Monday, June 19, 2006

A Few Things . . .

. . . before I head out to Tiananmen and the Forbidden City.

In what seems like remarkable coinsidence, just as I head from China to South Africa, Chinese premier Wen Jinbao embarks on a trip to South Africa as well. His purpose is to pull together ties between the two nations, both developing regional powers, with China of course a country with far more than regional ambitions. It seems clear that China's goal is to establish itself as a go-to power for the developing world. South Africa is a smart place to start. In years to come it may well occur that developing regions like Africa become a site of contestation for the attentions of the great powers, much like during the Cold War, except in the future, this competition need not be a zero-sum game. Countries will be able to fan the attentions of both China and the United States. And as importantly, unlike the Cold War, this need not be the consequence of global hostility. Hopefully the attention that comes from the outside world will also be different in another way -- hopefully this time, it will be good for Africa.

Meanwhile most of you may have seen Nicholas Kristof's far-from-flattering piece on China's justice system, the farcical trial of journalist Zhao Yan, and the way it reflects negatively on Hu Jintao:

The courthouse is a perfect symbol of Mr. Hu's vision of China today: a dazzling building with lavish facilities, but empty in every sense. It's all infrastructure, no software. It's as if Mr. Hu thinks that building a modern judicial system is about high ceilings and padded seats rather than about laws and justice. . . .
I'm still a believer in China, partly because Mr. Hu and his aides have managed the economy so well. Mr. Hu has also done well in canceling the agriculture tax and taking other measures to try to address the destabilizing income gaps in China (there, 1 percent of the population now controls 60 percent of the wealth, whereas in the U.S., 5 percent controls 60 percent of the wealth).

Yet ultimately, Mr. Hu's efforts to create stability by clamping down just risk more instability. Most Chinese don't want upheavals, but they are fed up with corruption and lies, with being blocked from Google and Wikipedia, with having to waste time studying political drivel like Mr. Hu's "Eight Honorables and Eight Shames" campaign. Wags call it "Hu shuo ba dao," a clever pun that translates as "utter nonsense."

Indeed, Mr. Hu's crackdown has been singularly ineffective, annoying people more than scaring them. Many Communist Party officials worry that crackdowns just anger and alienate the public; that is why some have talked of allowing people to let off steam through greater freedom of the press and more elections. In one province, a poll found that 85 percent of officials themselves wanted to speed up political reform.

But Mr. Hu seems paralyzed, altogether the weakest Chinese leader since Hua Guofeng in the 1970's. The result? Brace yourself for turbulence ahead in China.

Of course here in China? Not a word, which sort of lends credence to Kristof's alarmism, doesn't it?

And just so that you know that I have hardly forgotten about the Red Sox, or sports generally (I can find out Sox results with some detail by about 11 in the morning if I can access a computer), I want to post this fascinating Dan Shaughnessy article in the Boston Globe Magazine about the state of Boston sports fans. This is a follow-up to a piece he wrote in 1990. I am loving experiencing the World Cup abroad and am almost giddy for the (remote) possibility that I will be in Oxford for the finals and that England has a shot at being there. Meanwhile, in the next few weeks I'll be in South Africa. I am very much looking forward to finding a public place to watch that important US-Ghana match. I will very much be a minority in my rooting interests, though if Ghana wins, I am instantly on their bandwagon along with England's. Nonetheless, I miss my Red Sox, and I miss Sportscenter.

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