We could use a good dose of China

Editorial from Editor-in Chief

Have you ever considered that we need a powerhouse like China to balance the excesses of other big powers like the US and the EU? We all thought that despots could not rule the western world, but we could not be more wrong when looking across the Atlantic or at a few other places nearer home. There is no lack of candidates to destroy what we have…

I have been to China many times since 1984 and have been learning Mandarin for the last 6 years because I remain curious about this country, its culture, its history and people.

At the general level, ordinary Chinese folk resemble us Nordics because they too believe in the work ethic, in education and in the family. To climb out of poverty and develop, the Chinese have accepted huge changes because they strive for a better life for themselves and their children, and that has not been easy. We have also been through this hard learning curve! You cannot avoid it in these global markets.

Yes, their political system is very different from ours in the Nordics, but, in many ways, theirs resembles the former European colonialists who ruled with armies and harsh discipline not so long ago. I do not pretend to accept everything that goes on there, but we in the West cannot have a clear conscience about past and current behavior.

Yes, China’s economic power is also backed by state intervention, but we also allow our public sector to own and regulate large areas of economic activity. Just recall how our own governments and their jointly owned institutions have supported banks and countries in times of distress. Look how trade protectionism has marched in with “Make America Great Again”.

Private economic activity and entrepreneurship are encouraged in China, as are engineering and technology, and many other important professions. The power of the private sector is recognized as the main economic driver, but economic growth never springs forth from the private sector alone. China also recognises the need for active public management of infrastructure and the basic services, together with regulations that are needed to avoid chaos and slower economic development.

When I visited China in 1984, there was just a few hotels, and most of the land between of Beijing and the airport was surrounded by rice paddies. Now there are motorways, railways, skyscrapers and apartments. More engineers and doctors are educated in hundreds of new universities, and businesses are thriving. The standard of living has exploded for many and consumerism and international tourism are the new norms. Progress has been incredible for huge numbers of their massive population.

China is now an important manufacturing source and an integral part of the many global tech supply chains. They can build automated factories fast and work to produce excellent products with incredible efficiencies that benefit consumers all over the world. China is also the biggest investor in clean energy today, alongside the Nordics. What is the US doing, or better still, what is it not doing?

Many westerners claim that the Chinese leadership usurps power and controls the minds and lives of that 1,3 billion. But anybody who has travelled to China knows that the great majority of Chinese are given a great degree of freedom to choose what they do with their lives. Things are far more subtle because the leaders must be pragmatic with a population of 1.3 billion. Nobody there wants the risk of having millions on the streets demonstrating against some government policy they see as detrimental to development.

The US has noisily accused the Chinese of spying, abuses of human rights, and many other wrongs, but the US, and many western countries have spied, asserted control over foreign oil resources, abused developing countries and weaker folk for decades. Weapons of mass destruction, support for despots and dictators have all been tried and tested – these governments have created chaos in which ISIS has thrived, and they pump more emissions into the atmosphere than the rest of us together.

Let’s be clear, nobody is saying that China is anywhere near to the standards of democracy that we expect here in the Nordics. China, like many other countries, must be challenged for its abuses of human rights, but that must be done discretely by small countries like the Nordics. The big powers can fight it out with words and that is their privilege and responsibility.

Abuses of human rights must always be curtailed, but denial of climate change and support of despotic leaders in the Middle East and elsewhere have caused mass flights of populations from war, drought and flooding. This in turn has caused the rise of the populist right-wing groups in the West with callous attitudes to immigrants and refugees. Even the reported inhuman treatment of the elderly by a few in our own backyard is just as bad. The scale is different, but only in relative terms.

Pragmatic relationships between China and the Nordics are a much better way to handle ourselves, even when we would not accept their form of government here. The Nordics cannot pretend to the change the ebb and flow of Chinese politics, but we can talk and trade together without screaming like a spoilt child for short-term gains or for nonsense like making “My Country Great Again”. Their size and economic power together with their need to participate in integrated global markets makes them a safe bet to counter-balance Trump’s chaotic weaknesses…

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