Monday 19 October 2015

Our Chinese Future

So here comes President Xi and with him George Osborne's rather personal strategy for the future of the UK.  Almost exactly 2 years ago I wrote this:
Enter The Chinese Dragon - and the start of bonded servitude: In our semi-detatched euro-positioning, our vulnerability to having the City isolated by jealous continental and American financial authorities, and our commendable centuries-old willingness to roam the high seas, we will always be inclined to 'trade our way out of trouble'. 
There is a lot of worthy wailing and gnashing of teeth about the sell-out on human rights: having no wish to be callous, but given the complete imperviousness of China in 2015 to anyone's views on that subject that seems to me a rather incidental, superficial symptom.  (Did anyone raise the death penalty with Obama the last time he took tea with the Queen?  You gotta love the Chinese ambassador's comment: "I think the British people are very gentlemen, very smart. They know how to behave on occasions like this … You think the Labour party will raise human rights at a state banquet? I don’t think so.")

Demeaning?  Well let's rub it all the way in.
... Beijing would revel in the pomp and circumstance of this week’s visit. “They will be looking for horses and people in funny hats and meeting the Queen. That plays fantastically well back in China and they make big use of that to show how important the Chinese leadership is,” he said. “It also plays to the pitch that China is now being recognised on the world stage as a great power ...  Beijing would be glad to deal with an increasingly compliant Britain. “The Chinese have dealt with the British for a long time ... they are practised at the brilliant complexity of British hypocrisy, and I think they are very comfortable dealing with that. This works well for them.” 
They also like the way we run snooker tournaments: so ordered and gentlemanly.  Don't knock "brilliant gentlemanly hypocrisy" - hey, it's our USP!  Osborne is a born arse-licker, I believe there are photos from his Oxford days ...

So yes, this is an inevitable development and the French always knew it: perfidious bloody Albion, with no ideological hang-ups and altogether more nimble and businesslike, has stolen a march on everyone else in Europe for some potentially quite tangible gains.  And since the envisaged deals are materially in terms of infrastructure and the City, though they may fall over themselves trying to join us it's hard for other European countries to undercut us.  (And by the way, monsieur, that nice Mr Xi may be part-financing your wretched Hinkley nuclear project for you, so bite your lip this time eh?)

Am I really waving my Union Flag and cheering as President Xi passes by?  Not really: it's just inevitable.  And the Chinese really do seek to establish relationships.  And there's a lot we could do for them, if we think it through cleverly with sufficient eye to our own interests.  And the City thing looks good: but then again the Hinkley thing, in particular, is madness.  Back to that 2013 piece
... the first of the mega-bargains our desperate UK politicians will enter in order to engineer short- and medium-term relief from our woes. Faustian is just one way to describe it. Another would be the PFI-ing of the UK economy to China. Future generations will curse Camerosborne roundly, as they pay grotesque prices for electricity and probably a great deal more. And the prices may not only be measured in currency. Bonded servitude may be the term we are looking for.
Anything much changed from my views back then?  Only that now we see Osborne intends this to be, not so much 'short- and medium-term relief' - though there's probably a measure of that for us - but his major long-term strategy.  Maybe even his hedge against an 'out' vote in 2017.  "In a rare interview, Xi praised Britain’s 'visionary and strategic' decision to position itself as Beijing’s best friend in the west."  Wow.  Clever old George. 

As with the 20th century, it turns out the 21st didn't really get started for a decade and a half.  Here we go for the Age of China.  At least they appreciate gentlemen.



L fairfax said...

According to the book why nations fail
China's future maybe not be as rosy as people think

I can't sumarise it here but this might help.

Nick Drew said...

L Fairfax - welcome, & thanks. I haven't read it but probably should: & certainly clocked several reviews at the time (here's one:

I buy the argument that goes "Chinese internal settlement = 'prosperity-in-return-for-no-politics' = no safety-valve = time-bomb"

but they are really quite good at managing this (to the envy of Russia et al) and they are softening, albeit at glacier-pace, almost whether they realise it or not (and there's an awful lot communists don't realise about human nature)

it's a bit of a race between the fuse on the time-bomb, and gradual democratisation: and if you are a resident of Hong Kong, there are 32 years left on the clock ...

don't know if you come to C@W often, but we discussed some symptoms of these things a propos of Tianjin; MH 370; and their hesitant foreign policy and passim

L fairfax said...

I do often come here and I like it a lot. That book made me think that not getting my son to learn Mandarin was possibly a good idea.
(If I had a daughter it might be different).

L fairfax said...

PS I am surprised the Guardian wrote such a nice review considering the implication of the book,for the type of socialist state like Venezuela that they normally like.

Dick the Prick said...

