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TCA Srinivasa-Raghavan: Dealing with Chinese crudeness

LINE & LENGTH

T C A Srinivasa-Raghavan  |  New Delhi 

The Chinese take the wives of new mayors on a trip to the prisons where the older, convicted mayors are held.
The Chinese President, Hu Jintao, is coming here. His ambassador has just blown a very rude raspberry at India by claiming bits of India as China's. This is typical of China, which has become a very crude and uncouth country. Successful in some ways, yes; but by and large, by any civilised yardstick, a massive failure.
The Chinese, as everyone knows, are very result-oriented and have a very focused leadership, even though mostly it is focused only on how to stay on in power. One of the things that these un-elected gangsters""as opposed to our elected ones""are discovering is that corruption gives them a bad name.
So they have decided to do something about it. This consists of holding show trials and then shooting the accused. Several mayors, it seems, have been shot in the last few years. The lucky ones have been sent down for 20 years.
But this is not all. To demonstrate that corruption is a bad idea, the Chinese have started another wheeze. Every now and then, when a gaggle of new mayors have been elected, they take their wives on a trip to the various prisons where convicted mayors are held. The idea is to get the wives to have a word with their husbands as to what may await them if they get too greedy. But a little greed is permitted. The limits are defined depending on how well you have done by the boss.
The Chinese government also doesn't have a very high of its rural folk. Around 70 per cent of Chinese still live in rural areas. They are abysmally poor. But they don't vote and that makes all the difference.
So China siphons off wealth from the rural areas to the urban areas via what even in pre-Communist times would be called extortionate rates. Every rural Chinese parts with around 45 per cent of his income in one form or the other. About half of this goes towards maintaining a bloated bureaucracy in the countryside, which exploits the peasantry.
In India, we do it the other way round. We siphon off wealth from the urban to the rural areas""because of that democracy-cum-universal-franchise thing""and we maintain bloated bureaucracies in the urban areas, visible to all, unlike in China, where they are hidden away in the sticks.
Nor are there Medha Patkars or Aruna Roys in China. I met a very experienced and senior Australian journalist a couple of months ago. She said she had gone to interview some peasants who had been thrown off their land so that some factories could be built. Within a few minutes a couple of policemen arrived and asked her to leave and they placed her under virtual arrest and took away her passport and finally sent her off after a few hours. Can we do that?
China also doesn't allow trade unions. There is no right to association and as my young colleague Govindraj Ethiraj pointed out last Tuesday, let alone trade unions, it takes a dim view of even trade associations. Only the ruling party has the right to gang up and coerce the rest. No trade unions, no employee rights, hire-and-fire, what a lovely place, daddy!
Not having to worry about public also allows China to enter into the sort of agreements with other countries that would never be allowed in India. For example, when China entered the WTO in 2001, under a separate bilateral deal, it signed away things to the US by allowing the latter extraordinary rights and freedoms. I compared that deal with the "unequal treaties" of 1842, signed after China lost the opium wars. There wasn't much difference.
But the interesting point is that in spite of what all the US can do to reduce the flood of imports from China and in spite of trying, it has failed. Why? Because the agreement didn't say anything about the exchange rate! So the yuan remains undervalued and China's trade surplus swells.
China's exchange reserves crossed a trillion dollars two weeks ago. How clever is that? But I have looked and looked to see if any one in China is criticising the central bank and the government. Right, you guessed it: not a soul. No free speech, you see.
China also gets up to all sorts of low trickery in the international arena. It has two major challengers in Asia""India and Japan. So what does it do? It helps Pakistan go nuclear to check India and North Korea go nuclear to check Japan, while it leaves itself free to do what it likes""like offering Muslim nations nuclear deals (Bangladesh and Egypt, to name the two latest "initiatives").
But everyone has very high regard for this country. The capitalists admire it because it allows people to get rich at the expense of the poor. The Communists admire it merely because it has styled itself communist. The moral admire it because they would like to be amoral, too. The amoral admire it because it justifies their lack of morality.
The question is: do we want to be like China? If not, please stop swooning over it.

First Published: Sat, November 18 2006. 00:00 IST
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