Mr. Chen, the U.S. and the rise of China, By Maijama'a Sule Tankarkar

A forty year old blind man, Mr. Chen Guangcheng, from Dongshigu village in Shandong Province of the Peoples Republic of China, was recently catapulted to global prominence by the international media. He was described as a civil rights activist who works on human rights issues in rural areas of China. He was said to have taught himself law and is best known for exposing alleged abuses in official family planning policy, often involving claims of violence and forced abortion.

Mr. Chen Guangcheng became internationally known in 2005 for organizing a class-action lawsuit against the city of Linyi in Shandong for what was claimed to be excessive enforcement of the one-child policy. Consequently, he was placed under house arrest and later charged to court in 2006. On August 24, 2006, he was sentenced to four years and three months for “damaging property and organizing mob to disturb traffic”.

Following his release from prison on September 8, 2010 after serving his full sentence, he was placed under house arrest at his home in Dongshigu village. Chen’s case received sustained international attention, with the US State Department, the British Foreign Secretary, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International issuing appeals for his release; Amnesty International even designated him a prisoner of conscience. Chen was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay prize in 2007 and was named to the TIME 100 in 2006.

Then the incredible story of Chen’s escape from house arrest came to international limelight. How a blind man could scale through the walls of his house and escape the eyes of the Chinese authorities so that he was able to run away from his village and go to the US embassy in Beijing on April 22nd, 2012 almost alone beats many people’s imagination. After negotiations with the Chinese government, he left the embassy for medical treatment on May 2nd, 2012 and on May 4, China muted the idea of allowing him to travel to the US to study. The same day,  the New York University invited him to be a visiting scholar! And on May 19, Chen, his wife Yuan Weijing, and his two children were granted US visas and departed Beijing on a commercial flight, arriving the same day in the US.

Chen is the latest in typical American so-called “human rights” diplomacy by which they create a “star” in a “diplomatic” drama to embarrass others, as if government has no right to safeguard its citizens. This is coming at a time there is transition in both US and China governments with a crucial election in America and a likely change of leadership in China very soon. It is also coming at a time the US is seeking to improve relations with China and seeks its support with respect to crises in Iran, Sudan, Syria and North Korea. Thus, regardless of all these irritations, China is already an inevitable superpower.

Although the United States’ GDP is greater than China’s today and the two countries’ respective trade levels are close, the US is a very large and vulnerable debtor – it hogs about 50 percent in the world’s net capital flaws whereas China is a substantial net creditor to the world. In 2010, US lead over China was marginal: there was less than one percentage point difference between their respective indices of dominance. In fact, according to many analysts, if one weighed these factors slightly differently, giving slightly less weight to the size of the economy relative to trade, China was already ahead of the US in 2010.  

Despite China’s relatively low per capita GDP today, it is already dominant in many ways. Virtually all the African countries do not recognize Taiwan as an entity and are therefore not hosting Taiwanese embassies. With over $3 trillion in foreign reserves, China has offered to buy Greek, Irish, Portuguese and Spanish debts to forestall or mitigate financial chaos in Europe. China has also used its size to strengthen its trade and financial relationships with Africa, Asia and Latin America. In fact, trade transactions among several countries in the regions can now be settled in Yuan. Although many countries chafe at seeing their competitiveness undermined by an undervalued Yuan, they remain silent, either for fear of China’s political muscle or because China offers them financial assistance or trading opportunities. Even within the US, few groups have really been critical.

The economic future of the US inspires angst: the country has a fiscal problem, a growth problem and perhaps most intractable of all, a middle class problem. Repeated tax cuts, the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the financial and economic crisis of 2008-10, the growth of long term entitlements especially in health and the build up of bad assets have created serious doubts about the US public sector’s balance sheet. A combination of stagnating middle – class incomes, growing inequality, declining nobility and long term unemployment as well as falling prospect for even university graduates has created huge problems.

China, which is four times as populous as the US, will be a bigger economy as soon as its average standard of living (measured in per capita GDP) exceeds one quarter of the United States’. A resurgent US might be able to delay that process, but it will not be able to stop it. When the pace of technological innovation in leading countries such as the US is fast, the new technologies become quickly available to poorer countries, providing a stimulus to their growth too.

Even more important than producing new technologies is having the human capital and the skills to use them. According to the American National Science Foundation, in 2006 there were nearly twice as many undergraduates in science and engineering in China as in the US. This differential is already growing. There were six times as many peer – reviewed scientific publications in the US as in China in 2002. The ability of rich countries to stay ahead in terms of growth, according to Arvind Subramanian of the Center for Global Development, is inherently limited because China is better able to absorb and use new technologies. China’s technological sophistication is growing: the US, Europe, and Japan export very few products that China does not also export. Even resurgent US could not exercise power and dominance over a rising China.

Inflation is a major global problem because commodity prices are skyrocketing as a consequence of rapid growth in emerging markets. China has an economy and a trade flow twice as large as the United States’. The Dollar has lost its sheen; demand for the Yuan as a reserve currency is growing. Mr. Chen’s incidence is just a small irritation to raise an internal matter and magnify it to an international issue so as to embarrass China. But everybody knows that the most basic human right is the right to live and sustain a decent living standard. The Chinese government has to be commended for feeding, clothing, housing and above all, maintaining stability for a population that is about one-sixth of the entire human race. That is the real issue that should concern all of us.

 

 

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