Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Chinese astonishment at US undiscipline

I haven't written about the US and Chnia recently. There hasn't been much to say since things remain as they were. If there's a surprise, it has been a mild one and not really unexpected: interest rates have remained low in the US and the US economy seems strong enough to keep them down for the time being. There has been jaw boning about the huge growth in Chinese textile exports to the US, but that too was expected. Finally, the Chinese did change the ratio of their currency to the US dollar, but not by an unexpected amount. The grand-standing by some members of the US Congress hardly deserves notice I believe.

Still, though there's little to say, a paragraph in an op-ed piece caught my eye and seems worth repeating. The piece itself is a breezy and somewhat glib overview which makes some ok good points; nothing profound. The author asserts that Chinese determination and self-discipline give them a competitive advantage over our self-indulgence and lack of focus. Like other critiques of US policy, it overlooks the bargaining strength that a debtor has over a large creditor. But that's not what I wish to write about. The bit that I think worth repeating is the depiction of Chinese astonishment at US priorities, how we allow ourselves to "drown in debt" and care not about what matters in the world, but rather indulge ourselves in "fights over feeding tubes, displays of the Ten Commandments and how to eat as much as we can without getting fat."

Here's the citation to the article and a brief extract:

Advantage, China
In This Match, They Play Us Better Than We Play Them
By James McGregor
Sunday, July 31, 2005; Page B01

The Chinese government today understands America much better than our government understands China.

Chinese government officials and business executives admire, fear and pity the United States. They admire our entrepreneurial culture, free markets, legal system and ability to unemotionally discard what doesn't work while our best-in-the-world universities and enormous R&D capabilities create new products and services. China's economic reforms over the past 25 years have been aimed at creating a Chinese variation of the U.S. economic system and its ability to unleash entrepreneurial instincts and harness markets to build a world-beating economy.

Chinese pity comes from their belief that we are a country in decline. More than a few Chinese friends have quoted to me the proverb fu bu guo san dai (wealth doesn't make it past three generations) as they wonder how we became so ill-disciplined, distracted and dissolute. The fury surrounding Monica-gate seemed an incomprehensible waste of time to a nation whose emperors were supplied with thousands of concubines. Chinese are equally astonished that Americans are allowing themselves to drown in debt and under-fund public schools while the media focus on fights over feeding tubes, displays of the Ten Commandments and how to eat as much as we can without getting fat.

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