HKEJ.com, June 4, 2010
On June 4, 1989, the Chinese government opened fire on peaceful protesters demanding American-style democracy on Tiananmen Square. No one could have expected then that twenty-one years later, numerous American lawmakers, businessmen and pundits would be falling all over themselves to demand that the U.S. government become more Chinese, more state-directed.
The ogling of Chinese authoritarianism is most pronounced in the U.S. debate about climate change. When U.S. Senator John Kerry introduced comprehensive climate change legislation in May, he exhorted the U.S. government to heavily subsidize green technology in part because “[t]he Chinese aren’t waiting around” and have “surpassed us in renewable energy investment.”
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman frequently and breathlessly extols China’s “enlightened” one-party autocracy for its vision to remake “Red China” into “Green China” and “own” the clean technology market. Jim Rogers, Chairman and CEO of Duke Energy, the third largest utility company in the United States, regularly swoons that America must move at “China speed” to combat global warming.
No respected American public figure would ever seriously propose that his country copy China’s repressive political system, but movers and shakers of money, politics and opinion in the U.S. are not at all embarrassed to equate China’s central economic planning with enlightenment.
Bowing to Chinese state capitalism, however, fits perfectly with the policy narrative that currently dominates the climate debate and Washington. This narrative teaches that human progress demands rapid, large-scale solutions heavily subsidized by government funding. Where climate change is concerned, the narrative screams that the threat is serious, urgent and growing. In the words of President Barack Obama, the world must respond “boldly, swiftly and together.”
China appears to offer the perfect answer. According to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (温家寶), China’s political system offers distinct “advantages.” They include quick decision-making, effective organization and an ability to “concentrate resources to accomplish large undertakings.”
Last year, China spent $34.6 billion last year on its clean energy economy, nearly twice as much as the U.S. In the past five years, China has made an aggressive, government-funded push into green technology, transforming the country into the world’s largest market for wind energy, largest manufacturer of solar panels and largest builder of nuclear power plants.
For those predisposed to worshipping government intervention in the economy, the greening of modern China simply oozes authoritarian chic. Unlike the U.S. government, the Chinese state apparatus marches on relatively unhindered by businesses that oppose policies that hurt their bottom line, citizens who refuse to accept the prospect of job loss or dislocation due to government projects, skeptics who question the underlying foundations of key policy proposals (such as climate science), or lawmakers who put the interests of their constituents before the aspirations of central planning.
As the Chinese economy hums along to three decades of explosive growth and emerges relatively unscathed from the global financial crisis, big government types in America increasingly believe that the U.S. must adopt China’s “advantages,” such as massive spending on renewable energy, to be competitive in the 21st century.
In the mad hurry to chart the future, few care to pay attention to the deficiencies of central planning. Already, rampant corruption makes wasted government resources a fact of life in China. Additionally, the willingness to embark on ambitious government initiatives is no guarantee for sound results.
As Spanish economist Gabriel Calzada Alvarez and colleagues at the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos have concluded in a recent study, Spain, a global leader in green job creation, forfeited 2.2 regular jobs for every green job it created.
Countries like the U.S. and Australia will have to convince their citizens that gargantuan government investment in green job creation is worth the cost. Beijing suffers from none of democracy’s hindrances. Already, rapid growth of the wind industry has left approximately one-third of China’s wind farms standing idle at any given time, unable to connect to the electricity grid.
Meanwhile, Chinese leaders eagerly trot out the country’s three-decade-old one-child policy as an example of their bold and swift action on climate change. Due to the “strong correlation between population growth and climate change,” said Zhao Baige (趙白鴿), vice minister of China’s National Population and Family Planning Commission, the decline in Chinese population in the past three decades “converts into a reduction of 1.83 billion tons of carbon dioxide emission in China per annum.” Clearly, the U.S. and other democracies do not have these “advantages.”
Today, Chinese authoritarianism is far more sophisticated than that which faced nationwide democracy protests twenty-one years ago. Even as many in and outside of China pause this June 4th to grieve for the victims of the Tiananmen Massacre and condemn China’s continued political repression, more and more citizens of the free world cannot help but marvel at China’s economic success.
China, however, continues to stare coldly at the world as it reveals the absurdity and human cost of authoritarianism’s grand plans. To compete against China’s “advantages” in the 21st century, liberal democracies like the U.S. should first and foremost try not to avoid authoritarianism’s gaze.