Friedman reports from the Closing Ceremony

Actually a less tedious read than I would have expected. While reflecting on changes in the world since 911, he underscores a point I’ve believed in for a long time: no matter how atrocious the CCP is – and I find them more atrocious now than ever, or at least since the Gang of Four were put down – and no matter how strong America is despite nearly 8 years of slow bleeding under Bush, there’s little doubt that China is rising as America sinks. Now, that may not be forever; Friedman thinks we now have a window to turn that around, and I sure hope he’s right. But the facts speak for themselves, and Friedman lays them out adequately.

As I sat in my seat at the Bird’s Nest, watching thousands of Chinese dancers, drummers, singers and acrobats on stilts perform their magic at the closing ceremony, I couldn’t help but reflect on how China and America have spent the last seven years: China has been preparing for the Olympics; we’ve been preparing for Al Qaeda. They’ve been building better stadiums, subways, airports, roads and parks. And we’ve been building better metal detectors, armored Humvees and pilotless drones.

The difference is starting to show. Just compare arriving at La Guardia’s dumpy terminal in New York City and driving through the crumbling infrastructure into Manhattan with arriving at Shanghai’s sleek airport and taking the 220-mile-per-hour magnetic levitation train, which uses electromagnetic propulsion instead of steel wheels and tracks, to get to town in a blink.

Then ask yourself: Who is living in the third world country?

Yes, if you drive an hour out of Beijing, you meet the vast dirt-poor third world of China. But here’s what’s new: The rich parts of China, the modern parts of Beijing or Shanghai or Dalian, are now more state of the art than rich America. The buildings are architecturally more interesting, the wireless networks more sophisticated, the roads and trains more efficient and nicer. And, I repeat, they did not get all this by discovering oil. They got it by digging inside themselves.

I realize the differences: We were attacked on 9/11; they were not. We have real enemies; theirs are small and mostly domestic. We had to respond to 9/11 at least by eliminating the Al Qaeda base in Afghanistan and investing in tighter homeland security. They could avoid foreign entanglements. Trying to build democracy in Iraq, though, which I supported, was a war of choice and is unlikely to ever produce anything equal to its huge price tag.

But the first rule of holes is that when you’re in one, stop digging. When you see how much modern infrastructure has been built in China since 2001, under the banner of the Olympics, and you see how much infrastructure has been postponed in America since 2001, under the banner of the war on terrorism, it’s clear that the next seven years need to be devoted to nation-building in America.

Yes, I know – the Olympic Green is not China. For all the progress, many are more impoverished than ever. But the progress is nevertheless undeniable, and no one looking at China without Cold War-tinted spectacles can see that China is increasingly a power to be reckoned with as US influence wanes. (Whether this progress is sustainable is a whole different conversation. Still, it has proceeded uninterrupted for decades, something of a miracle in itself.)

In this respect, Mr. Hu, whom I both detest for his stranglehold on power and grudgingly and cautiously admire for his pragmatic ability to broker deals and get things done, has overshadowed Bush (not that that’s so hard to do) and turned traditional views on the balance of power on their head. No small achievement, so credit where due. A pity that a man who can reshape the political universe and move mountains can do nothing to restrain his corrupt officials from terrorizing their citizens and living in obscene and conspicuous wealth off the fat of the land.

And no, that is not “anti-China”; it is anti the plundering and brutalization and exploitation of Chinese people who deserve far better. More on that later when I review Philip Pan’s marvelous new book.

______________

Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 52 Comments

Put your feet in others’ shoes.

August 28, 2008 @ 1:34 am | Comment

it’s clear that the next seven years need to be devoted to nation-building in America

What does that comment actually mean? Unilateral withdrawal from Iraq? Reduced support for Afghanistan? No more intervention in foreign conflicts? Isolationism?

The problem I have with the US is when it creates messes and then, often after a change of administration, refuses to clear them up and uses the defence of “we can’t be the world’s policeman” to bail on friends who need their help. Friedman’s mention of Georgia is rather troubling – is he suggesting the US sign over any state neighbouring Russia to possible invasion by Moscow? It’s easy to start saying that it was all Georgia’s fault and the situation is exceptional – but when would he think the US should intervene? When it’s Ukraine? Or would the US try to back out of its NATO commitments just because Russia was the aggressor?

If some people in the US want to withdraw from international responsibility ok, but also dismantle all bases off US soil and stand down from the UN Security Council. Otherwise, accept that being the most powerful nation on the planet requires putting your soldiers’ lives on the line for other countries. Another Iraq-style invasion is neither necessary nor likely, but further military intervention in any number of places could be.

The world would suffer if the US started focusing on itself to the detriment of foreign policy.

cautiously admire for his pragmatic ability to broker deals and get things done

What has he done, richard? I mean that – I would like to know specific things that he and he alone has done – rather than a previous administration set in place or another minister taken forward.

August 28, 2008 @ 2:08 am | Comment

“A pity that a man who can reshape the political universe and move mountains can do nothing to restrain his corrupt officials from terrorizing their citizens and living in obscene and conspicuous wealth off the fat of the land.”

Who says he can’t do anything about it? Maybe he just doesn’t want to do anything about it.

August 28, 2008 @ 2:31 am | Comment

You blokes(Thomas Freidman included) write as if you all like to save Chinese people from some evil rulers.
Get a life….and learn first to speak Chinese and emulate the Japanese reporters in verifying the age of the Chinese gymnasts by going from door to door.
Stop talking like CNN/BBC. Why…..maybe you blokes are the CNN & BBC reporters themselves in Beijing!…..bunch of nobodies.

August 28, 2008 @ 3:26 am | Comment

I was also surprised to find Friedman’s piece rather palatable. It’s interesting that both the US and China seem to be simultaneously hitting the walls of their respective paths:

For the US, corporate plunder, deregulation and privatization cloaked in the myths of “freedom” and the “free market”. It has really been a greed, ‘everything must go’ free-for-all that people are only now seriously waking up from with a bad hangover.

