Monday, December 21, 2009

Difficult choice

I have a difficult time choosing my next topic. Why? Because both topics are dark and subtle and I would so much like to write about the fun and straightforward things that China and America share! Anyway, spending so much time choosing the next topic, resulted in no writing at all, which is a pity.

One of the topics that interests me is the fine line of interpretation between endorsement/sponsorship of political candidates in the US (be it a township mayor, a state senator or the president), Chinese Guanxi (关系) and Corruption. That will be my next article then!

The other topic I was thinking about was currently raised in a blog on and is about Racism. Four expert commentators on the blog react to recent commotion in China on police harassment charges by African immigrants in Guangzhou and online discussions about the finalist of the Chinese Idols competition Lou Jing who is the daughter of a Chinese woman and African man. In the blog the questions are raised how and if increased immigration by foreigners to China is influencing the Chinese perception of race and how from a historical perspective the Chinese community has dealt with ethnic differences.

Unfortunately, all four expert commentators give a very analytical and similar interpretation on race and ethnicity in China. The following 8 pages of comments by readers are far more interesting to read. At least, the readers speak out and really contribute to a debate that has generated more than 190 comments so far!

Reader comment number 78 summarizes the discussion nicely and comment 77 just before holds up a mirror for all of us Westerners who feel that being stared at is the worst that can happen to you!

What I miss in the NY Times blog and reader comments is a summary and basic analysis of the historical perspective of ethnicity in China. It feel it is too easy to say: China was and is a melting pot of different ethnic groups, was ruled for several dynasties by so-called 'Barbarians', etc. etc. In my opinion the ethnic groups and leaders always had to adapt to Chinese society - to the Han culture - and not the other way round. This is what makes Chinese history, culture and society carry a 2.500 year legacy (I am not going with the popular 5000 year history that Chinese government proclaims; I prefer to start a few hundred years before the first Emperor, when a substantial amount of writing was already collected on philosophy, culture, society and literature).

In the People's Republic of China I feel that ethnic minorities are more like circus attractions than regular citizens. They are mainly generating income for domestic and international tourism. The ethnic minorities are only allowed into certain positions to fulfil the Star Trek Quota [Just make sure there is an African, an Asian, a Russian, an Alien, a handicapped person and a Woman on the bridge and no one will complain]. So far the Communist Party of China has convinced many ethnic minorities in China that they have their best interest in mind, but with recent unrests in Tibet and Xinjiang, we know that not everybody agrees with the Chinese approach.

It is a fact that if you are born into a regular family of a Chinese ethnic minorities your outlook in life will be different from a Middle Class family in the Beijing region or the Yangzi and Pearl River Deltas. Economic opportunities differ according to region, also in China and inequality can be seen frequently even in this (so-called) Communist state. However, are Chinese Racist?

I will never be able to answer that question, however, I can only mirror it on my experience here in the US. A large country with unequal opportunities and equal rights (at least on paper). Of course, the background of the US and China is completely different on the immigrant chapter! Early immigrants came here in their pilgrimage from Europe, massacred the indigenous population, established slavery - leading to a huge immigration increase (although slaves were probably NOT considered immigrants then) and then, in the early 20th century many more immigrants came to live the American Dream fleeing war and economic downturn.

I can only speak from experience. I live in a small township in New Jersey. Most foreigners here are Chinese or Indian and they live in regular houses or in apartments, most of them working in the pharmaceutical industry, IT industry or retail. Of course, there are also the all American neighbors with Christmas lights and four cars. In our township I don't see many African Americans, if I want to see more of them I need to go to the State Capital Trenton. To be honest, people don't get the chance to be openly racist here, I feel as if society is segregated. However, the segregation is not only racial, but also economic. Of course, racial background & regional opportunity are related. Americans have many things to worry about: job loss, debt, war against terror, Tiger Woods...

I feel totally inadequate writing about racism. Raised in a stable family in Germany we did stand out a little bit by being Dutch, returning to Holland, we stood out because of our German stay, but never ever have I been discriminated on race (or on being a woman either!).

There is a very adequate Dutch proverb to describe what I would like to say "Ons kent ons" . We are all most comfortable in our own area, we don't want to step out of our comfort zone be it economic or ethnic. Of course, it is impossible to judge a whole nation (America or China) on racism, on history and on regional differences.

It would be nice if one could be more open to others (myself including) and step out the "ons kent ons" zone now and again.

I think that is a very nice New Year Resolution, I hope you join me!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Capitalist or Communist? Green ambitions on the rise!

Since the first moment I realized I would be moving to the US, I started to notice and gather similarities on China and the US. Some are quite obvious:

- Both are big countries
- This leads to big 'problems' (environment, infrastructure, governance, corruption)
- They have important roles to play on an international level
- They are focused on themselves more than the outside
- The people have a "Can Do" attitude, which is necessary to get where you want in this society
- Both countries represent a well-known culture, attitude or system: be it Capitalist, Confucianist, Christian or Communist (or all of the above?)

