Pacific Century? Not So Much

I suspect that Graeme Maxton’s article at the South China Morning Post will cause many pundits’ heads to explode, particularly these paragraphs:

America has played its Trump hand very well. What China has achieved socially and economically over the past 40 years is remarkable by any standard. From being a poor agriculture-based country at the end of the Cultural Revolution, it has become the second-largest economy in the world. It has transformed its infrastructure by building a network of roads, high-speed railways, ports and airports.

It has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty – more than any country in human history, and in barely a generation. It has constructed vast new cities, attracted trillions of dollars of inward investment and spread its influence across the world, most recently through the Belt and Road Initiative.

While it is easy to imagine that some on Capitol Hill have seen what is coming for a decade or more, it will be hard for people in China, especially among the country’s leadership, to accept that this path to glory is coming to an end. Yet China has been fooling itself, its hopes stoked by enthusiastic foreign investors, the rhetoric of local academics and the dreams of its own people.

but I think this passage is more important:

It is the trade war that has laid China’s weaknesses open for all to see. It is now clear that Huawei, China’s big hope in hi-tech, along with ZTE and several other IT firms, are not much of a force to reckon with. Without US hardware, operating licences and software, these firms have been beached.

They are at least 10 years behind technologically and cannot develop the skills needed to survive in anything like their current form. A link to Russia does not solve this problem. Two countries without cutting-edge technology does not add up to much.

It is the same in defence, the auto industry, aviation and many other sectors. Despite decades of effort and lots of state planning, China lacks the depth of engineering skills, patents and technology needed to manufacture globally competitive high-end products. Dismantling a flight management system, a car braking system or a smartphone and reproducing the parts does not make it possible to build them from scratch.

I think he overstates the case. What I think is true is that all that was necessary to lay “China’s weaknesses open for all to see” was anything other than lying supine which is what we’ve been doing for nearly 30 years. The same is true on our southern border and with respect to NATO. All we have really needed to do hold the various countries to their treaty obligation (or targets, depending on the diction). I have never understood why we have not been willing to do that.

9 comments… add one
  • Gray Shambler Link

    Seems to me that a lot of folks here in “Merica don’t like the place.
    A nation founded by WASP’s, run by WASP’s, based on genocide and fueled by slavery.
    In comparison to this evil WASP empire, every other nation on earth is a nation of pitiful minorities, who, if they do wrong, it’s out of need, or childlike innocence.
    Patriotism is way out of fashion. Ethnocentrism is way out of fashion. Multiculturalism is the new 10 commandments.
    Our new ethics makes it socially perilous for anyone outside of flyover country to say one bad word about any of the world’s dictators, unless they be Russians, who are honorary WASP’s.

  • The public school system in the United States was founded specifically for the purpose of acculturating the children of immigrants from their parents’ cultures to that of the United States. That purpose has largely been abandoned and there is nothing to take its place. Much of the data on acculturation derives from when the public school system embraced that original purpose.

  • bob sykes Link

    Maxton is strikingly ignorant about China, and especially about Huawei. Huawei is an integrated IT company. It makes its own chips and software, and it is regarded as having the most advanced 5G in the world. America’s competing companies are offering something like 4.5 G.

    It is worth remembering that something like 1/3 of the graduate students in our research universities and many of their faculty are Chinese nationals. They create about 1/3 of all the research attributed to the US, including papers published in our best research journals. People who rant on about China stealing our technology and about the inability of conformist Asiatics to create and innovate are ignorant racists. Maxton os one of them.

    In 1940, Americans called the Japanese near-sighted little yellow monkeys whose ships tipped over in tight turns. Apparently nothing has changed.

    Except one thing, today we are in the same relationship to China that Japan was to us in 1940. How did that work out then? What would happen today?

  • Roy Lofquist Link

    “and about the inability of conformist Asiatics to create and innovate”.

    The problem is not the culture, it’s the language. Specifically the written language which is pictographic. There is no collating sequence. No way to sort or look up a word. No way to have a dictionary. The characters give no inkling of the pronunciation.

    Almost all creative and innovative products are the result of incorporating different disciplines. This is extremely difficult in Chinese (Hanzi ,Kanji, Cantonese characters, Sawndip).

  • steve Link

    I think Bob is correct about Huawei. Products have great ratings. He is right about grad students and papers being published here. However sbest as I can tell education in China is still pretty inconsistent outside of the top universities. If they are Japan they are Japan early in their rise, and with a more corrupt and illiberal government.

    “Seems to me that a lot of folks here in “Merica don’t like the place.” Dont see it. Sure, there are conservatives who hate the parts of America that dont conform with what they want. They hate most of California and Massachusetts, or anyone who thinks the top marginal rate could be 3% higher, but I dont think that is a majority of conservatives. Same goes on the liberal side. So when a politician says he lovers America I think they likely say it mostly to get votes, but if they mean it they are just referring to the half of America with which they share values.


  • CuriousOnlooker Link

    That’s not quite right about Chinese, there are dictionaries, usually based on the number of strokes.

    A substantial proportion of characters are “composite”, composed of multiple characters – the character “good” is a composed of “women” and “son”.

    And most terms are composed of multiple characters. The term for computer could be translated literally as “electronic brain”.

    What is true is characters rarely relate to their pronunciation today.

  • I would add that the Chinese writing system is not properly characterized as pictographic. It is more properly termed logosyllabic.

    I was taught the traditional system. The simplified system presently used on the mainland is an improvement but most of the issues remain. An educated person needs to have memorized something like 4,000 characters. To read a newspaper you must have memorized roughly 2,000 characters. Those are beyond the abilities of many people.

    However, China is a very big country and there’s plenty of talent there. What I think is a more serious problem is the same problem as plagued the Soviet Union, the politicization of science. We’re starting to have the same problem.

  • Roy Lofquist Link

    Dave: “An educated person needs to have memorized something like 4,000 characters. To read a newspaper you must have memorized roughly 2,000 characters.”

    “The average speaking vocabulary of an adult American is somewhere in the range of 15,000 words. The reading vocabulary is easily twice that for someone with only a high school education and probably in the range of 60,000+ words for someone who has completed college.”

    My original comment was about innovation. Almost all technical and engineering innovation involves a mix of different technologies. From Ancient Greek poet Archilochus: “a fox knows many things, but a hedgehog one important thing”. The difficulties engendered by a logosyllabic language breed few foxes and many hedgehogs.

  • It’s more complicated than that. The 4,000 characters are combined to make other words. An educated Chinese person is as capable of expressing himself as an educated American. Probably moreso because an educated Chinese is probably smarter than the typical educated American.

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