For China, it has been the developmental ideology that monumental fixed asset investment cures all: build it, and all else will magically fall into place. But if nothing serious is done to sort out all the corruption and instability caused by a confused political system and weak institutional ethics, pouring evermore concrete isn’t going to do anything. I think China has hit a point where the marginal return of the next ‘world’s biggest (enter your structure of choice here)’ will be close to nil.

The popular approach these days is a simultaneous exaggeration of America’s demise and a glossing over of the daunting challenges facing China (and I’m not taking about interest rate tweaking: I’m talking water and arable land sort of things). I think the reality is closer to both of them muddling through a comfortable middle ground.

In Economic Theory Fantasy Land (where many analysts seem to live), China looks much better than the US these days. On Planet Reality, where things like water, air quality and resource availability actually matter, I’d say the US still has a great advantage. Either way, I wish both places well, because any planet where both the US and China are angry basketcases is a planet that will be busy tearing itself to pieces.

August 28, 2008 @ 4:11 am | Comment

The Chinese are throwing off the homeskoolers, the kkkristians, and the inept as fast as they dare. Not for them the Monica Goodlings. While the US wallows in self-imposed Ignorant Design, China tells studnet to learn…or else face the consequences.

The US still has whitey fantasies…that being white confers instant superiority. Our class has Chinese students. While the US kids fret over simple math questions, the Chinese laughed at how easy the problems were.

The Olympics were a showcase, sure. But it was putting the world on notice that China is now a playah….better get used to it.

August 28, 2008 @ 4:34 am | Comment

The problem I have with the US is when it creates messes and then, often after a change of administration, refuses to clear them up and uses the defence of “we can’t be the world’s policeman” to bail on friends who need their help.

—————————————–

The problem I have with the US is that it creates messes in the first place.

August 28, 2008 @ 5:27 am | Comment

The problem I have with the US is that it creates messes in the first place.

Every major power creates messes at least once-in-a-while. When that happens the fact they’re dealt with is the priority.

August 28, 2008 @ 6:13 am | Comment

If China vomits, there will always be some foreigners who will lick it up.

August 28, 2008 @ 8:13 am | Comment

Raj, I disagree with everything in your first comment, across the board.

The problem I have with the US is when it creates messes and then, often after a change of administration, refuses to clear them up and uses the defence of “we can’t be the world’s policeman” to bail on friends who need their help.

The problem you should have with america is that freaks like Bush got us into these messes – all of them. Don’t then blame those who try to get us out of these black holes.

Friedman’s mention of Georgia is rather troubling – is he suggesting the US sign over any state neighbouring Russia to possible invasion by Moscow? It’s easy to start saying that it was all Georgia’s fault and the situation is exceptional – but when would he think the US should intervene? When it’s Ukraine? Or would the US try to back out of its NATO commitments just because Russia was the aggressor?

Why are you making this so complicated and so breathless? All he said was, “They [Americans] know we need nation-building at home now — not in Iraq, not in Afghanistan, not in Georgia, but in America.” Friedman’s point is simple: don’t rush into war, and fix your own house before you invest all your resources in fixing houses thousands of miles away.

If some people in the US want to withdraw from international responsibility ok, but also dismantle all bases off US soil and stand down from the UN Security Council.

Amazing how you’ve put words into the writer’s mouth. Can you get that nation building and being a responsible global citizen are not the same. That you can be involved in the international community and help solve problem and even, in drastic circumstances, go to war without falling into the black hole of nation building? America is the only nation doing this. And it was something Bush in his 2000 campaign swore never to do. To be a foreign policy leader you don’t have to jump head-first into quicksand. (Do you keep a statue of John McCain on your shelf, by any chance?)

About Hu and what I cautiously and grudgingly admire him for – have you been reading this blog for the past 2.5 years? Go back and you will see I’ve been consistent and specific on this topic. When it comes to deal brokering, foreign policy, obtaining resources for the blast furnace of China’s manufacturing operations and making trains run on time, his achievements cannot be denied. (On the scale of morality, however, they may be outweighed by the cruelty and corruption he allows to flourish.) For your memory:

http://www.pekingduck.org/2008/01/the-new-big-three-europe-america-and-china/
http://www.pekingduck.org/2006/04/two-chinas-2/
http://www.pekingduck.org/2006/04/extraordinary-breakthroughs-china-and-the-vatican-and-the-dalai-lama/
http://www.pekingduck.org/2006/04/hu-charms-africa/
http://www.pekingduck.org/2008/06/zhongguo-hearts-jesus/

And many, many more. Hu’s prowess at the negotiating table and his ruthless ability to exploit the needs of butchers in Angola and Zimbabwe and Khartoum and use them to secure resources for China is a matter of fact, not conjecture. Now, is this a good thing or an evil one? Irrelevant. Grand-daddy of evil Adolf Hitler was an extraordinary bargainer – that, too, is a matter of fact. So was Richard Nixon. Of course, these men were many other things as well. To say they were superb negotiators is not to say they were good men or good rulers. But you have to face the fact: Hu is a damned good negotiator and has guaranteed his people they will get many of the things they need to keep going.

If you look at Hu Jintao and only see ineptness and incompetence, you are hopelessly prejudiced. Even Hitler’s bitterest enemies marveled at his ability (exaggerated by history) to jump-start a comatose nation and rip the Treaty of Versailles to shreds. Of course, he sort of ruined that rosy impression later on when he nearly ended life on earth, but that’s anther story.

August 28, 2008 @ 9:08 am | Comment

The ducks here give way too much credit to Hu Jingtao. China is ruled by the elite intellectuals with the Politburo as the top body. Hu is merely one member of that committee.

When traveling in China during these Olympics, I am mostly impressed by the new D-trains that connect China’s major cities. They go 200 kilometers per hour, and take you from Beijing to Shanghai in one day. Riding these trains is so comfortable that you cannot imagine the horror of train travel in yesterday’s China.