Anyway, right around my change of scenes TIME Magazine posted an interesting article on the 5 things the US can learn from China! I recommend reading it.

To summarize they are:
1. Ambition
2. Education
3. Elderly care
4. Saving money
5. Look over the horizon - the Chinese dream!

Now, I do agree that these 5 points are true, but I feel that TIME Magazine was making things a little bit too glorious for the Chinese in their article. I chose to pick on "Ambition".

(Blind) Ambition?
For instance, the author Bill Powell, criticizes the American NIMBY (not-in-my-back-yard) attitude compared to the Chinese IMBY.
Those Chinese who need to move from their ancestral homes because of urban or industrial development don't get to choose or to vote on these projects. Most choose the way of the least resistance, a new apartment in a block with other co-villages to keep them together and recreate their village feeling.
Although projects can take very long in the US (and even more so in Europe) at least proper Environmental Impact Assessment is done and the necessary permits and procedures around these projects are aimed at protecting people and the environment, instead of blindly following capitalist endeavors. If a project is sensible, project developers or governments should be able to explain it to residents, they owe it to us!

I have seen with my own eyes the kind of grand projects referred to in the TIME article. A new port here, a new urban center there, a new railroad, a new canal to transport water for more than 1500 miles! Oh, let's relocate 5 million residents...China is a big place, some projects are successful: Beijing was redone beautifully for the 2008 Olympics, urban development in general seems to work reasonably well so far. However, regional ambition and power hungry provincial leaders have endorsed all kinds of large developments in China's provinces that are dubious, daft and even dangerous!

Green Ambitions
Back to these large developments, however, we can also find ambition for sustainable development and corporate social sustainability. With lower labor and material costs, highly educated engineers and many "out-of-the-box" ideas China does show the ambition to become the leader of the "Global Green Revolution" or "Clean Revolution" (the technological and scientific development of a green and clean world economy).

Western companies are also riding the Green Wave in China, for instance Pepsi or DSM, and many more.

This ambition I do fully support. Go Green!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Climate Change update!

Here is a link to a New York times article of 5 December which nicely summarizes the challenges for climate change. It is a good summary, no pretentions, not too much second guessing, and of course mentioning US-China relationships (throwing in India and Brazil as well). Enjoy!

Also, check out this website the "Breathing Earth" and compare China to US!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Climate Change

Inspired by Kenneth Lieberthal's lecture on "US-China Relations and Issue of Climate Change" that was held at Princeton University on Monday 30 November 2009, I am afraid I am starting with a difficult topic instead of a frivolous one.

This is what I am going to do. I will try to balance serious topics (environment, human rights, linguistics) with light topics (humor, food, people-2-people experiences) on America in China - China in America in my blog. So...Climate Change it is. I'd like to first summarize Prof. Lieberthal's lecture, I found it very enlightening and it sets the base for my own conclusion later on!

The topic Climate Change came almost as an afterthought in Prof. Lieberthal's lecture, not because it is not important in US-China relations, but because it is a recent development one can only grasp by looking at the whole picture! In a wonderful 1 hour lecture (plus 30 minutes Q & A) Lieberthal summarized US-China relationship into four well-known topics and concluded by giving us his view on the climate change issue in US-China policy.

The four topics mentioned by Prof. Lieberthal were:

1. Stability in and Control over North Korea
2. Cross-Strait Relationships
3. Trade Ties and Tensions
4. Human Rights

All of these points are of great interest in US-China relationships. I will get back to them for sure in one of my later "difficult" sessions.

Finally, Prof. Lieberthal pointed out that US and China seemed to have found a way to cooperate on the topic of climate change without making it a political issue (be it domestic, international or transnational) - let's call it Clean Energy Cooperation. Prof. Lieberthal calls for a more economic entity (more WTO than UN) to be established to tackle Climate Change Issues.

I think this is one of the best suggestions I have heard in a long time. Environmentalists have managed to bring environment and climate change onto the political agenda, which is important for development of a legal framework and awareness, however, as we all know politics are slow and discussions keep going on. Next week's Copenhagen Summit will not reach any grand conclusions apart from the one that more talks will be needed. Any emission targets that will be established will be worthless without US and Chinese support.

However, when the economy is at work, when enterprises (big and small), universities, scientists and governments can start to make money by joining organizations for clean energy and developing a new self sufficient energy sector (and thus....emission reduction and climate change) it will be a win-win situation for all.

Here's my pitch then!
I expect that on the level of emission targets and deadlines, as well as any collective statements the Copenhagen Summit will not bring great surprises and I can imagina that no grand support from the US or China will be offered in this summit. However, I opt for looking at more invisible successes. US and Chinese joined research programs to bring the world new energy sources that do not depend on fossil fuels, but on innovative technology, and a new energy saving attitude that rises from the current economic tide. Clean Energy is Hot! and in the years to come will contribute tremendously to mitigate Climate Change effects in the world.

So....don't be disappointed if on the political level the US and China will let us down over the next years in the field of Climate Change. I am sure that both the US and China will surprise us in their contribution in the energy sector over the coming years.

Looking forward to your comments!