Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

The China Conundrum and its implications for international cyber-security – 19

Posted in business and convergent technologies by Timothy Platt on November 13, 2011

This is my 20th installment in a series on China and its complexities, taking issues of international cyber-security as a central area of focus (see Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time, postings 69 and scattered following including Posting 17.5 – a supplemental note on China’s demographics.) And through the course of this series I have at least attempted to approach that area of focus from the wider context that it arises and plays out in, as information and cyber-security only hold meaning that way – if any real attempt is to be made going beyond the short term and immediate tactical here and now.

• One of the most fundamental and oft repeated mistakes in foreign policy analysis and in understanding the actions of other nations is made when those actions are seen and considered as if in a vacuum.
• This holds for issues and actions taken in the arenas of information management and cyber-security, as much as in any other area.
• China, like any other nation state makes its decisions according to its own assessments of its own needs, and of the risks and opportunities available to it – and both from within and from the outside.
• So understanding its cyber-security policy and its reactive and proactive activities there, requires understanding how its leadership views their world and how they conduct their own internal risk assessments and due diligence.

In the last installment before this, Part 18, I laid out at least a start to an argument presenting what I see as China’s central conundrum – a profound failure to see the implications and consequences of our rapidly emerging, globally reaching capacity to connect from anywhere to anywhere, and at any time. I have been posting on China’s demographics time bomb, and on their environmental and other challenges that they so actively seek to control information flow and conversation about. I have written about a number of issues, many very severe in their own right that China’s central government appears so clearly to be considering as if separate and independent issues. They all fit together into a single ongoing process as they all co-occur for the same people living under the same leadership in the same system of culture, society and governance. And when China’s leadership seeks to manage all of this by controlling the conversation, and both through its internal and its externally facing information control policies, it is pursuing a course that can long-term, only fail.

I stated in Part 18 that the standard approach to guesstimating the outcomes of the 2012 shifts in power, in the Politburo Standing Committee and other leadership positions will not necessarily offer much value. So for example, and to repeat the specific point I made there, it is not going to matter all that much how many of the seven new members of the Standing Committee come to it from strictly political and ideological backgrounds and how many come from more practical, hands-on technocratic backgrounds. Anyone who reaches a level of power and backing in a single party system of the type found in China, has to be fully invested in the political dogmas and their underlying assumptions that have brought China to where it is now.

I wrote in Part 18 of the fundamental relationships as laid down under Confucianism and how they have played a key role in creating China’s demographics time bomb. I will briefly explain that here, focusing on two of the four relationships as listed there:

2. Son to father, and reflectively father to son
3. Wife to husband, and reflectively husband to wife

Consider the gender skew for children born to Chinese families: When a wife marries she leaves her birth family to join that of her husband as per relationship 3, above. That, among other things, means that as his parents and hers age, she primarily provides support for her husband’s parents and not her own. Traditionally, elder care has been provided through the family and from younger generations to elder in keeping with relationship 2, and not by the state. So couples need to produce a son if they are to provide in any way for their own care as they age and can no longer work. Then the one child policy was enacted and strongly enforced, and pretty much simultaneously with that, methods started to become available for wide-spread prenatal gender testing and determination. And more and more families started aborting female fetuses as they precluded ever legally being allowed to have a son. So millions and even tens of millions of young men are going to grow up and never have a chance of finding a wife because the birth ratios for male and female infants have become so skewed.

Consider the self-reinforcing nature of the one child policy: China’s leadership has become increasingly alarmed by the demographics numbers, and both for this skew in gender ratios of its next generation citizens, and from the rapidly developing skews in age distribution where so few working age citizens will have to support so many elderly. And this is playing out in a China that is seeking to rapidly advance into becoming a true world power, and this is happening as China seeks to develop a true middle class and allow and even encourage individual and family prosperity. Families that seek to advance and to promote their child with as much opportunity as they can create for them, are loath to dilute their ability to do this with a second child, they feel they cannot afford. Relationship 2 enters in here, and in its reflective side from father, and more generally from parent to son and to child. These parents want to see their child succeed and thrive in this new higher-opportunity world. And I add they need their child, increasing skewed to being their son to be there for them to provide for their old age too. The Chinese government can bend and loosen the one child policy with as many permitted exceptions as it wishes that would allow and even encourage parents to have that second child. But cultural pressures that are deeply ingrained will still encourage their citizens to concentrate their effort in that one child in bringing them to real success, and definitely where that child is a son.

And there is the real challenge – not simply looking at this demographics puzzle or any of China’s many other seemingly separable problems in isolation when any real resolution to one has to accommodate and account for all.

I am going to continue this discussion in my next series installment by bringing Deng Xiaoping and his role model legacy into this developing story. And my goal in that posting will be to at least offer some thoughts in the direction of a path forward for China, out of this complex of challenges it faces.

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

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