August 28, 2008 @ 9:54 am | Comment

Well, maybe the credit goes to more than Hu, but it did happen under his watch and he has been deeply involved in the courting of Africa and the Vatican. If you want to call it “Hu and his friends” that’s fine.

August 28, 2008 @ 10:26 am | Comment

I am much less impressed with Shanghai’s infrastructure than Mr. Friedman. The Maglev? I imagine he didn’t even ride it, and if he did he had a limousine driver pick him up at Longyang Road, so that he wouldn’t be taunted with “ha-luo”s and requests to buy cheapo products scattered across the street.
Having spent far too much time in both China and America, I can easily and assuredly answer the question “who is living in the third world country?”

Furthermore, does anyone see problems with the following declarations: “The buildings are architecturally more interesting, the wireless networks more sophisticated, the roads and trains more efficient and nicer.” I’ll give him leeway on the “interesting architecture,” as I kind of agree, but the second and third comment strike me as a bit… either incomplete or perhaps completely false. I don’t mean to be a cheerleader for America, as many of the criticisms leveled at the current administration are absolutely correct. Yet in spewing this type of propaganda, Friedman is being a cheerleader for a government that does quite enough cheerleading on its own, by right of its control of both the Central and local Propaganda Departments and thus the entire Chinese media machine. Perhaps Mr. Friedman should consider what his position would be, as a critical columnist, in the lovely People’s Republic of China? His only choice would be to ride the lovely Maglev straight into exile.

August 28, 2008 @ 11:20 am | Comment

“a man who can reshape the political universe and move mountains”
After spending a summer back in China, things are exactly the same as when I left nearly two years ago. Hu and Wen seem to be total bitches who just do a better job of packaging their tyranny through the Propaganda Department. Despite the entire “qinmin” spectacle, most people that you talk to in China will realize that the government doesn’t give half a shit about them.

I have not seen any political universes reshaped, and certainly saw no mountains moved (although I did see a village near a mountain relocated for a golf course). Any specifics?

August 28, 2008 @ 11:29 am | Comment

Well, go to the Olympic Green, for one. It is certainly impressive, and having lived here in 2002, I would say the city is in many ways dramatically different. Read the first paragraph of the Friedman article I quoted, where he lists areas where China is doing things better. Whether that can be attributed to Hu and his cronies may be up for debate, but what can’t be debated is his moving mountains when it comes to deal brokering and ruthlessly pursuing relationships that help ensure China gets the oil and other resources it needs. He has moved mountains in terms of reshaping the traditional balance of power; countries that once thought they had no choice but to bend to the will of the US and its allies have discovered they have a delightful friend in Hu Jintao, who will look past their human rights records and even help them with their dirty wars. Hu has been dazzlingly successful in these areas. Next to him, our current leaders look hopelessly impotent – where we have bankrupted ourselves and burned every bridge behind us, Hu has solidified relationships with those who can keep China going without depending at all on the US and its allies. Shrewd. Nothing Bush has ever done was shrewd, aside from stealing the 2000 election.

August 28, 2008 @ 12:15 pm | Comment

About your first comment, Kevin: China’s mobile phone network is much better than what we have in America. But that can be said about every country in Asia. When it comes to broadband, cable TV amd mobile phones, the US is in the dark ages, charging obscene prices and delivering inexcusably bad service.

August 28, 2008 @ 12:17 pm | Comment

Sorry. I don’t buy the “go to Beijing and see the pretty buildings and fast trains and you tell me if it isn’t so much more advanced than the US” argument. I also don’t buy the “US is on the decline BECAUSE of the past eight years” argument. This is precisely the type of article that I wish the media had enough depth and intelligence not to write.

“Next to him, our current leaders look hopelessly impotent – where we have bankrupted ourselves and burned every bridge behind us.” You sell both the US and the US government short, no matter what you think of Bush. I don’t mean to be a government chearleader, because there IS a lot of ickyness there, but the total pessimism of this comment alone says it all. Every last bridge…. gone…. America…. hopeless…. must fail……..soon.

It is amazing how many people think the US is in the shitter or will be there soon because they have some romantic notion of how things were in a golden era. Well, I will take your pessimistic article and raise you one (which is much better written): http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2008/08/the_september_12_paradigm.html

August 28, 2008 @ 1:54 pm | Comment

I have no delusions about any golden age in America. I just know what I’ve seen in my life, and America is now in the shitter more than at any other moment in my life. I remember well the spirit of optimism during the Clinton years and even for a couple of the Reagan years. There was never, ever a shittier mood than now. Never less confidence in the government or the economy. Never the sense that America had wandered obscenely off course. Luckily, the US has strong fundamentals (certainly far stronger than China) and it will bounce back. Tragically, right now it’s in the shitter. In the long run, it will do better than China, which may never become a true superpower, while America will remain No. 1 for many years to come. But right now America is in sorry shape and a huge amount of that was caused by Bush – the alienation of friends, the plunge into debt, two wars that we can’t get out of and will leave us bleeding for generations, an explosion of benefits for the top 1 percent of the population while the working poor and lower-middle classes are given the finger. But we’ve been through this before, Thomas. You can have bush – he’s all yours. If you are proud of him, if you think this is a good time for America, a time to feel proud, a time when Americans enjoy greater respect than ever abroad – if you feel that way, more power to you. If you think our economy looks sound and homeowners should relax, if you feel our banks are secure and ready to lend out the capital required to keep the economy expanding, more power to you. It’s a jim-dandy time for America. Fine. I’m just glad I am not one of the millions who was counting on their home to support them. My own home fell in value nearly 40 percent, and luckily I don’t depend on it for borrowing. The insane rise and disastrous collapse of the housing market is all because of Bush and his cowboy deregulation, the notion that government is an enemy and should just leave banks and businesses alone. Well, that’s what they did, and look where Freddie and Fannie are, along with millions and millions of homeowners. It’s highway robbery, and Bush is the chief robber and America is, for the moment, in the shitter. You’ve been making the same tired argument as things get worse and worse in America. Go pop open a bottle of champagne and celebrate where America is today if you please. But remember, you’re only fooling yourself.

