Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Perceiving China – East and West 2

Posted in macroeconomics by Timothy Platt on May 13, 2012

This is my second installment to a series in which I discuss China as that country is perceived, and both from within and by the outside world. I began this with an introductory and orienting Part 1 in which I connected this new series to my ongoing and already live-posted series on China. And my basic point of reference as a theme that has run through all of my writings regarding China has been on the challenges that this country faces and how it understands and addresses them.

In the real world, every nation faces both challenges and opportunities. Given China’s rising prominence in the world and as a globally reaching economic and sociopolitical voice, China’s challenges and opportunities, and how their government deals with them affects everyone and will continue to do so. So I write here about perception and from both East and West.

I also begin this posting with a dedication – something that I have never done before and either online or in more traditional print publications. I would like to dedicate this posting and this series to Fang Lizhi, a man of intellectual and moral integrity, wisdom and courage whose recent passing deserves to be noted and with words of appreciation and respect. Fang was a world class scientist and scholar who achieved both academic and political distinction in China. But his moral sense and his unwavering willingness to step forward and speak for truth brought him into continuing and ongoing conflict with the authorities of both Party and Government. Yet he persisted and regardless of the cost he personally paid.

Fang Lizhi was a guiding light behind the student uprisings that led to the 1989 protests of Tiananmen Square with the brutally repressive crackdown that followed, and that China’s current leadership is still entangled in for the complications of its legacy.

Fang sought to bring and to help bring greater democratic rights to the citizens of China, and to all of her citizens, Party member or not and even for the most disenfranchised and marginalized. And he did this in word and in his own personal commitment to action from within China’s system and then from outside of the Party in internal exile, and back again from within when he was rehabilitated during the rule of Deng Xiaoping and then from the outside again and even when he lost his professional positions and standing and eventually his citizenship as well, going into foreign exile. But through all of this he never stopped speaking out for the rights of his fellow Chinese citizens, or of the country of his birth that he never, at least in spirit left.

When I drafted my vision of China’s primary challenges (see China and Our Increasingly Interconnected Global Economy – 5 and China in Transition 5) I did so with people like Fang Lizhi in mind, and the generation of 1989 who risked so much personally in their efforts to bring greater choice and opportunity to their fellow citizens – and to all of China.

I note in passing, and to put 1989 into perspective – that was the year that the Berlin Wall came down and the old Soviet Empire effectively collapsed. This was a time of change in the Communist world and when hopes for still further and more widespread change were everywhere. I write this thinking of what Fang and his compatriots sought to do, and of the so very much still to be accomplished.

And with that in mind I continue this discussion and this series by turning back to where I finished off in Part 1.

The crowds of Tiananmen Square directly challenged the voices and hands of authority in China by raising what would for many be seen as a replica at least in spirit of the Statue of Liberty on her island in New York City’s Harbor: their Goddess of Liberty in the middle of Tiananmen Square. That was viewed by members of China’s Politburo Standing Committee and by many more throughout China’s government and throughout the leadership of China’s Communist Party as an affront and an insult for its foreignness – and as proof that this apparent uprising was driven by foreign interests. And this brings me directly back to the questions that I finished Part 1 of this series with:

• What underlying principles of effective government and governance cut across national and cultural borders and boundaries as generally and even universally applicable?
• And where would local nationalistically and culturally defined standards make more sense and offer more value than an attempt to find and apply global norms?

China’s policy very clearly, as noted in Part 1 and throughout my writings on these issues, is to draw the line marking off nationally and culturally defined to include essentially the entire sociopolitical context. So the concepts of best practices and of learning from the histories and experiences of other peoples and countries would not apply for any of that.

• But if China is to break down the barriers and enter the world stage with a goal of becoming a major global power and economically and culturally can this perspective be sustainable?

The government of China still refuses and certainly officially, to even acknowledge what happened at Tiananmen Square, and either while the world was watching during the protests or on June 4, 1989 when the square was cut off from communications in or out, and People’s Liberation Army opened fire on the crowds.

Acknowledging the legitimacy of the types of questions and challenges that I seek to outline in my postings would in a very direct manner mean having to acknowledge and address the more pointed and direct questions and observations coming from people like Fang Lizhi – people from within China who have been part of their system and even dedicated and actively supportive members of it and who have achieved rank and distinction there – but who have also spoken out anyway.

I am going to turn back to my own thoughts and approaches to these issues and to those three questions in my next series installment, there beginning with an observation and an approach that I was initially planning on delving into here.

• I would propose taking a more business-like operational and hands-on practical approach and look at China and its challenges much as if nations were businesses. What are the policies taken and what are their practical implications and consequences?
• I would argue and with much less general disagreement perhaps, that there are more universally applicable business best practices and that decisions made and actions taken can have predictable consequences and results – in a business setting and even across industries and marketplaces.
• The same applies here, and certainly where a country – here China, is developing and enforcing socioeconomic and business policies.

Meanwhile, you can find this series at Macroeconomics and Business.

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