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Yu, a young girl at the time, related to me the poverty millions of Chinese people suffered during those tumultuous 10 years. “We were rationed one pound of meat per person per month,” she told me, and her father, a professor at one of China’s premier universities was sent to a re-education camp. Yu attributes his premature death to the privations he endured during those years.
Today, Yu is a U.S. citizen. She was flying to China to visit her 14-year-old daughter who is enrolled in a ballet school for kids with exceptional dance skills. From a pound of meat a month to ballet lessons, all within two generations.
China is definitely on the move, and while we continue to retreat from the world stage, the Middle Kingdom is eager to fill the vacuums we leave behind.
“History has repeatedly proved that isolation can only lead to a dead-end alley, and only by opening-up and cooperating can the road become wider and wider,” China’s President Xi Jinping recently told the head of the World Economic Forum.
We, here in America, on the other hand, are doing just the opposite.
· President Trump, on his very first day in office, said that the U.S. would quit the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which it subsequently did. (Trump appears to be having second thoughts about that decision now.) At the same time, China sped up its efforts to build free- trade relations among Asian nations.
The China-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is a proposed free-trade agreement among the 10-member ASEAN, comprising Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, and the six countries with which the regional grouping has existing free-trade agreements, namely Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand—with the U.S. nowhere to be found.
· Trump announced the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement. A week later China assumed a leadership position by launching a number of initiatives to advance clean energy and announced partnerships with other governments around the globe to fight climate change.
BTW, the U.S. was the only nation, out of nearly 200, not to sign the agreement.
· Where our “leaders” can’t come to consensus on a sorely needed domestic infrastructure program, the Chinese have initiated more than a trillion-dollar One Belt, One Road project, essentially a revival of the ancient Silk Road, which according to Forbes is “an infrastructure colossus the equivalent of 12 Marshall Plans…in an effort to assert and consolidate its [China’s] growing influence in Asia and beyond.”
· While we threaten to reduce foreign aid to developing countries, China has gone ahead and established a world bank of its own, called the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank. The bank, according to The New York Times“ is an instrument for China to lend legitimacy to its international forays and to extend its sphere of economic and political influence.”
· And while our U.S. teachers are striking for higher wages and more funding for schools, China is investing in education. Xi An, China’s ancient capital, is the location of China’s Satellite Control Centerand home to 62 universities. Ten years ago it was mostly farmland.
But stop! There is much about China that goes against the democratic grain of any self-respecting American.
Although it calls itself the Peoples’ Republic of China, China is anything but democratic and offers little if anything, in the way of freedom of speech and information to its people. Google and Facebook are banned, and when in China I tried to access certain news feeds, I got the message “Feed Unavailable. News isn’t supported in your current region.”
More to the point, whatever information the people receive is filtered through the Chinese Communist Party, and as of May 1, 2018, the government just upped the ante.
The Heroes and Martyrs Protection Act, passed by the Standing Committee of the National Peoples Congress, threatens unspecified “administrative penalties” or even “criminal sanctions” against those who damage memorials or “insult or slander” what the Party considers Chinese heroes and martyrs.
In short, the law rewrites the causes and deprivations millions of families like Yu’s suffered during China’s Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. It also attempts to erase from history the 1989 pro-democracy movement that played itself out on TV in Tiananmen Square, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of demonstrators. I guess you can credit the new law with sanctioning fake news on steroids.
No, we don’t want to be like China. But if we keep on the path we’re on we run the risk of China eating our lunch. The last thing we want to do is to just hand it over to them in a brown-paper bag.