What do WE want?

Okay, so the Lunar Harmony Festival idea was kind of a flop. A big flop, actually. I’m a little disappointed but writers either get used to rejection or quit writing. Like most writers – including the successful ones – I could paper the walls of my home with rejection letters. (All of them old. Today’s editors no longer bother to reply.)

I am, however, more than a little surprised. Let’s face it; the world is a mess. We’re beheading each other for goodness sakes. How much worse can it get? So I thought the idea of everyone in the world looking up at our one common moon all at the same time and drawing whatever connection that would bring us was an idea whose time had come.

But, as they say in the blogging world, (Actually, I’m not sure what they say in the blogging ‘world.’ I am a world of one. As Dr. Warren Kornbluth, played by Eugene Levy in the 1984 film, Splash, famously noted, ‘I am really a nice guy. If I had friends you could ask them.’) the stats don’t lie. And what little readership momentum I seemed to be gaining in recent months – and I do mean little – my lunar harmony fantasy appears to have killed even that.

But that’s okay. I will keep trying. I am an idealist.

In the meantime, the August 23rd edition of The Economist included an article entitled, What China wants – After a bad couple of centuries China is itching to regain its place in the world. How should America respond?

The article basically argues that the U.S. must give China a seat at the table of power in Asia, pick its fights carefully and with an eye toward materiality, and avoid the temptation of Western hawks to see China as a global threat at every turn. There is little evidence, as the article points out, that China has any ambition to upend the current world order.

I personally think the points made in the article are valid, as far as they go. The 19th and early 20th Centuries, for obvious reasons, did not endear the Chinese to the notion of foreign colonialism. Virtually nothing good came out of it all if you look at what happened from their perspective. There was, indeed, a great loss of face and an even greater amount of human suffering. Of course China wants to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Who wouldn’t?

As much as anything else, however, I wonder if the Chinese weren’t – and still are – simply bewildered by the whole chain of events. They, after all, didn’t go looking for trouble. It came to them.

And why? As regular readers of this blog know, the Chinese have an indirect, receiver-oriented communication style that makes it appear, to the Western deductive, transmitter-oriented communicator, that they speak in riddles. Isn’t perplexed, by implication, a natural state of mind for the Chinese?

But the simple answer is, no, perplexed is not the normal state for them. They explain reality in fundamentally different ways, but they are as reality-grounded as any society on earth. It is, in many ways, a different reality, but it is no less real.  And that’s where I believe The Economist didn’t go far enough.

Let’s be real. The United States is not going to go to war over a nine-dash red line around some uninhabited atolls in the South China Sea. Nor is China, for that matter. Deductively or inductively, it’s just not a rational move.

The Economist notes correctly, however, that Taiwan is not an uninhabited atoll and advises the U.S. that it must be very clear in its intention to come to the aid of Taiwan in the event of a Chinese threat. There are, after all, treaties involved, and if other countries can’t trust you to live up to your treaties you might as well not bother with them.

But here’s the thing. China is not going to threaten, much less invade, Taiwan. Taiwan has already invaded China. Whatever the Western media says, Taiwan is a de facto autonomous region of China. Do you know which ‘foreign’ country is the source of the greatest amount of foreign direct investment in Mainland China? I will give you a hint; it’s not the U.S. And it’s not Germany. The top 2 sources of foreign direct investment in Mainland China are Hong Kong and Taiwan, in that order. Taiwan, as a country, has fewer people (23 million or so) than the single city of Chongqing, a city few people outside of China have ever even heard of. Taiwan’s total GDP is less than the GDP of Guangdong Province, only one of 23 provinces in Mainland China. The ‘threat’ is over.

And what about Honk Kong? On Sunday the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress of China issued rules for the democratic election scheduled to be held in the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong in 2017, as agreed by all parties when the SAR was returned to Chinese control in 1997. Judging by the reaction from much of the Western media you might conclude that Beijing has driven a stake through the heart of democracy itself. But this is simply not true. The Committee, in fact, reaffirmed its commitment to universal suffrage. It merely clarified the rules by which candidates could be nominated to participate in the election.

And it’s logic, for those willing to listen with an open mind, is both sound and well laid out. Democracy is like science. People tend to talk about science as if it is an independent body of absolute knowledge. It isn’t. It is merely a way for understanding and explaining reality in the most deductively logical way.

And so it goes with democracy. We tend to speak of democracy as an absolute that requires no interpretation or rules of governance to be effective. But the Founding Fathers of the United States itself went to great lengths to protect individual freedoms and insure that a numerical majority or plurality could not invoke injustice in the name of simple democracy ‘by the numbers’. That is why there are three branches of government rather than one and even the Congress itself is divided into two Houses, one of which is not in any way proportionately representative of the population.

Beijing has a legitimate right to be concerned with the democratic process becoming high-jacked by a clever-talking minority using the rules of ‘democracy’ to somehow subvert the will of the majority either through outright chicanery or by forcing the need to form coalitions which may not represent the majority interest on any given issue. We need look no further than the United States, or any other Western ‘democracy’, for that matter, to find a reasonable basis for Beijing’s concern.

It would be difficult to plausibly argue that the Washington Beltway version of democracy has not become the de facto lever by which special interests leverage their power to force their agenda – either directly or through subversion – on a public often bewildered that things like – pick your headline – can really happen in a modern democracy. There will be some noise in the streets of Hong Kong regarding the Committee’s decision, particularly when viewed through the lens of Western media.

In the end, however, unlike the moon, it won’t last. Believe me, Beijing has the support of the Chinese people, including the vast majority of the people of Hong Kong. If history has taught us anything it is that political legitimacy, not the machinery of political choice, ultimately determines a government’s place in history.

It is the elected officials which have put Uzi’s in the hands of nine-year old children and armed their civilian police forces like invading armies, which will ultimately have to justify their records, however they were elected. In the meantime, go outside on the evening of September 8 and take a moment of your time to stare up at the moon and think about your connection to the people and the world around you. It’s a messed up world, to be sure. But connection, not occupation, or even pluralism, is the path to a better future.

Connection is what life is all about.  The rest is just noise or violence.   What is it you want?
Connection is what life is all about. The rest is just noise or violence. What is it you want?

Contact:  You may contact the author at glassmakerinchina@gmail.com

Copyright © 2014 Glassmaker in China

Notice:  The views expressed in this post are strictly those of the writer acting in a personal capacity.  They are not in any way endorsed or sanctioned by his employer or any other individual with which he may be personally or professionally affiliated.