China in a Hurry on Jobs and Infrastructure

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Li Zhaoxing and Steve Clemons 500.jpg
(Former Foreign Minister of China Li Zhaoxing and Washington Note blogger Steve Clemons; photo credit: Peter Pi)
The above picture was taken in Beijing with Li Zhaoxing, who served as former Ambassador of China to the US and then served as China’s Foreign Minister.
Li now serves as Honorary President of the Chinese Peoples’ Institute of Foreign Affairs — and is one of the most fascinating people I have met over here. I may write more about his unique style and perspective on China’s strategic course when I get a bit more time — but it’s pretty interesting to know that he speaks some Swahili and essentially missed the years of the Cultural Revolution serving in China’s Embassy in Kenya — a country that has attracted great interest among Americans because of Barack Obama’s Kenyan lineage.
Today, I’m in Wuxi, a Chinese second tier city in Jiangsu Province about 128 kilometers from Shanghai and 180 kilometers from Nanjing. This afternoon, I fly to Shenzhen down south.
Wuxi is an export powerhouse with about 80 of the Fortune 500 firms based here. I saw many of them yesterday including Astra Zeneca, Coca-Coa, NEC, Mizuho, Accor, Fedex, Sony, Caterpillar, Toyota, Sharp, Itochu, Jabil, Valeo.
But the region has been whacked by the economic crisis with a decline in exports the last quarter of 30% compared to last year.
But get this — Wuxi subsidizes firms to offer retraining packages for their employees if they don’t lay them off. And the region works hard to increase services to manufacturing firms based here to help them through the crisis — and more importantly, to assist workers — both those registered in this province and those who are migrants (i.e. unregistered).
And on top of that, the central government has greenlighted three large scale transportation related projects that it had previously rejected — including the building of Wuxi’s first subway system and a new passenger hub terminal for an express train stop on a line being built both from Shanghai to Nanjing as well as Shanghai to Beijing.
The focus here on keeping people working, on correcting obvious environmental problems, on getting large scale public works infrastructure immediately underway is incredibly impressive — and makes me even more frustrated with the absence of this kind of focus in the U.S.
We talk about jobs, talk about Smart Grid and new express railway systems, talk about public infrastructure, talk about keeping people in their homes — but we seem to do more talking than doing in the United States.
This place is “doing” — and doing so quite impressively at the local level.
— Steve Clemons

Comments

25 comments on “China in a Hurry on Jobs and Infrastructure

  1. Curious says:

    Dan writes: “As I have suggested before, Israeli negativity and
    opposition to US diplomacy with Iran is partly based on worries that
    the diplomacy will be successful, rather than worries that it will
    fail. Israelis and their most dogged US supporters are desperate to
    preserve Israel’s special relationship with the United States, and will
    work to protect their interests, as they shortsightedly view them, by
    sabotaging moves toward a major US diplomatic opening with
    Iran.”
    This confuses me. America has special relationships with a lot of
    countries. Why would normalizing relations with Iran push Israel
    out of the picture?

    Reply

  2. David Billington says:

    Dan Kervick,
    Apologies for my unclear phrasing and thank you for pointing it
    out. What I meant was that there would be no way to prevent
    Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons once the international
    community accepts Iran’s right to possess a complete nuclear
    fuel cycle. The reason for skepticism that Iran would observe an
    agreement not to divert fissionable material to assemble its own
    weapons is Iran’s prior record of undeclared nuclear activity,
    which differentiates its nuclear record from that of Japan. But
    even if Tehran observes the NPT, they could at any time
    announce their withdrawal and three months later build nuclear
    warheads.
    Perhaps war is unlikely in the next few years. America is not
    going to initiate military action against Iran if the Joint Chiefs of
    Staff have their way. As long as we are still in Iraq, Iran could
    retaliate against us there if Israel initiates a war on its own, and I
    doubt Israel will run that risk.
    The problem is that both sides have made extraordinary
    statements that may be backed by the power to act on them.
    Iran’s leadership has made statements in opposition to Israel’s
    existence. The Israelis have threatened to respond
    preemptively. Perhaps both sides do not truly mean to do what
    they say. But it is an extraordinary situation nonetheless and
    one in which what seems rational to us may be irrational to
    those on the front line.
    I agree that nations tend to exercise restraint when they perceive
    that they have much to lose by abandoning it. A normalized
    relationship between America and Iran would give Tehran more
    to lose than they have now. But a condition would surely be U.S.
    acceptance of a nuclear Iran. Apart from the implications for
    Israel in particular, there is the larger question of where any line
    can be drawn on nuclear proliferation if it is not drawn here.
    If Iran acquires a nuclear weapons capability, it will be
    impossible to prevent the Arab world from doing so, and nuclear
    technology will spread to other parts of the world. The
    alternative is to establish effective international control over the
    nuclear technology of all nations (a return to the Baruch Plan of
    1946). I think that Obama could advocate such
    internationalization and appeal over the heads of governments
    to world public opinion. If public opinion fails him, he would
    still elevate his presidency for having appealed to it.

