabao outlined the government’s policy of “five balanced aspects” listed as relationships between rural and urban development, development among different regions, economic and social development, balancing the needs of man and nature as well as balancing China’s opening to the outside world.
The calendar year ends nine months into this policy with disequilibria readily apparent in all five areas. This is the dark shadow cast by China’s slow pace of political reform as it strives for the glittering heights of great nation status as an economic superpower.
The word in Mandarin Chinese meaning the common people is “laobaixing” (old hundred surnames). These little people, like Swift’s Lilliputians in Gulliver’s Travels, have puny powers as individuals, however when acting in concert they can shake the Chinese Communist state to its foundations, keeping the giant tied down.
Despite tax breaks and elimination of control on grain purchases and sales by farmers valued at $3.6 billion, income disparities between 340 million city and 960 million country residents grew by official count in 2004. The pace and progress of China’s western province investment and revitalization of the rustbelt northeast continue to lag behind the dynamic coastal provinces.
There remains a massive imbalance between economic and social development in China despite the honorable intentions and demands for change by the central government. China has a long list of Lilliputian woes; myriad single-issue causes where protest has ranged from peaceful resolution of concerns to naked use of force by the police state quelling violent protest.
Thousands of miners and tens of thousands of Chinese died on roads nationwide. Labor issues (pensions, back pay, migrant worker rights, and safety) continue to fester. There was strife involving the Hui, Tibetan, and Mongolian ethnic minorities.
The government fails to protect Intellectual Property Rights and has a Food and Drug Administration incapable of protecting its people from bad food and drink preparation. The year saw an ugly scandal of children dying from fake milk formula products sold and consumed.
Environmental degradation also accelerated in 2004, especially China’s water crisis. Guangdong in the south and Beijing in the north are in drought. Provincial villages and towns downstream from polluting factories reported horrific tales of cancer and birth defects.
The Chinese government could fall if disparate dissatisfied groups ever formed links and acted a united front. No such linkages were formed during 2004.
China’s balancing act in international relations also fell short. While Brazil, France and Germany are in its sphere of influence, Sino-Japanese ties soured, no pipeline deal was reached with Russia, and a collision course with the United States was set by the 2020 deadline for Taiwan unification.
This was path of Gulliver’s China in 2004.
Source: Washington Times

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