Meanwhile, I’m not popping open any bottles of champagne for China, either. It’s done some things very well, but it has possibly unsolvable problems, problems so immense as to make America’s seem trivial. But they moved forward, rose and grew in recent years, while America fell back, declined, shrank. And that’s just the way it is, no matter how hard the right thumps its chest and roars about how sublime America is. I love America; I was proud to be an American pre-Bush and will be proud once again sometime soon. Which is why it’s so agonizing to watch Bush asphyxiate the country and sap it of what had made it great. In just a few months the recovery can begin, and not a moment too soon.

August 28, 2008 @ 2:52 pm | Comment

The problem you should have with america is that freaks like Bush got us into these messes – all of them. Don’t then blame those who try to get us out of these black holes.

All of them? Clinton is partially responsible for the mess in the Balkans because his administration refused to get tough early on – the smaller states wouldn’t act if he didn’t.

Personally I don’t see Iraq or Afghanistan being a black hole. Indeed the surge may allow a withdrawl in the next five years or so – but setting a timetable now as some people want is premature. It’s important to ensure that the US stays the course unless things deteriorate severely.

Amazing how you’ve put words into the writer’s mouth.

I wasn’t talking about Friedman – I was talking more generally, hence the phrase “some people in the US”.

(Do you keep a statue of John McCain on your shelf, by any chance?)

No – do you keep one of Obama on yours?

have you been reading this blog for the past 2.5 years?

Yes – I was asking you to be specific here, because I wasn’t sure if you meant foreign, domestic, or both. A lot of what you have mentioned is on foreign policy, and I don’t see anything special in regards to the deals on resources with dodgy regimes. The US struck deals with Saddam Hussein before the 1990s on oil because it couldn’t care less about his human rights violations. Any country can do that.

In other respects foreign policy isn’t nearly as successful as Hu and the CCP would like to think. He hasn’t been that successful in reaching out to Taiwan. Offering to buy fruit and offer pandas hasn’t made Taiwanese more supportive of unification. Yes, Taiwan wants to have good relations with China, but that has nothing to do with Hu – in fact his administration has often been belligerent, as can be seen by the anti-secession act. He has also been seen to break promises, such as over the number of tourists who would be allowed to visit Taiwan. He has also yet to have shown much real good-will since Ma’s election – the Taiwanese president’s idea of a “diplomatic truce” has been ignored, for example (even though it makes a lot of good sense).

In regards to the Vatican and Dalai Lama, positive noises have sometimes been heard but nothing has come of it yet. In regards to the Vatican talks, Hu has shown himself to either be insincere or weak in not controlling the “Communist Church” in throwing spanners in the works.

In regards to Europe, Hu managed at least partly to scupper a great chance to get the EU-China arms embargo lifted. In 2005 even the UK was swinging behind lifting it, but the anti-secession act gave enough leverage to those who wanted to keep it winning the argument. Hu was wrong to think that the deal was done – maybe partly because he had visited the major European states and signed trade deals with them. Whether he believed his own Party’s propaganda such that he didn’t think that Europe would care, or that he was arrogant enough to believe that he could do what he liked now that there was an informal agreement, he made a terrible mistake. It may now be that China will not see it lifted during his presidency. Even if China can get by without it, it is a great source of shame (and rightly so).

On the Africa point, that’s down to China having a more “flexible” approach in regards to who it deals with and how it does so. The US could do that too, but it would mean completely sacrificing the moral high-ground even under a new president.

The trains running on time is a bit generic – you may have been referring to something else.

If you look at Hu Jintao and only see ineptness and incompetence, you are hopelessly prejudiced.

Never said I did. But the closed nature of the Chinese government makes it difficult to see much openly apart from mind-numbing propaganda, which is why I asked for your examples. Yes, it’s clear that China under Hu has been winning more “deals”. Well done to him and his foreign policy team. But, as I keep saying, dealing with questionable regimes is not a difficult thing to do, nor has China shied away from it in the past.

August 28, 2008 @ 4:46 pm | Comment

George Bush lost the propaganda war with Al Qaeda, Sadaam, and the Chinese. I don’t know what to say?

August 28, 2008 @ 5:07 pm | Comment

Mess in the Balkans? Is that one of our giant black-hole problems? That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the kind where 4,000 young men and women die while the US cements its new reputation as a condoner of torture and a defiler of habeas corpus. And I know, you love that surge, but the Iraq war was a total and unforgivable failure, a blight on America. Somehow we have mixed up reducing violence in Iraq through the surge with “winning” the war. Of course the surge reduced violence; it had to. And maybe it will let us get out sooner. But in every way, this war has traumatized us and the world and we gained nothing, absolutely nothing from it. Quite the contrary. Nothing has dragged us down faster and more rapidly as the nightmare in Iraq.

I have criticized Obama more than once and am not an active supporter of him; I will vote for him though, as anything that will get the Republican swine out of office will be a blessing.

Between the fen qing and the right-wingers who hang out here I’m not sure which is more annoying.

Hu Jintao has achieved many of his foreign policy goals. Many of these were achieved by getting into bed with thieves and murderers, but he’s still done what he set out to do. He’s made strides with Taiwan, the Vatican and Africa and the Dalai Lama – not always successful, not as meaningful as we’d like, but strides nevertheless. Look at Bush, on the other hand. Radioactive and cancerous. The kiss of death for any politician, be he Tony Blair or John McCain. (When McCain is defeated it will be largely due to his support of Bush policies that America is tired of and detests. That and McCain’s mental incontinence.)