There was a chap interviewed on Toady this morning who was banging on about their growth figures being er..bollox and that their banks have done the same as ours and lent to fund real estate that their success is mildly chimeric. He did make a good point though that as they're a supplier nation, when they stop supplying stuff - people largely don't really notice. That Japan was dominant for 40 years up to mid 90's and then have just tread water subsequently, well, tumbleweeds.

The Tibet thing is bad but ffs it's their country and it's not really a top table issue - what on earth do Ambassadors do?

Suff said...

Well as Obama shat all over our old special relationship it only makes sense to find other friends to play with.

andrew said...

@ fairfax

I read this ~2y ago but my memory says they did not really say 'boo to socialism' or 'yay to democracy'

IIRC they said that if the governing classes generally govern for most of the populace, generally the company might do ok,
if the governing classes are 'extractive' ie route resources to too small a group, the country generally fails.

They also mentioned 'rule of law' and 'clear (land) property rights' as good things

And right at the end they did say China's future was not looking good .

Anonymous said...

@ND - what's your view of Eamon Fingleton's (ex FT Japan editor) take on China

and Japan

He thinks the accepted view of Japan's stagnation (see DTP's comment) is just a brilliant PR job to keep their mercantilist successes below the US radar.

Nick Drew said...

anon - big topix! but quick answers ...

Fingleton/Japan: don't know enough about it but sounds plausible based on the figures he cites

- /China: the basic observed phenomenon (western co's ditching 'principles' to win the biz) is clear enough (- did they ever have any in the first place?) and I am as keen as anyone to give due significance to proper historical perspectives + serious, hard-to-grasp cultural differences; and I am the one who said 'the Age of China' BUT -

which is it? - confucian society naturally fosters and self-reinforces harmonious order and stability and deference to authority etc?

- or, the Chinese authorities maintain a 24/7, individual-by-individual punishment regime, clamp-down on the interweb etc?

(I realise someone can reply: 'both' ...)

because if it's the latter it will surely implode (though maybe not before America does! - historical perspective, think in centuries not decades); the virus is loose, it continually forces against constraints, it never lets up, kill one social-media experiment(er) and the next one is already trying something you've never dreamed of, it's like rising water, it will break through or in or around

(watch film of a tsunami: the '30 foot wave' stuff is Hollywood bollocks, its a 24-inch wave that Never Stops)

Osborne et al are betting on China; but it's a fool who lightly bets against against the USA, or indeed free-booting capitalism which, being so flexible and adaptive and fast-mutating and with-the-grain of human nature, is hard to suppress

one last point: if the Chinese (whom I don't know nearly as well as I'd like, or as well as the russians) share with the latter & communists everywhere an implicit belief that History Is On Their Side, well, it didn't do Russia any good, did it? It makes them sit back to watch their inevitable triumph unfold, when they ought to be making things happen instead

Anonymous said...

Thanks @ND.

"it's a fool who lightly bets against against the USA"

But the USA of 2041 won't be the same people as the USA of 1941, or 1841 for that matter, or I'd agree with you. They'll have gone from 90% white to less than 50%. All China and Japan have to do is sit tight and let compound interest weave its demographic magic. The same will apply to Germany and the UK. Syrian engineering skills gave us the barrel bomb (a small clone of WW2 'cookies') not laser-guided missiles - Merkel's idea that she can transform them into German engineers is questionable to say the least. Meanwhile China will still be 90% Han (and China's minorities are known quantities to the leadership) and Japan 100% Japanese. If just having resources, people and access to capital was enough, Africa would be rich and Mexico much richer than it is.

"or indeed free-booting capitalism"

There may be a lot fewer free spaces to boot in, when China has Africa and Asia sewn up.

Nick Drew said...

Africa sewn up? I was in Africa just recently, a big (African) client's offsite meeting in a hotel / conf-centre over a couple of weeks, mostly Africans (50+) in the sessions with a handful of whites; hotel staff also mostly African with a couple of white managers; a few more whites holidaying + a couple of Arabs (?); really friendly, everyone getting on nicely, loads of fun all round (Arabs keeping thmselves to themselves) - then half a dozen Chinese blew in for a few days and the tension set in right away, atmosphere souring instantly, fun-factor evaporated until they left

apparently the Chinese were bemused when they got kicked out of Libya after Col.G went - just couldn't understand it: all the investment they'd made, trouble they'd gone to, etc etc

the colonial lark isn't as easy as they think (- one of many reasons we still have a few things to offer)

Anonymous said...

@ND - thanks - I was thinking more of 20/30 years down the road than now, I understand it's certainly not sewn up now. I take your point though - we've had a pretty long experience of Africa and Africans, and a few other places and peoples too.

Cheers and goodnight!

Sackerson said...

At least they won't try to get us hooked on opium. But the selling off of our country to foreign and multinational interests (see PE on offshore land investment, or Alex Brummer's boook on buiness selloffs) is essentially enslavement by degrees.