    Reply

  3. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “……an arrangement with Iran that establishes safeguards that are effective in providing assurances to the world community that uranium is not being diverted from Iran’s civilian nuclear program to a weapons program”
    Isn’t that essentially the gist of the NPT? And, if I’m not mistaken, hasn’t Iran been in full compliance according to the IAEA??
    “But those hopes are dim. The fact that Obama named Dennis Ross, who may himself be one of the saboteurs, as a point man for the Iranian relationship, suggests that Obama is either a dupe, or is a willing participant in the Clinton-Ross plan…..”
    Personally, I consider Hillary Clinton a far greater impediment to successful diplomatic overtures to Iran than Ross is. In fact, her rhetoric thus far is despicable as it applies to Iran, in light of the fact that any diplomacy requires active, constructive, and sincere efforts on the part of our Secretary of State.
    “Rather it suggests that certain campaign commitments may have been an out-and-out scam”
    Certain? I would disagree. It seems to me that almost ALL of his campaign rhetoric was pure unmittigated horseshit. To me, his most dissappointing, and very probably the most damaging, is his bullshit about transparency and the rule of law. The posturing piece of shit blathers on about this being a “nation of laws”, yet in the same breath natters on about “looking forward”.
    I have no doubt he will buckle to Israeli and AIPAC pressure on Iran and follow whatever script they impose on him. There are simply too many Democratic Congresspeople in Israel’s pocket, and he simply doesn’t have the balls to go against their bidding. He has, in fact, already shown us all we need to know. And while Obama postures about no more settlement expansion, Netanyahu publically and blatantly counters with a “fuck you”, and his aides call a two state solution “stupid and childish”. Kinda like Hillary calling settlement expansion “unhelpful”.
    Wheres the incentive for Israel to buckle, with Congress voting to continue sending them blood money, no matter what Israel does? If Obama doesn’t hand them a “stop or else”, Israel is just emboldened by each dollar we flush away into their economy. With Netanyahu arrogantly telling Obama to go fuck himself on the settlement issue, anything less than a cut-off of funds is just enabling Israel to do whatever they please.
    And all the overcomplicating bullshit in the debate about Iranian nukes is just a diversion. First, Iran surely realizes if they attacked Israel with WMDs, they would immediately be reduced to silica dust by the American response.
    And secondly, they’d be idiots not to seek a deterence. Threatened repeatedly and constantly by Israel and the United States, do we really expect them to fail to take action to defend themselves? Call me crazy, but it seems to me that the “destabilizing factor”, and the impetus for nuclear proliferation in the Middle East is Israel’s possession of a nuclear arsenal. If I lived in a nation next door to Israel, I’d damn well want my leaders to be making efforts to achieve military strength matching or surpassing that of Israel, in light of what Israel has done to both the Lebanese and the Palestinians. Factor in Israel’s main “ally”, who staged a false rational for the criminal invasion of Iraq, and it would be ludicrous to be an Iranian that didn’t feel threatened.

