27 Oct 2009
There is a think tank called Project for the New American Century. One of its fundamental postulates is that American leadership is good for the world.
That may be the case, though a large part of the world would disagree with this position, especially those who see America as the global policeman, the security state that uses its force to implement the corporate agenda on behalf of the global elite.
China, as the project views it, is no doubt a growing world power. But despite its economic muscle, China is not favoured to assume a role of global leadership (even though China is a permanent member of the UN Security Council). The reason for denying China this role is the country’s political system. Lacking a Western style democracy, China is supposed to be in a state of ‘trapped transition’. One of the arguments favouring this view is that China’s political set up will limit its growth, ensuing from the argument that there are limits to developmental autocracy.
This view might sound sexy but it defies logic. I am saying this from a historical point of view.
In every stage of historical development, different forms of government have prevailed. Soon after the Industrial Revolution, Britain, and other European nations, made themselves rich through imperialism—trading companies with armies setting up colonies to siphon off the colonies’ wealth to their mother countries.
After the French Revolution, the stage was set for the idea of nation states and democracies–kings and queens with the divine right to rule were replaced by parliaments and constitutions. Between the two world wars, this finally led to the rise of America—as a liberal democracy at home and as an neo-imperialistic global power gradually dominating the world through the MNCs, led by its military industrial complex. It became the hotbed of innovations—both cultural and material—and used the MNCs to spread globalisation after vanquishing its rival Socialism as an alternative system.
The IT revolution that started nearly three decades ago has given rise to the all-seeing, all knowing security state. What about democracy itself after the end of the cold war? Many, including legendary novelist and essayist Gore Vidal in the US and novelist and activist Arundhati Roy in India, see democracy as it is practised in their respective countries today as a system that arrogates people’s right to push through the corporate world’s agenda (facilitated by the World Bank, International Monetary Fund [IMF] and World Trade Organisation [WTO]). In the process, all checks and balances of the executive and judiciary and also of the media have been compromised. The corporate has co-opted all branches of the democracy.
China’s time has come
China’s meteoric rise as the manufacturing hub of the world and as the third largest economy of the world (it will be the second largest in the next three years) has placed it in a unique position to dominate the world in the age of ‘Orwellian security state’. And to dominate in this ‘environmentally challenged’ new world, China does not need to wage wars like America. The country is building up its sphere of influence through selective investments all over the world–right from Sri Lanka to Pakistan to Iran, Russia and Africa.
This is happening at a time when America is involved in a bleeding war on terror, and is hugely in debt, especially after the financial crisis of 2008-09. The American middle class has been hollowed out (downward mobility is now a mass phenomenon), thanks to outsourcing, increased immigration of foreign workers and policies of globalisation (closing factories in America to open them in cheaper locations such as China).
China exemplifies what economist Meghnad Desai might refer to as Marx’s revenge. China has a unique political and economic system—undemocratic, with a central command and control structure but one that welcomes foreign investment and globalisation, a convergence of socialist and American industrial cultures, if you will.
Even in the hay days of the Soviet Russia, USSR and China did not see eye to eye, even though both countries were supposed to be communist regimes. After the dissolution of the USSR, Russia embraced western-style capitalism (with strong oligarchic influences). But China had begun to open up its economy much before USSR’s implosion. To get rich is glorious, Deng Xiaoping had declared, casting away the old notion that socialism equals poverty.
In fact, communism had not failed with the death of USSR, as Desai explains it in his book, Marx’s Revenge—The Resurgence of Capitalism and the Death of Statist Socialism (Verso, 2002). What USSR achieved was not the communism propounded by Marx. Capitalism would not go away until it had exhausted its potential. It had not and it has not.
Desai notes that the limits of capitalism would be reached when it is no longer capable of progress. “The information technology revolution has just begun,” he writes. “What more may come we do not know—biotechnology, new materials, outer space as colonisable land. The whole world is not yet fully integrated into global capitalism.”
In this IT-aided stage of global capitalism (globalisation), China is a leading actor, the way the US was in the last century.
As China is industrialising itself at a scorching pace (even in this year of recession it will probably achieve an eight per cent growth rate) and the farmers are becoming cheap factory hands, a state needs a tough hand to immediately quell any kind of unrest.
Apart from its superlative police and military force, the country is also harnessing the power of IT to control its huge population—the cheap labour that it needs to supply to its capitalists and the middle class (bourgeoisie) that it needs to oil the engines of globalisation.
The Great Firewall
One way China exercises control over its citizens is through ownership of the propaganda machinery and media censorship. The media (print, TV) is controlled by the state. For the educated Internet-savvy masses, it allows only limited access to the Internet. You might have heard from your friends in China how they are not able to access certain Internet sites.
China even wanted to install Internet filtering software on all computers in the country. It was called the green dam project and its implementation was postponed due to immense criticism. The Chinese government claimed that the technology would curb access to pornography, but Internet users said it would block politically sensitive content and would be used to track people’s behaviour. Did I hear thought-policing?
Recently, ahead of its 60th anniversary of communist rule, China again clamped down on the Internet, blocking free access to the Internet.
Another notable example of the state’s heavy control is the situation in Xinxiang. IDG reported that nearly four months after deadly ethnic riots in China’s Muslim region led authorities to shut off the Internet there, local residents are still barred from sending text messages and getting online.
The report said the clampdown on telecommunication in China’s western Xinjiang province, where rioting claimed nearly 200 lives in early July, has hurt local businesses and cut residents off from many non-government sources of news and other information.
But the state’s control is not limited to the media and the Internet. The overall goal seems to be able to control the urban population and build smart cities where everything, including individuals, can be tracked all the time.
For this purpose, China is building technologically-equipped urban systems because cities are relatively manageable microcosms of systems that operate globally. For example, for the city of Guangzhou, China picked IBM to manage its four commuter lines, 60 stations and 116 kilometres of track, and help make the transit system more intelligent and environmentally friendly.
China’s template of controlling citizens will be useful for governments in other countries to copy and implement its Orwellian systems. The only difference is that governments in other countries will need democratic means of deception to manufacture the consent of its citizens.
Zafar Anjum is the online editor of MIS Asia dot com. These are his personal views.