#AndrewSingerChina Newsletter Vol. 2, Issue 5
This issue was supposed to publish on August 8, 2020, the second anniversary of the Andrew Singer Talks About China Newsletter. However, given the fast-moving events surrounding Taiwan this week, here it is three days early. For two years, I have been writing on diverse topics concerning China, China and America, and the Chinese in America, from current events to history, art, culture, and society. This issue looks at views of China from abroad (not America), a perspective we do not often see in our mainstream media. I welcome feedback, questions, and comments.
The China-U.S. Dance
This week has been a good example of the angina and whiplash that can result when following events in the U.S.-China sphere. And it promises to continue.
Taiwan. Taiwan. Taiwan.
This island close to the Chinese mainland coast (about the same distance as Cuba is to Florida) has quickly spiraled into an even more fraught flashpoint in the bilateral football game between two giants. Actions and counteractions are playing out in real time. Tensions are high and threaten to spill over to other countries in the region.
We can only hope that the continued chess moves (to mix sports metaphors) remain relatively proportionate and not from the hip. Political posturing as well as economic and military actions need to be well considered, preferably beforehand. Ill-timed, inadequately planned, poorly executed and/or ego-driven actions and statements so often reinforce pre-existing (mis)conceptions and play into the hand of the other.
For many in America, China is an oppressive police state teetering on the precipice of disaster with a battered economy, unsustainable debt, high unemployment, a repressed population, and sinister global ambitions, a country (China) that has no right to tell us (America) what to do, what not to do, and where to go.
For many in China, China is a measured, nurturing nation with a literate, healthy, safe, and confident population, an economy that is supplying the world with products and advanced services, a leader in hi tech and R&D, and a model for world growth and direction, a country that will not stand for others (Americans) telling us (China) what to do, what not to do, and where to go.
So how about the rest of the world? What do other countries see in China? In sum, China is neither the unrivaled colossus it aspires to be and which America fears it has become nor an isolated actor with marginal sway, few admirers, and lack of options.
The Pew Research Center recently released a survey on China finding that large majorities of the populations in nineteen countries hold increasingly negative views of China. This is meaningful, but ultimately of more limited value for analytical purposes because of a huge blind spot. North America, Europe, and wealthy countries of Asia dominate the list of countries surveyed. What about those that are missing? The survey excludes countries in Central and South America, Africa, and South Asia. Israel is the only country from the Middle East. Australia is the only country from Oceania. The four East and Southeast Asian countries included are the highly-developed Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, and Singapore, and the negative numbers in the latter two, while not insignificant, are minority positions that pale compared to the other countries.
Most of the world is thus not covered by this Pew research. This is not to say that the results are inaccurate. I am sure they are not. The canvassed countries are important world actors, and China’s aggressive foreign policy and draconian domestic policies are hammering its image in these places. This also does not necessarily mean that all of the excluded countries are of one mind on China. I am sure they are not. However, the Pew study presents an incomplete and unnuanced picture. There are numerous countries in many regions representing significant portions of the world’s population that support China to various degrees and look upon her favorably or at worst neutrally. China is not so widely seen as the pariah often portrayed in the West.
Concrete mixing plant at expressway construction site, Kampong Speu Province, Cambodia
(photo by Li Zhen/Xinhua, 2020, www.english.scio.gov.cn)
China’s Belt and Road Initiative has resulted in investments of hundreds of billions of Chinese State dollars as well as additional private Chinese capital in countries around the world over the past decade. There have certainly been a number of high-profile flops and white elephants, high levels of corruption, lack of transparency, and criticisms and controversies galore (the same can be said for similar Western investments). Yet research also shows that, stripping away the attention-getters, “…many of China’s overseas infrastructure projects have been successfully implemented on time or even ahead of schedule and have helped relieve infrastructure bottlenecks in host countries.”
Surveys in Africa have shown that citizens of many African countries hold generally positive views of China and the country’s involvement on the continent. China has also cultivated increasingly deep economic, industrial, military, and cultural ties in Latin America. China’s relations with select nations in South and Southeast Asia and Oceania are well-developed and growing. China has become the leading investor and trade partner in broad swaths of the globe. China is actively engaged in promoting itself and others. This activity is not always successful and is often rife with unintended consequences, but China’s influence is growing.
China has been an attractive destination for foreign students from across the world (beyond America and Europe) to study and then remain to work for several decades. While Covid-19 has thrown a huge monkey wrench into this process, China is still seen as a land of opportunity and irresistible market for much of the world, including American and European businesses. China will likely continue to educate and employ many future generations.
China is a shipbuilding behemoth. The China State Shipbuilding Corporation (CSSC) builds aircraft carriers, liquified natural gas (LNG) tankers, passenger liners, and container ships. CSSC currently has orders for more 243 ships (20 million plus DWT – deadweight tonnage) to be delivered over the next four years. Of these orders, which include LNG tankers and sixty plus container ships, more than ninety percent (90%) “…are for mid-to-high-end ship types, and also include new generation (and cleaner) dual fuel (using both LNG and conventional diesel fuel) bulk LNG tankers of 209,000 DWT each….As of the end of June, the Shanghai Shipyard, which this year has a 40% share of the domestic ship design market and a 22.5% share of the global market, has received more than 100 design orders for various types of ships.” China is powering global ocean transportation.
China is all over cross-border e-commerce. Chinese products fill Amazon.com shops as well as other Western platforms. In addition, Chinese companies have developed their own e-commerce platforms, including popular and expanding factory-direct-to-consumer options that bypass the middleman and get straight to consumers worldwide. China has established itself as a powerbroker in digital commerce.
In each of the above, and other areas, China is integral to and integrated in the future of the broader world.