    Reply

  4. Dan Kervick says:

    David Billington,
    I don’t follow you when you say, “I do not see how there can be meaningful assurances that Iran will safeguard fissile material to manage proliferation risks if the principal danger of proliferation is to Iran itself.”
    What dangers to Iran are you talking about?
    I gather you don’t think it is possible for a coalition of major powers, the United States included among them, to negotiate an arrangement with Iran that establishes safeguards that are effective in providing assurances to the world community that uranium is not being diverted from Iran’s civilian nuclear program to a weapons program. Why are you skeptical?
    Israel is becoming a bit like North Korea – an increasingly isolated, short-sighted and paranoid state in which public opinion and the opinion of the state’s leaders is becoming progressively more detached from reality. Israeli characterizations of Iran and Iranian society, even from high-level leaders, are just one childishly absurd stereotype after another. So to the extent that people in the US are really concerned with Israel’s well-being, they are going to have to take a more enlightened look at that well-being than the Israelis themselves appear capable of at the present time.
    Israel’s legitimate security concerns viz-a-viz Iran are best guaranteed by the United States moving forward to develop a normalized economic and diplomatic relationship with Iran. Once Iran has a relationship with the United States that is worth attending to and preserving, Israel will have much less to worry about from Iran.
    I think you can argue the same phenomenon is in place with respect to Taiwan’s security and the US relationship with China. The Nixonian opening to China has been, in my book, one of the most rousing foreign policy successes in the history of the United States.
    But there is more at work than paranoia. As I have suggested before, Israeli negativity and opposition to US diplomacy with Iran is partly based on worries that the diplomacy will be successful, rather than worries that it will fail. Israelis and their most dogged US supporters are desperate to preserve Israel’s special relationship with the United States, and will work to protect their interests, as they shortsightedly view them, by sabotaging moves toward a major US diplomatic opening with Iran. I sincerely hope Obama understands this is what is happening and that it is wildly at odds with long-term US interests. And I hope he is prepared to resist it.
    But those hopes are dim. The fact that Obama named Dennis Ross, who may himself be one of the saboteurs, as a point man for the Iranian relationship, suggests that Obama is either a dupe, or is a willing participant in the Clinton-Ross plan to gull the US public and world community with a phony diplomatic opening to Iran that is pre-meditated to fail and be aborted, and whose failure will then be used to establish the diplomatic justification for more aggressive action later.
    Of all the Middle East foreign policy concerns or disappointments with the Obama administration so far, this is the one that irks me the most, because it suggests more than a tendency to walk back commitments that have proved more politically challenging than anticipated. Rather it suggests that certain campaign commitments may have been an out-and-out scam.

    Reply

  5. David Billington says:

    Dan Kervick,
    I agree that our policy toward Iran is untenably ambiguous. But when the Leveretts conclude as follows:
    “To fix our Iran policy, the president would have to…accept that Iran will continue enriching uranium, and that the only realistic potential resolution to the nuclear issue would leave Iran in effect like Japan — a nation with an increasingly sophisticated nuclear fuel-cycle program that is carefully safeguarded to manage proliferation risks.”
    I’m afraid I lose them. Japanese-style safeguards are voluntary. I do not see how there can be meaningful assurances that Iran will safeguard fissile material to manage proliferation risks if the principal danger of proliferation is to Iran itself. What the Leveretts propose is simply a way to acquiesce in a nuclear Iran. And none of what they propose addresses Israeli concerns. The next couple of years look to increase the danger of a clash that could draw in the United States.

    Reply

  6. questiosn says:

    I think the preservation of a class system that ensures limited participation in the creative/entrepreneurial side of the economy functions as a way of defending “property rights”. If you ensure that schools don’t educate, that social groups don’t accept, that people have limited means, then you ensure that you have few challengers for your economic pie piece.
    Predatory capitalism (is that the phrase) ensures few or no alternative fuel/transport/energy sources. Few or no alternative entertainment/information sources, and so on. And I think that we accept a certain level of predator behavior because we tend to want to preserve property. So think about the successes of Clear Channel (until recently) and Murdoch, oil companies and the possible end of net neutrality. The defense of the behaviors associated with these are all property-rights based. Until we have some non-Lockean notion of property, we will be stuck with pre-emptive predatory capital.
    And I think that the defense of pre-emption (which I would take to be synonymous with monopolizing a market) can be made via takings/property rights. I have a right to guarantee my market share, to ensure a lack of competition, to lower my prices and drive you out of business…. These practices are fairly common, are occasionally policed by the US under anti-trust and concentration of media laws and the like, but then we go through phases of allowing the predation because people have a “right” to conduct their business as they see fit.
    In general, I read Locke as very expansive on the notion of takings. And I would guess he’d be quite amenable to the pre-emptive amassing of property. And by the way, he really does worry about the rotting of fruit and not about the rotting of currency, which he assumes doesn’t rot. And I’m not sure that he sees that currency gains value from widespread social agreement about its value. He’s early on in the history of capitalism.
    I know you’re not enamored of Kant and Rawls, but they do have very cogent ways of getting past the “my property is for me” problems that cause us so much grief. And even if it makes sense to “get real” and move away from theory, theory’s siren call pulls us (okay, me!) back because we really need to know WHY we do what we do, not just THAT we do what we do. Theory is what tells us why it’s wrong to kill someone else even when we suffer no adverse affects from that action. Common sense is insufficient (see the common sense definitions of “justice” in Book I of the Republic — incomplete, insufficient, but a starting point.)

    Reply

  7. Dan Kervick says:

    questions, I wasn’t addressing the issue of whether Locke or any other theorists of property rights would have said it is in some way morally permissible for the road and toll booth owners to band together to preserve the demand for the use of their roads. I was just addressing what seemed like your suggestion that in doing this they are trying to defend their property rights by preventing a taking to which they haven’t consented.
    My point is that the drop in the value of your property due to a change in demand for it is not the same thing as taking your property from you. Suppose you are a grower of rye and I am a breeder of pigs, and you are accustomed to receiving a certain number of pigs from me each fall in exchange for a certain quantity of rye. Now suppose that, for whatever reason, I don’t have as much desire for rye as I used to, and I am not willing to exchange pigs for rye at the amounts to which we were previously accustomed. I don’t think there is any serious property rights theorist who would regard this as a taking. I haven’t taken any pigs from you. Not giving you pigs that I own, whether in gift or exchange, is not the same thing as taking from you pigs that you own.
    Now one way in which my desire for your rye might drop is as a result of other people in the vicinity establishing new farms on which they grow corn, wheat and barley. I may want to exchange my pigs for their product instead of your product. Suppose, upon hearing of the individual or collective plans of these other farmers, you and the other rye growers in the region decide to take steps to prevent them from building these new farms and producing these new grains. Is this something Locke would say is permissible? I have no idea, other than to note it would surely depend on precisely which steps you and your associates are going to take. But whether permissible or not, it is clear in light of the considerations above that these actions are not an effort to prevent a taking, and so go beyond the defense of your property rights. While you may have a legitimate *interest* in the preservation of current levels of demand for your property, and in preventing the rise of competitors, you surely have no *right* that others maintain their current level of demand.
    Actually road-building capacity does rot, but that doesn’t seem particularly relevant. If Locke thought the the value of a currency is going to be preserved simply because the currency is physically durable, he was wrong. Currency is just one thing people possess, and its value depends on the demand people have for it as a medium of exchange. That demand can change in response to a number of factors. Whether Locke thinks it is permissible or wise to allow people to hoard pigs, barley, wheat or currency doesn’t affect the point that the right not to have what I possess taken from me is just not the same thing as my interest in having other people having high levels of desire for what I possess.
    Personally, I’m not a big fan of either Locke, Kant or Rawls, and I think all of this rights-based or contraction thinking ultimately runs out to social absurdity. Thinking in accordance with these mythological accounts of natural rights or original contracts might be a useful tradition worth preserving, but at some point you have to allow common sense and a broad-based perception of desirable progressive enhancements to the the common good to trump the conservatism of established property arrangements.