Anyway, although I am completely right and everyone who disagrees is totally wrong, I can never win this argument with people who see only evil and failure and badness when they look at China. Nor can I win it with those who look at the US and see only strength and goodness and endless prosperity. Or with anyone who believes the success of the surge justified the holocaust that is Iraq. So I accept in advance that I will lose arguments with such people. Luckily, however, since I run this blog I do have the luxury of always being right, at least in this little universe. Isn’t that cool?

August 28, 2008 @ 5:10 pm | Comment

Mess in the Balkans? Is that one of our giant black-hole problems?

Does it have to be a “giant black-hole”? That was the term you coined. I was talking about the US finishing what it starts.

US cements its new reputation as a condoner of torture and a defiler of habeas corpus

It’s hardly a new reputation – America’s detractors said similar things beforehand. More people may have a negative view of the US now, but there are still a large number that view it positively. For someone who has accused myself of being black-and-white you do the same sometimes.

Of course the surge reduced violence; it had to.

Why did it have to? I wouldn’t say the surge turned a defeat into victory, but I remember many commentators saying that it would fail or be pointless. Clearly they were wrong on both counts.

He’s made strides with Taiwan, the Vatican and Africa and the Dalai Lama – not always successful, not as meaningful as we’d like, but strides nevertheless.

In some cases, yes. In others, I can’t see the strides.

I can never win this argument with people who see only evil and failure and badness when they look at China

I don’t. Amongst other things I see opportunity, hope and joy. But then again I don’t equate the Chinese government to China so I can do that.

Or with anyone who believes the success of the surge justified the holocaust that is Iraq.

Who’s putting words in whose mouth now?

August 28, 2008 @ 5:49 pm | Comment

There is no comparison to the US and China. Like all foreigners, you see one city, or maybe two or three in China, and say that China is surpassing the US. Not even close!!! The majority of the US is comfortable to live in, heck, most of these “architecturally beautiful” buildings look nice, but are cold in the winter, hot in the summer, and the bathrooms have cigarette butts in the stalls, and the halls are a mess.

August 28, 2008 @ 5:56 pm | Comment

It’s amazing what a little Chinese money will do to a Democrat.

August 28, 2008 @ 6:16 pm | Comment

Cleve, that’s not what Friedman is saying at all. He makes it clear right up front that when you drive an hour out of the big cities it’s squalor and third world. What he is saying is that in the cities there has been dramatic progress while in America’s there has been decline. Please read what he says more carefully:

Yes, if you drive an hour out of Beijing, you meet the vast dirt-poor third world of China. But here’s what’s new: The rich parts of China, the modern parts of Beijing or Shanghai or Dalian, are now more state of the art than rich America. The buildings are architecturally more interesting, the wireless networks more sophisticated, the roads and trains more efficient and nicer. And, I repeat, they did not get all this by discovering oil. They got it by digging inside themselves.

Emphasis added to make sure you get his point.

Raj, maybe it’s just me, but I’ve detected very little “hope and joy” in either your posts or comments about China. As to putting words in your mouth, well – you have gone out of your way to praise the surge and seem to believe in it. Maybe there’s something I misunderstood, in which case you’re welcome to clarify.

August 28, 2008 @ 8:16 pm | Comment

I’ve detected very little “hope and joy” in either your posts or comments about China

It isn’t just you, but my focus is primarily political – where there is not so much good news to report there. If I were interested in writing on cultural matters, such as the development of music and art, that would be quite different. But it isn’t something that interests me as much, even if I am quite aware of and glad about it.

you have gone out of your way to praise the surge and seem to believe in it. Maybe there’s something I misunderstood, in which case you’re welcome to clarify.

I may be wrong due to the problems on the authorship of previous blog entries, but I can only find one blog entry that I wrote on the surge. It said that General Petraeus was in some respects right that it was working. If I wrote some other entries and you are aware of them, I’d appreciate if you could sort the authorship matter out. In regards to comments, if someone has written an entry on Iraq I may well have talked the surge up because it was relevant – I don’t quite see that going out of my way.

On my general view, of course the surge alone cannot justify the invasion – one either says it should or should not have happened. I am still stuck unable to say one way or the other, because I supported the principle of intervening to get rid of someone who was manipulating parts of the international community via corrupt deals to get sanctions lifted and then probably would have come back to cause trouble one way or another. But at the same time it was ten years too late, given that an even better opportunity was missed after the Gulf War when help was not given to Iraqi rebels (Saddam was even allowed to use helicopters against them by the UN). Furthermore the period following the invasion was badly handled.

So I suppose I could say that I thought the action itself was justified, but that the way it was handled was wrong. What the surge has done is given the opportunity to:

a) allow the US to gracefully withdraw, rather than be sucked into something like Vietnam or run away with its tail between its legs; and

b) for Iraq to be able to pull itself together.

It is of course for the Iraqis to do the latter, with international support. The US can’t stay there forever, but at the same time a withdrawal needs to be carefully planned. If the US pulls out too fast all those people that have died/suffered, both civilian and military, would have done so in vain.

August 28, 2008 @ 8:58 pm | Comment

Raj you have defended the surge in other comments – I am not going to comb through to look for them, but I think anyone here who reads your comments and posts knows you are an admirer of the surge and of McCain. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Thomas, did you see the latest upbeat news on our economy:

The number of troubled U.S. banks leaped to the highest level in about five years and bank profits plunged by 86 percent in the second quarter, as slumps in the housing and credit markets continued.

Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. data released Tuesday show 117 banks and thrifts were considered to be in trouble in the second quarter, up from 90 in the prior quarter and the biggest tally since mid-2003.

The FDIC also said that federally-insured banks and savings institutions earned $5 billion in the April-June period, down from $36.8 billion a year earlier. The roughly 8,500 banks and thrifts also set aside a record $50.2 billion to cover losses from soured mortgages and other loans in the second quarter.

