Sunday, June 22, 2008

Review: The Coming China Wars

Peter Navarro, The Coming China Wars: Where They Will be Fought, How The Can Be Won.
The purpose of this book is to warn that unless strong actions are taken now both by China and the rest of the world, The Coming China Wars are destined to be fought over everything from decent jobs, livable wages, and leading-edge technologies to strategic resources such as oil, copper, and steel, and eventually to our most basic of all needs--bread, water, and air.
To achieve his purpose, Navarro explains and examines how various Chinese policies affect its people and government and those of the rest of the world. For example, the book is replete with examples of how China's government has set-up uneven economic playing fields domestically and globally through currency manipulation, protectionism, worker mistreatment, lax regulation--if any at all--and ignoring product piracy within its borders (80% of pirate products seized at U.S. borders come from China). Such practices have fueled China's economic growth at an unsustainable pace, according to Navarro. Throw in a growing appetite for natural resources, both its own and those of other countries, and China is a ravenous beast not easily sated. Its economic needs affect its judgment as the pressure to maintain the rate of economic growth encourages the maintenance of the same unfair and immoral practices.

Given the way China operates within its own borders, it is no surprise to learn that it makes no moral ties to its economic needs abroad; looking the other way when dealing with dictators in Africa or Iran or North Korea for natural resources in exchange for weapons or help with infrastructure, which in turn helps China extract the aforementioned resources. Environmental issues are also not high on their list of priorities. 18 of the 20 smoggiest cities are in China and that so-called "chog" finds its way into the air of its Asian neighbors and the West Coast of North America. Then there is the disastrous treatment of the Chinese waterways: the Yellow River is often also blue, green or red; the three Gorges Damn is proving to be an environmental and health disaster. One wonders if the coverage of the upcoming Beijing Olympics will reveal such things for the world to see.

Their willingness to take environmental short-cuts buys them economic growth because such a lax atmosphere proves too tempting to foreign companies. Here, Navarro makes an important historical point:
There is both a danger and a paradox here that should not be lost on any student of Chinese history aware of the "foreign humiliation" that China was subjected to in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The danger is that these powerful foreign economic interests are overpowering the political will of the central government, thereby rendering it impossible for China to get a handle on its own pollution problems. The paradox is that as China's Communist Party seeks to mold the country into a superpower, it is quickly losing control of its own destiny to powerful foreign economic interests.
Thus do foreign companies and countries (and their consumers) prop up Chinese economic practices. However, Navarro does suggest that such a climate is causing worker unrest upset over unpaid wages, revoked or reduced pensions and poor health. Then again, the Chinese government has also engaged in repression (Falun Gong, Tibet, Uighur), often with the implicit help of foreign companies (Yahoo! is singled out). This belligerence is also turning outward as China is amidst a dramatic military buildup with the apparent goal of power projection around the world and even into outer space. (An aside: this was the first time I'd heard that the moon may have rich deposits of Helium 3, a rare isotope that scientists believe could help with nuclear fusion.)

So what should we do about all of this? Navarro's concluding chapter offers some suggestions to both governments and to we the people. Focusing on his prescriptions for the individual, Navarro explains that we haven't really, truly been paying attention because of "the narcotic effect that cheap Chinese goods have had on us" or we've been more worried about the Middle East. Or, perhaps most importantly, there "is a general lack of awareness of the far-ranging implications of a world increasingly 'Made in China.'" As to this last, The Coming China Wars is a quick and succinct way to get up to speed. Cheap goods are good for the American consumer, but not if they are produced on playing field tilted as dramatically as portrayed by Navarro.

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