    Reply

  8. questions says:

    Dan,
    I get the feeling that Locke would more agree with the warlord version of capitalism…. While he argues against waste, he instantly introduces currency which may be hoarded and never rots. Monopolizing the road-building economy is closer to hoarding currency than it is to hoarding plums. Road-building capacity doesn’t rot.
    The necessary move is towards Kant and Rawls where morality enters not at the moment of wasting a resource but rather at the moment of not being able to discern a moral difference between oneself and any rational other.
    As soon as you admit that you can’t make this distinction, you MUST logically change your behavior re road-building, torture, and most of the practices the US seems to be engaging in. Without this realization, that is, with a decided preference for self over other, one ends up with capitalism and torture. These two practices are very much self-preference outcomes.
    When companies “band together to prevent others from devising alternative systems…” as you put it, they are seemingly acting morally from a Lockean point of view, but not from a Kantian one. (I don’t know if Locke directly addresses monopolies, but the Second Treatise would seem to approve of the practice.)

    Reply

  9. Dan Kervick says:

    Off topic. But the Leveretts tell it like it is on Iran:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/24/opinion/24leverett.html?_r=1

    Reply

  10. Dan Kervick says:

    questions, the way in which the US economy is like the warlords’ toll booth economies is not simply that our various toll booth owners work the political system to hang onto their toll booths. Rather it is that they work to keep the toll booth revenue flowing by preventing progressive change in the markets in which the toll booths operate.
    The theorists of private property rights would say that if I own some road, I have the right to keep it, and to exchange usage of the road for something else. But they would never have said that I have a *right* that other people not build an alternate road that gives them the option not to use my road. Similarly, if I own a company that sells health care for money, via insurance policies, I perhaps have a right that nobody take the company and its assets from me. But surely I have no right that others not work together to create an alternative market for health care that would decrease the demand for my insurance policies.
    So, to the extent that the owners of insurance companies band together, not just to prevent others from taking their companies, but to prevent others from devising alternative systems for producing, distributing and purchasing health care, they are doing more than just enforcing their rights. The same is true if we are talking about the stakeholders in current market arrangements for the provision on energy. They may have a right to the assets they own, but they have no right that others continue to behave in a way that preserves the value of those assets.

    Reply

  11. questions says:

    erichwwk,
    The sad thing is that at some level the country was founded precisely to let property holders keep their property away from absolute and arbitrary takings. It would be a weird argument to make that Locke’s concerns must govern us still, but at some level those concerns are pretty fundamental. You’d never thrill at having your sand castle kicked over at the beach, and similarly, the builder of the toll booth really wants to keep the money thus generated. We might all draw our sharing/keeping lines in slightly different places, but we probably all draw them somewhere. What we need to figure out, then, is where we should draw the lines without seeming absolute and arbitrary.

    Reply

  12. erichwwk says:

    Or as Ha-Joon Chang states:
    http://tiny.cc/XcsvT
    Rather than a Chinese government of engineers busy with how to make real products, the U.S. has a government of lawyers, mathematicians, and bankers who spend all their time (in Thom Friedman’s words) fighting over who owns the olive tree.
    Michael Hudson compares the current U.S. economy to the toll booth economies of the Afghan warlords. In each case we have an entity fighting to keep its toll booth revenue that it collects from traffic that passes over the road they control.
    Not much different from the U.S. medical-insurance warlord insisting on retaining its entitled cut from every meaningful medical procedure that travels over paths they control, and keeping other warlords (public option, single payer) out of their turf.
    Perhaps some day we will drop the irrelevant socialism-capitalism dogma, and focus on keeping people productive rather than accepting the social contract that maintains that 50% of all output belongs to the top two tenths of one percent – the American War Lords, regardless of its impact on total output and the rest of the population.
    “I don’t care if it’s a white cat or a black cat. It’s a good cat so long as it catches mice.”
    — Deng Xiaoping

    Reply

  13. Marty Johnson says:

    I think we can learn a lot from the Chinese. I hope that the new US State Capitalism does not become a permanant thing, as it seems to be in China.
    Their government is great at getting things done. Ours is better in doing what the people want, when we have a consencus.

    Reply

  14. Dan Kervick says:

    “What does China have that we don’t?”
    1. A modest defense budget, that gives the Chinese a few hundred billion dollars to spend each year that we don’t have.
    2. No senate filled with bought and sold politicians, from whom we must procure 60 votes every time we want change the freaking light bulbs.
    3. An outlook on life according to which the future is something you can envision, plan and build instead of something that is fatalistically dumped on you by the invisible handiwork of the impersonal god laissez faire commerce.