“Quite frankly, the results were pretty dismal,” FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair said at a news conference, but they were not surprising given the housing slump, a worsening economy, and disruptions in financial and credit markets.

Yes, things are swell in the US.

August 28, 2008 @ 10:57 pm | Comment

On 9/12/2001 there was an opportunity, but that opportunity was squandered by men not up to the task. The small minded men in charge decided it was a great opportunity to manipulate the electorate to do what they had planned to do from the beginning, invade Iraq, assume an aggresive stance with Iran and North Korea, cut taxes for the wealthy (which included themselves), reduce/eliminate the inheritance tax (GW is a prime beneficiary when he inherits his grandaddies loot), stonewall on global warming and conservation, expand domestic drilling with increased subsidies for domestic oil producers, increase spending on missile defense, assume an aggressive pre-emptive posture in general around the world and especially with Russia. Colin Powell at the first cabinet meeting post 9/11 sacrificed his position by going against the decider and his minions by forcing them to accept the fact that the rest of the world outside their bubble know that the War is with Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and that they need to respond there first before their boondoggle adventure in Iraq and Iran began or the rest of the world would seem them for what they are. Colin got in the way of old cronies Dumsfeld and Dick. Dumsfeld and Dick like to get their way. Colin made they go Afghanistan first, something they had no interest in and this cost Colin Powell his job. If it was not for that it would have even more abundantly clear to everyone except true believers in the holy cause (like Thomas) the failings of judgement and leadership of the incompetent and negligent ideologues running things into the ground.

What did not happen was 1) successful prosecution of the war in Afghanistan/Northern Pakistan against those who attacked the US, 2) international police effort to arrest and dismantle Al Qaeda and affiliated organizations, 3) securing of US borders, 4) rational immigration policy, 5) implemetation of security for global international shipping, 6) investment in US infrastructure, 7) Resolution of Israel-Palestinian conflict 8) formulation of rational coherent regional policy in the middle east 9) and the list goes on add your own case of where the Bush Administration failed to provide leadership.

August 28, 2008 @ 11:37 pm | Comment

“There was never a shittier moment than now”. Don’t remember the Carter years at all, do you? When yesterday’s price of bread meant nothing because everything was re-priced as fast as the clerks could mark them? When the US government had to pay banana republic interest rates of 14% just to get deposits from its own citizens? Near-German levels of unemployment, too. Truly miserable times.

The decline of the US, in relative terms, is inevitable. But growing at 2-3% is not considered a disaster there, either. It’s a mature economy without much room for upside explosions, but on the other hand, how could China NOT have rapid growth once Mao’s iron lid was removed from the kettle? I mean, they have 4 times the people of the US, and still about 1/3 of the GDP. When Chinese citizens make 1/4 the income of Americans, their economy will be as big! 10% annual growth from a dollar-a-day existence is wonderful for the Chinese, but let’s face it, it’s hardly remarkable in terms of most modern economies. China HAS to build infrastructure as fast as they can, otherwise the place would implode. In the US it’s a matter of grumbling over local tax rates for roads and bridges. I see a small difference here.

But really, I consider Friedman a fairly smart writer. Using the glitzy veneer of Beijing or Shanghai to “prove” China is more advanced is just plain silly, and disappointing for him. You don’t have to go an hour outside of Beijing to see a third-world shithole, you just go around the corner. Bumfuck Alabama still has cleaner water and better hospitals. I mean Friedman has points; the US needs internal investment in infrastructure, but the hyperbole sort of degrades his point. Using LaGuardia as a comparison point, LOTS of places look better. That’s probably why he didn’t use Austin or Seattle.

August 28, 2008 @ 11:59 pm | Comment

This is just another piece of overhyping China threat. US is not on decline, the rest of the world has rised up, so US simply won’t be able to enjoy the unprecedented and unaccountable global power it has enjoyed since 1991. What is going to happen is not an anomaly. What has happened over the past 15 yrs in an uipolar world was an anomaly.

August 29, 2008 @ 12:03 am | Comment

“We have real enemies” writes TF. Yet he is clueless [or perhaps feigning cluelessness] as to why. Indeed never really asks any salient question, that might lead to an answer such as “Tom, how do you think the U.S. involvement in replacing Mossadeq [sp?] in Iran might have created “real” enemies towards the U.S. government?” Change the name and answer the same question regarding Chile, Guatemala, Brazil, Argentina, and so on…. well we get the point even if he is dumb about it.

August 29, 2008 @ 12:17 am | Comment

Richard, I do not “admire” the surge. Thought it necessary, yes – but that’s different. Admiration is for people.

In regards to what you said before, you commented that I had gone out of my way to praise the surge. I was pointing out that I did not believe that is the case – if the topic was Iraq and the surge came up in discussion I would express my support or at least hope for its success. I did not deny that I thought it positive and/or necessary.

As for McCain, he was certainly the best Republican candidate, and I think Obama is probably in retrospect the best Democrat too – some good publications have said that the voters will have the best choices in front of them for quite a while. Both have good ideas, but sadly only one can win.

On the matter of the economy, the BBC reports that US growth was 3.3% in the second quarter. I thought that might be down to the tax rebate, but domestic spending was only 0.2% higher than the first quarter. There is certainly good and bad news at the moment.

August 29, 2008 @ 1:06 am | Comment

No, no Sam – he never says China is more advanced than the US. Everyone reads in what they want to. So interesting. He simply says in some very specific areas – some of them cosmetic and all of them in just few big cities – China has progressed while we have fallen behind, mainly because we’ve bled money under Bush. Wars cost us.

Lindel, all true.

Cold, there is nothing here about any China threat. Friedman is often a pompous ass, a bore and a weasel. He has never endorsed the notion of a China threat, however, and there’s no implication of one here. Does any reference to the fact that China is doing better in some ways than America imply a “China threat”? Only to the paranoid.

