This week’s Economist has a lead article and section on “The New Colonialists” which covers China’s expansion and search for natural resources on a global scale.
For many Chinese, being equated with colonialism is a bad thing, because Chinese have historically seen themselves as victims of colonialism, having had Hong Kong taken away by the British, and the Unequal Treaties with the leading European powers in the 19th century. When the Chinese see themselves portrayed as new colonialists, they go into hedgehog mode, curling up and sometimes fighting back against their western critics who are criticized for not understanding or being sympathetic to the Chinese point of view.
This kind of attitude is not helpful for the western critics, and is not helpful for the Chinese. The issues are real, and they are too serious to be trivialized, and for people to get into nationalistic shouting matches. The effects are huge, as they will affect the overall health of the planet.
Over the past thirty years, China has adopted an open economic development policy to raise the standard of living of the Chinese people. This policy has been enormously successful, unleashing the traditional Chinese ethics of curiosity about technology, thriftiness and hard work to elevate their standard of living dramatically. Today, China has the second largest economy in the world, trailing only the US, which is now currently undergoing a dramatic readjustment following the growing subprime mortgage debacle.
The party has been forcefully pushing a policy of development, and more significantly, urbanization of China, and plans to move more and more Chinese into cities. Throughout its long history, China has traditionally been a country mostly made up of farmers, engineers and small business people. The plan is for many of the farmers to become cityslickers, eating at restaurants, taking subways, and working in office towers.
The trouble with having so many big cities is that they are huge consumers of energy, which is why China now has to go overseas to satisfy this huge demand. Securing energy resources also means getting entangled in the affairs of many countries which are frankly, not very well-run. This in turn means that the country’s foreign policy has to feed its energy needs.
This is how America’s foreign policy and domestic energy policy got so screwed up. In Washington DC and across the nation, there is a strong and influential pro-Israel lobby, while the country depends on many middle-eastern countries which are hostile to Israel for its energy needs. These contradictions are unresolvable, and have resulted in the rise of middle-eastern terrorism and eventually in the 9/11 attacks.
Seeing these problems, it would seem to make sense that the Chinese leadership would find a new model for China’s economic development which did not depend so much on an outdated 19th century European mercantilist model for economic development in the 21st century.