On Point: China's Turbulent Moment


by Austin Bay
September 29, 2010

Chinese "workers are becoming harder to find and tokeep," The Economist magazine recently reported. "Strikes have beenunusual in their frequency ... their longevity and their targets ... ."The Economist argued this is ultimately good news for planet Earth.

This labor "bolshiness" (wonderful ironic wordchoice) will lead to higher Chinese wages. "What the world lacks,"Economist editors concluded, "is willing customers, not willing workers.Higher Chinese wages will have a similar effect to the stronger exchange ratethat America has been calling for, shrinking China's trade surplus and boostingits spending. "

In other words, Chinese workers will spend, benefiting theglobal economy. This is good news, if it works out so niftily.

Demographic issues, however, also factor into the reductionin willing cheap labor. China's population is aging. Reuters reported (citingofficial figures) that "the proportion of people aged 60 and above inChina rose at the fastest clip in history" in 2009. "They nowrepresent more than 12 percent of the population."

Reuters quoted Wu Yushao, deputy head of the China NationalCommittee on Aging, as saying that the increase in aged people "will be ahuge challenge. ... The economy, the retirement system and services for the elderlyare still too weak to handle the challenge."

Is China the ultimate Greece, with too many promises and notenough cash? When it comes to economic forecasts, there are lies, damned lies,productivity statistics and age demographics. Reuters mentioned one culprit:Chinese government policy, specifically China's notorious "one-childpolicy," which was supposed to promote zero population growth. In myopinion, it resulted in the murder of a lot of baby girls and contributed toChina's demographic conundrum.

Other domestic problems haunt China, and the list of ills isdepressing:

Internal Disorder: China's primary threat is not the UnitedStates, or any other foreign power, but internal disorder. There are more angrypeople in China every day, and the government knows that this could blossominto widespread uprisings. It has happened so many times before in Chinesehistory. Protesting factory workers are an indicator.

Corruption:  Corruption is the biggest complaint amongChina's discontented; government officials, who are more interested inenriching themselves than in taking care of "the people" areparticular targets. Many of the demonstrations and labor disruptions are theresult of corruption among local officials, including the police.

The CommunicationsDilemma:  In 2007, Chinese Internetuse grew to over 210 million users. Cell phones are also increasinglyavailable. China is the world's largest cell phone market. The Internet is aneconomic and educational tool. However, it also undermines an authoritariangovernment's ability to control (deny and spin) information. China's 2010"war with Google.com" illustrated this dilemma.

Ethnic Minorities andLanguage:  China has a population of1.4 billion. Han Chinese ("ethnic Han") constitute approximately 92percent of China's population. China also has 55 "minoritynationalities," however, amounting to 100 million people. The 2009 Uighurriots in Xinjiang province (western China) and resistance in Tibet aresymptomatic of the problem. They are resisting "Hanicization."

Pollution and Water: In early 2008, China began shutting down"high pollution" factories. The reason? To clear the air for the 2008Beijing Olympics. The growing wealth of the Chinese people is causing enormouspollution problems and water shortages. Effective pollution controls mean moreexpensive production methods. That makes Chinese goods less competitive.

The Marriage Gap:  China's "one child" policy crimpedpopulation growth, all right. More boys were born than girls; Chinese culture"favors" sons. As a result, there is a serious imbalance between menand women. In some places, there are 120 men per 100 women. Marriageabledaughters are, reportedly, going largely to the upper social groups within eachvillage or district. The sons of the poorest families are, to an extent, notfinding wives. This is an indicator of future social trouble.

The domestic ills suggest China is on the verge of anotherrevolution, this one caused by its failed communist regime's inability totransform itself into a more accommodating system that can satisfy (and shape)China's growing economic and political needs. 

To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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