Raj, that 3.3 is a typical example of one economic report coming out and Wall Street embracing it with literal hysteria. Then the next week the number is “corrected” and the market sinks again. Look at trends, not one of hundreds of reports that are spewed out every few days. The banking industry and the economy are in a downward trend, despite those blips that for a few minutes seem to say otherwise. If you look at 3- and 6-month and 1-year charts on the economy, on housing, on auto sales, on consumer spending, on the value of the dollar, etc., you will find the trend is downward. Period.

August 29, 2008 @ 8:25 am | Comment

re comment 21

Here is a bit of free advice mate: never get into a debate or argument with an [expletive deleted]

I learned this the hard way many years ago and it withstood the test of time.

[Downunder, please knock off the racist remarks - Richard]

August 29, 2008 @ 10:37 am | Comment

Richard, he makes a comparison between an old city, an old airport, and Shanghai’s Maglev, then asks “Who is living in the third world country?”

One of the silliest bits he’s ever written. Ever.

And after all the predictions of gloom and doom, the US economy is all the way down to some small PLUS numbers. You know what that is? It’s a remarkable statement about resilience and diversity. You’ve been around: this is one of those “My god, this is the worst year since 3 years ago” moments. But he’s right about something: we have some shitty infrastructure (as well as some brilliant infrastructure), and if America would only nationalize the cell phone nets, we could be the equal of China!

August 29, 2008 @ 11:57 am | Comment

On the last few lines of your comment we basically agree, Sam. However, I think the gloom and doom about the US economy is justified. I think it will get much worse. I first started posting about this 2 years ago, and everything I predicted has materialized: the housing crash, the continued decline of the dollar, the rise of gold and commodities (gold crashed recently, but is still up 20 percent since I started posting about it), inflation, recession and stagnmation. Am I a genius or what?

August 29, 2008 @ 12:14 pm | Comment

I don’t know, would I be a genius if I predicted a recovery, which we also always have, just like periodic recessions? It’s as smart as predicting the clock will read 12:00!

I’ll make you the bet now I proposed earlier: $1,000 US against “no more than two consecutive negative growth quarters, AND no single quarter worse than negative 2%.” Easy money, Richard, if you’re sure of your predictions: I have to meet two conditions, but you can win with one! My bet is that it’s a rather ordinary recession.

I’ll warn you: I’ve already won $1,500 betting against climate alarmists, and it would have been much much more if I’d had the courage of my convictions.

August 29, 2008 @ 2:11 pm | Comment

Sam, my conscience wouldn’t allow me to make a bet I know I would win.

August 29, 2008 @ 3:07 pm | Comment

Sam, I like your post on the folding bike. I’m in the market for a new bicycle – can you tell me how much you paid for it?

August 29, 2008 @ 3:13 pm | Comment

Sam, my conscience wouldn’t allow me to make a bet I know I would win.

That’s why you didn’t sell gold at $1000 I bet, just out of generosity. Pants on fire! chicken.

The bike was a touch over 3,000 rmb. High, but it’s a “famous” US brand. In truth, it’s maybe 20% better than a Chinese bike you can buy for 1,000. I enjoy mine, but WARNING–it only comes in one size, and at your height, you might find it cramped. If mine were a half-inch longer, I’d be more comfortable. Demand a goodly test ride before buying!

August 29, 2008 @ 3:43 pm | Comment

Well, actually I did sell quite a bit of gold, but I can’t deny I wish I’d sold more. I am not buying gold in lump sums, but with a monthly investment plan, so the crash a couple weeks ago wasn’t that painful.

Thanks for the bike info. 3K is really high so will need to consider carefully. Beijing is pancake-flat, so do I really need gears here? (Rhetorical question addressed to myself.)

August 29, 2008 @ 4:02 pm | Comment

You can find a pretty good folder for 1000 or so, and you might even find a better fit. I still prefer mine, but I’m a bike snob; you should see my expensive bike! Gears are still useful unless you just hate fiddling with them (some people do).

August 29, 2008 @ 4:49 pm | Comment

uh, before you head out to stop the brutal exploitation of the chinese people who deserve better, by the chinese government, could you actually stop your expat friends from exploiting their chinese subordinates and ayis and bumming free drinks from the local girls. and take a break from your white men’s burden, i’m suffering from moral fatigue (not to mention an aesthetic one). go save the mccain voters and iraqis instead.

August 29, 2008 @ 9:56 pm | Comment

Richard, very disturbing…

You seem to praise Hu Jintao for “reshaping the political universe” or something and for doing deals internationally…

But then after some people question this you rveal that you are aware of the fact that it’s because Hu is shameless and solidifys corroboration with the nasties of the world and that the reshaping is to do with removing the human rights question from the criteria for partnerships.

So I just wonder, what really are you praising? Or seeming to praise? it’s like you want to praise something from one side of your mouth but the other side actually knows what lies behind China’s getting ahead.

To be real or not to be real that is the question.

After reading you for some time, I think maybe this is your style, but it reads like propaganda because playing both sides makes it seem like it’s okay to be like that, and it’s not.

If i was some no-brain politician who wanted to find out the public opinion on whether to wave the human rights issue and do some business that contributed to the CCP and oppression, if I came and read your opinion, i would think, oh good, people like Richard think China’s dictatorship has such and such admirable qualities, that Hu Jintao is impressive, and look, he even KNOWS about the shrewd lying about human rights and corroborating with natiness, and he STILL is willing to give them his praise, wow that’s ideal.

I think you don’t understand China’s tyranny, the suffering of dissidents, the terro that keeps people in line the disgustingness of the greed that makes people cooperate with this regime and safeguard ignorance. Either you don’t know, or you are missing your conscience, so I’d prefer to think you just don’t know.

