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The Chimerica Dream

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Posted on Jun 21, 2013
Zak Greant (CC BY 2.0)

By Pepe Escobar, TomDispatch

(Page 3)

If, however, it succeeds in such a crash way, it can only do so by further devastating the national environment with long-term consequences that are hard to calculate but potentially devastating.  

We Don’t Want No Historical Nihilism

Xi, the dreamer, may simply be a master modernist PR tactician hiding an old school outlook. Hong Kong-based political analyst Willy Lam, for instance, is convinced that “ideologically Xi is a Maoist” who wants to maintain “tight control over the party and the military.”

Consider the political landscape. Xi must act as the ideological guide for 80 million Communist Party members. The first thing he did after becoming general secretary was to launch an “inspection tour” of the major southern city of Shenzhen, which in the early 1980s was made China’s initial “special economic zone.”  In this, he was emulating China’s first “capitalist roader,” the Little Helmsman Deng Xiaoping’s landmark 1992 turbo-reform tour of the same area.  It was undoubtedly his way of promising to lead the next capitalist surge in the country.

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However, a fascinating academic and Internet debate in China now revolves around Xi’s push to restore the authority and legitimacy of the ur-Communist leader Mao Zedong. Otherwise, the president claims, there would be nothing left but “historical nihilism.” As his example of the road not to take, Xi points to the Soviet Union; that is, he is signaling that whatever he will be, it won’t be the Chinese equivalent of the USSR’s last leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, nor by implication will he lose control over China’s military.

Xi is indeed meticulous in his interactions with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), always stressing “the dream of a strong China” and “the dream of a strong military.”  At the same time, his attitude perfectly embodies the Communist Party’s grand narrative about its own grandness. Only the Party, they claim, is capable of ensuring that living standards continue to improve and the country’s ever-widening inequality gap is kept in check. Only it can ensure a stable, unified country and a “happy,” “harmonious” society. Only it can guarantee the continuing “rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” defend “core interests” (especially what it refers to as “territorial sovereignty”), and ensure China, kicked around by other great powers in much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, global respect.

A Sinophile Western cynic would be excused for thinking that this is just a more elaborate way of stressing, as the Chinese do, that the might of the pen (bi gan zi) and the barrel of a gun (qiang gan zi) are the two pillars of the People’s Republic.

All of this was essentially sketched out by senior PLA colonel Liu Mingfu in his recently republished 2010 book, China Dream: Great Power Thinking and Strategic Posture in the Post-American Era.  On one thing Liu and Xi (along with all China’s recent leaders and PLA commanders) agree: China is “back as the most powerful nation where it’s been for a thousand years before the ‘century of humiliation.’” The bottom line:  when the problems start, Xi’s dream will feed on nationalism. And nationalism—that ultimate social glue—will be the essential precondition for any reforms to come.

In April, one month after the National People’s Congress, Xi repeated that his dream would be fulfilled by 2050, while the Party’s propaganda chief Liu Yunshan ordered that the dream be written into all school textbooks.  But repeating something hardly makes it so.

Xi’s father, former vice premier Xi Zhongxun, was a man who thought outside the box. In many ways, Xi is clearly trying to do the same, already promising to tackle everything from massive corruption (“fighting tigers and flies at the same time”) to government rackets. (Forget lavish banquets; from now on, it’s only supposed to be “four dishes and a soup.”)

But one thing is certain: Xi won’t even make a gesture towards changing the essential model. He’ll basically only tweak it.

Fear and Loathing in the South China Sea

Everyone wants to know how Xi’s dream will translate into foreign policy. Three months ago, talking to journalists from the emerging BRICS group (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), the Chinese president emphasized that “the China Dream also will bring opportunities to the world.”

Enter the charm offensive: in Xi’s new world, “peaceful development” is always in and “the China threat” is always out. In Beijing’s terms, it’s called “all-dimensional diplomacy” and has been reflected in the incessant global travel schedule of Xi and Prime Minister Li Keqiang in their first months in office.

Still, as with the dream at home, so abroad.  Facts on the ground—or more specifically in the waters of the South China Sea—once again threaten to turn Xi’s dream into a future nightmare.  Nationalism has unsurprisingly proven a crucial factor and there’s been nothing dreamy about the continuing clash of claims to various energy-rich islands and waters in the region.

Warships have recently been maneuvering as China faces off against, among other countries, Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines.  This unsettling development has played well in Washington as the Obama administration announced a “pivot” to or “rebalancing” in Asia and a new strategy that visibly involves playing China’s neighbors off against the Middle Kingdom in what could only be considered a twenty-first century containment policy.


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