Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

The China Conundrum and its implications for international cyber-security – 18

Posted in business and convergent technologies by Timothy Platt on November 4, 2011

This is my 19th installment in an ongoing series focusing on China, counting a recent supplemental posting added in as Part 17.5 (see Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time, postings 69 and scattered following.) And at the end of Part 17, I finished by explicitly noting what I see as one of China’s largest current and approaching challenges.

Repeating a brief set of bullet points that posting led up to, I stated that:

• China is going through its growing pains on an increasingly interconnected world stage and one in which boundaries between local and national, and global and international have become vague, porous and ephemeral.
• But its government, and starting from the central governing authority of its Politburo Standing Committee is still living and operating according to a conceptual framework of understanding in which internal and external to China can be clearly distinguished between and separated.
• And they further act as if they could make such partitioning distinctions within the bounds of their own country too.
• Events and the development and diffusion of new technologies that drive them have rendered this an historical fiction when applied to the here and now, and one that can only become more and more detached from current reality.

And I finished by noting that 2012 will mark a watershed event for China’s leadership with a massive changing of the guard for who holds senior positions in China’s central government, and I add for their provincial governments too. China has instituted and has been largely following a strict policy by which people are required to step down from a range of key leadership positions when and as they pass the age of 68 and in 2012 that will mean seven of the nine members of their Politburo Standing Committee relinquishing position to new office holders. That is important because the Standing Committee and its members make and finalize all of the most important decisions, and set overall strategy and policy for the Politburo as a whole and through that body for China as a nation.

China’s leadership makes its own decisions and mostly through confidential and even secret internal processes and interpersonal dealings so who will actually leave power and who will be selected to replace them is still a matter of guesswork for all outsiders – even as many offer predictions. I admit to having played that game too, at least to a small degree. And in that regard I note that it is likely that Hu Jintao, the current President of the People’s Republic of China will step down to be replaced by Xi Jinping, the current Vice President. He was born in 1953 so he has time before reaching that official retirement age, he is a known and trusted colleague and his advancement to the position of President of the PRC would provide a strong element of stability in the face of at least apparent change.

As an aside in regard to prognosticating leadership changes in the People’s Republic of China of today – that is an exercise that in many respects recapitulates the guesswork and predictions that Kremlinologists made when leadership changes in the old Soviet Union were made – easy and even entertaining to do but not necessarily a solid basis for developing hard and fast anticipatory strategy.

But my goal in this posting is not to make predictions. And I will add, my purpose in this posting is not to outline my thoughts as to the significance of the particular background details of the potential contenders here – to leave or to step in. Yes, a significant shift by the numbers as to how many Standing Committee members come from political and ideological shaping and enforcing backgrounds, to members with more hands-on pragmatic and technocratic backgrounds could hold real import. But ultimately, that type of detail as to background cannot be assumed to be more than general and even vague predictors when predicting future behavior, and either for individuals or for the Standing Committee group. So I would take a more historic approach and seek to view and yes, perhaps predict a bit while putting the impending changes of 2012 into wider perspective. And in that, I would start with Mao Zedong and the pattern he set and attempted to set for the People’s Republic of China and both in his time and beyond.

I am going to finish this series installment by taking a very narrow and focused perspective on Mao and his legacy, at least for now setting aside the details and complexities. For this discussion it need only be noted that Mao changed China profoundly, but in many respects that change, even at the height of his power and influence was mostly skin deep at most. He is accused in retrospect of having created and enforced a cult of personality, and one in which he ruled with an iron hand. Here, certainly, I would describe that differently, and in terms of a long standing and deeply culturally embedded theme – Confucianism.

Confucius (also known as Kǒng Fūzǐ, or K’ung-fu-tzu, lit. “Master Kong”), and his religious and philosophical tradition have formed one of the foundation elements for social order within China for well over 2000 years. Confucius as a person and historical figure was renounced and repudiated and certainly in name by Mao, and with real intensity during his failed Great Leap Forward – his most far-reaching attempt to truly remake China in his image. But even as the people of China waved their Little Red Books and marched in his parades, they still strictly observed the standards of social order and interpersonal relationship as ordained through Confucian teachings. And in this I note the five fundamental relationships of Confucian teachings – the relationships that an individual holds with:

1. Subject to emperor, and reflectively emperor to subject
2. Son to father, and reflectively father to son
3. Wife to husband, and reflectively husband to wife
4. Younger brother to older brother, and reflectively older to younger, and
5. Friend to friend

• Where each of these fundamental relationships hold with a responsibility of duty and each of their reflective counterparts hold a responsibility of corresponding mutuality and of benevolence.

In this, Mao was much more successful at, and I add needful of supplanting the role of Emperor in this system, than he was in repudiating or replacing it with his definitions and standards for proper social and interpersonal order.

And these fundamental societally-ordering principles still hold sway. And as a foretaste of my next installment in this series, widespread following of them have played a very significant role in creating China’s current and still developing population demographics crisis, and both in the marked gender skew for next generation children, and in the development of such a profound skew in the numbers of working age to elderly and retired that is fast approaching. (See this series Part 11 and also my supplemental series posting, identified as such as Part 17.5.)

You can find this and related postings at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time.

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