August 30, 2008 @ 4:51 am | Comment

Friedman is a person who comes to China from time to time and never actually lives in China; therefore, he is easily impressed by the showcased cities and ignorant of deeper social, political, and economic issues in China, pretty much similar to one who visits an unknown person with sleek cars and manses, not knowing that this person deals in drugs and prostitutions.
Let the pundits who live or had recently lived in China write about China, and Friedman sticks to write about US. His writings only inflames the already superior nationalistic feeling of a lot of Chinese who are living like “frogs in the well.” The Chinese could not fathom that their armies do not even have necessary equipments for the SiChuan relieve effort, let alone attack Taiwan or be the world super power. Don’t forget the chinese government asked the Japanese for the tents, because they did not have! So there you go, using bare hands to do the relieve efforts, .. laughable but it is true, and the Chinese believe that their military is powerful. If it is not “frogs in the well,” then what is?

August 30, 2008 @ 9:18 am | Comment

Richard, very disturbing…
You seem to praise Hu Jintao for “reshaping the political universe” or something and for doing deals internationally…

Snow, don’t be disturbed. I “praise” Hitler for achieving what he set out to do prior to 1941. I also damn him to hell for the murder and torture and plans for genocide he was concocting along the way. Not that I think Hu is comparable to Hitler – he is not. And I never said what Hu does is okay – but he still does it well. A better example is perhaps the Republican Party. I truly marvel at it’s ability to spread lies and propaganda, while I hate it to hell. I would be a fool and a liar if I didn’t admit they do it very, every effectively. And I would be a moral pygmy if I didn’t also say it was an instrument for evil.

August 30, 2008 @ 10:47 am | Comment

I don’t mean to nitpick, but… “China’s mobile phone network is much better than what we have in America.” In the past year and half, China has introduced the possibility of adding minutes to your phone outside of the city where you bought your SIM card. In the past, you had to have a friend pay your bill if you were out of town for a few weeks. In that sense, Chinese mobile service has proceed out of the stone age, but really, living in the US, I don’t find myself sitting at home thinking, “damn, I miss that excellent Chinese mobile service.” It might be cheaper purely in terms of exchange rates, but when you consider the average income disparity…
Furthermore, the term “wireless networks,” at least according my understanding, includes the Internet. And the only word that I can think of to describe the Chinese Internet this summer was “SUCKING!” While the proto-fascists at blog4china ranted deceptively about how “open” the net was (essentially all of the sites that they listed as “open” turned out to be blocked for me), I found myself trapped in one blocked website after another, unable to even get my job’s paperwork done. Wanna check Gmail? Well, I would prefer to do that outside of China…
Friedman appears to me as a delusional China tourist who has probably spent far too many nights in the Portman Ritz-Carlton and observes the “convenience” of Chinese metropolises from a low-priced limousine. I don’t think he rode the Maglev or bought a SIM card in the subway station. In that respect, his essay is not really any better than anyone’s who hasn’t even traveled to China.

August 30, 2008 @ 2:03 pm | Comment

Kevin, maybe Friedman just has a grudge about New York! It’s not hard to imagine. But I like the Chinese cell phone coverage, as long as I’m not traveling out of province. Glad to hear you can top up from other locations now; it does reduce the suckitude a bit. But why block whole services like Typepad? Very hard to guess what those ninnies are up to.

August 31, 2008 @ 3:49 pm | Comment

I don’t know about the payment system (my company handles all that for me). I just know the mobile service is way better in terms of quality and drop-off rates. I also know I pay way less for cable TV and broadband (even though the Internet here is famously slow) because you don’t have to deal with monopolies like Cox and the US telecoms who screw the American public on a day basis thanks to the cure-all of de-regulation ushered in by Reagan and celebrated by Bush and McCain.

August 31, 2008 @ 7:42 pm | Comment

Thomas Friedman…an American reporter who, if I’m not mistaken, was actually IN New York City on 09/11/2001…seems to conveniently forget that China isn’t anywhere near as high priority a target for jihadis and other Muslim extremists who support them, as the United States is.
China has slightly over quadruple the population of the U.S.A. In recent memory, a group of 78 (19 hijackers x 4) jihadis has yet to hijack 16 airliners (4 planes x4) and fly them at top speed into 12 landmark skyscrapers and/or key national government military facilities (3 buildings x 4) in Beijing and Shanghai (roughly equivalent cities in function to DC and NY) and manage to kill 12,000 people in the course of a single day (3,000 victims x 4).
Friedman must have random or perhaps even selective amnesia: The United States of America no longer HAS the LUXURY nor the LATITUDE to prove to the world, as a signal to the world…and to the domestic population itself…that the nation “has fully arrived” on the world stage of most powerful nations…as I believe this is whatthe infrastructure investment China made prior to the Olympics in its major cities, actually meant to China.
The geopolitical requirements for self-defense levied on the United States at the current moment in history do not match those levied on the People’s Republic of China.
Friedman can go to hell. Memory as about as selective as I’ve ever seen. I might as well call him a nutroot. A worldly, intellectual, well-traveled nutroot. But a nutroot all the same.

September 3, 2008 @ 9:47 pm | Comment

Oh dear, a true wingnut. I guess you believe because of 911 we had to sink half a trillion dollars into Iraq, which had nothing to do with – oh, never mind. Enjoy your fantasy land.

September 3, 2008 @ 10:17 pm | Comment

No, I’m not convinced of that because none of the “intel” that ever came to public light convinced me of a direct connection between Al-Qa’eda and Saddam Hussein’s regime. Thus, the Iraq War was purely a matter of the Bush family “getting even” with Saddam and the son finishing a job he considered his dad left unfinished.

That said – - would the Iraqi populace be better off still under Saddam’s rule?

First time someone’s ever called me a wingnut. Having been an expat myself in a different major East Asian country in my own past…I can observe that it’s awfully easy to criticize one’s own country when living one’s life in another.

Were you here or in China during 9/11? I saw the Pentagon burning with my own two eyes that day.

And will never, ever forget it.

September 4, 2008 @ 2:19 am | Comment

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.