    Reply

  15. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “Or are they of a more horrendous degree, such as our slaughter of over a million Iraqi non-combatants, and the irreversable poisoning of the Iraqi environment?”
    Uh oh, I shouldn’t have used the word “our” here. Don is liable to amble into the conversation and accuse me of being bigoted against the entire population of the United States.

    Reply

  16. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “When will you address the human rights catastrophe that is China with these gangsters that you embrace?”
    What are the specific “abuses” you refer to?
    Do they rise to the horrific standard Israel sets with its treatment of the Palestinians?
    Or are they of a more horrendous degree, such as our slaughter of over a million Iraqi non-combatants, and the irreversable poisoning of the Iraqi environment?

    Reply

  17. Woody says:

    Hitler did some great things for Germany’s infrastructure as well. When will you address the human rights catastrophe that is China with these gangsters that you embrace? Yes, its really easy to get things done in a totalitarian system.

    Reply

  18. B says:

    They build for the future, we bail out pampered banking oligarchs.
    Game over man.

    Reply

  19. serge says:

    Oh, and more puppy pics too…in my menagerie all dogs are puppies until they’re technically older than I am.

    Reply

  20. serge says:

    Apropos of nothing, either you, Steve, are really tall, or the former Ambassador is extremely short. Thus ends the pointless comment of the day.

    Reply

  21. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “…..it’s past time for puppy pics OK??”
    You’re right, it is “past time”, for, by now, they ain’t puppies anymore.

    Reply

  22. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Its truly a pity that our own leaders can’t act in a manner that would infuse us with the enthusiasm exibited in Steve’s posting. Watching the news, and listening to the various pundits, insiders, and spokespeople, one has to draw the conclusion that we are purposely being divided along partisan lines while our foundational tenets are soiled beyond repair, and our coffers are systematically looted by an elite class of criminals in Washington DC acting on behalf of special interests that care not for the security or welfare of the people.
    I wonder how many of our impressions of Chinese governance and society are the result of our own governmental propagandizing. For instance, is the widespread use of child labor a myth or a reality? And if child labor is truly being exploited to the degree we have been led to believe, would Steve see this, or are his tours carefully managed and orchestrated to conceal the facts?
    The reasoning behind Steve’s enthusiasm is something we should probably be jealous of. Could it be that there is such a thing as “representative governance”, the irony being that it is China that is actually practicing it? One thing is for sure, we ain’t got it here.

    Reply

  23. LIz W says:

    Why isn’t the US doing more and talking less ? It is a democracy, Steve, at least last time I looked, tattered though it might be. On one side of the coin, democracies move at frustratingly glacial speeds implementing changes, on the other side, the same slow grinding of the works keeps earthquake-like political shifts at bay.
    Communist China is very, very good at smoke and mirrors. They are naturally showing you the points of focus where they have pushed through achievements quickly, however if you were to be allowed to travel much outside the circle around that focal point, I think you would see the yang to the ying your believe is happening. China’s problem in this is an uneducated public, and a very large population wheel to push.

    Reply

  24. Liz says:

    I know lots of bad things are going on in the world that need discussion…. but Steve, it’s past time for puppy pics OK??

    Reply

  25. Josh Meah says:

    Hi Steve,
    If you get the chance, I’d like to hear more on your perspective of the motivations of these leaders.
    So many people — predominantly academics — try to figure out why the CCP has been so competent. Is it nationalism? Fear that bad economic policies could undermine the base of the CCP and destabilize China? Are CCP members just competent people without any particular motivation other than doing their job well?
    Is there just so much economic success that the massive amounts of “corruption” within the government don’t have any significant policy impact?
    I mean, the U.S. has a democracy that is theoretically accountable to the people. We, the people, would like development on education and transport infrastructure, but we don’t get it.
    But the CCP just keeps doing these awesome things. What does China have that we don’t? Does the U.S. need an unaccountable government in order to build better bridges or schools? How about to train more engineers and teachers? This doesn’t make any sense.
    What’s going on here?
    Safe travels,
    – Josh

    Reply

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