Singapore Pundit on China (and India, and Singapore)

(My good friend whom I’ll call Singapore Pundit is a businessman who speaks Chinese and has been in Asia, first Hong Kong, then Beijing, now Singapore for many years. SP read this post, and had a few comments. I pass on his thoughts with his permission.)

I read your post on the blog. It is a little like a University of Chicago dinner conversion in cyber-space.

China versus India? Well, I think that both the Chinese in power and the Indians in power both believe that economic development via free markets is the right path. They know that FDI and WTO are important. They also seem to agree that social and international stability are critical factors to economic growth. Interestingly, India has the Kasmir issue and China the Taiwan issue which are both lighting rods for the nationalist in their respective countries. A wrong step by either country over these issues could derail their economic development and unfortunately these issues are so emotional and sensitive that they could blow up.

I would observe that both China and India are very complex countries in all dimensions. Just think of the US and how complicated a place it is and add a few thousand years of history and triple the population and speed up the growth rate and social change and the place is wildly complex and difficult to fully understand.

So, both China and India are difficult to comprehend, hence I agree that the average American doesn’t have a good change to really understand what’s going on either place. Frankly, even the experts don’t agree on many points and have what are strange opinions and outdated views.

I have mentioned to you before that I don’t think that the central government in China and the party are that all powerful and in control. If they are unable to provide steady economic growth and the resulting prosperity and social stability, their reign of power is not going to last and they know it. They very much look to the west and other countries developed countries for models and experience to help them succeed. The big threat to the “Communist” is regional leader completely going their own way and destabilizing the whole country. The leadership in China must look at what is happening in Iraq in fear and cite it as an example of what could happen if they lose control. My impression is that debate and information is much more free in China than what people in the US realize. There is also I believe a desire in large parts of the government to get to more democratic institution and more open society. Deng Xiaoping completely changed China from a truly Soviet-style state to something that in the seventies the US government would identify as a free society (something like Korea, Thailand or Taiwan). Now all of the countries have become democracies with relatively little bloodshed (Taiwan didn’t have any major unrest, where both Korea and Thailand had their militaries killing a significant number of their citizens). This should give us hope. It is possible that China could behave like Germany and Japan in the thirties, but my gut tells me that leader don’t have that mentality.

Most of my Indian friends think that it is very difficult to get things done in India. If the government want to build a road, getting the rights-of-way is almost impossible so infrastructure needed for economic growth is not getting built fast enough. This is hampering economic growth. They actually like the way thing get done in China. It seems that India has a well developed legal system, but it is undermined by corruption.

I am going to slightly change the subject and try to rap up my comments. I saw the national day rally speech of the Singapore Prime Minister. I think you would find it very interesting. All kinds of stuff on being open and critical, taking risk, being Singaporean and patriotic. Singapore is a special one party state. And I suspect that both China and India are interested in what Singapore says and does. Perhaps this is a model of English institutes/ideas married with Chinese administration and politics.

5 thoughts on “Singapore Pundit on China (and India, and Singapore)”

  1. “My impression is that debate and information is much more free in China than what people in the US realize.”
    Exactly! my links related to your picture post is a good example. Your SP friend’s comments are so true, every words. If today there is one country in the world whose leaders know China the best, it’s Singapore. Because of Singapore’s economic achievements under one-party rule and it’s ruled by ethnic Chinese, it’s the model that China is dying for. Chinese leaders have had deep frank talks with Lee Kuan Yew (you know who he is, don’t you?). Lee’s interview gave some information. I would say anyone who studies China, especally those China experts in Western think tanks, should drop the old negative lense and study Singapore’s view on China if they have not already done so.
    One thing Lee said was that he got the impression from Chinese leaders that they don’t believe their own children or grandchildren will be living in the same political system of today’s China. Chinese leaders themselves keep saying it is not a easy job to rule a large poor country. But people in the West have no chance to understand the true meaning of it, because they never had such experience. Lucky for them.
    Elected government has the pressure of getting reelected, thus accountability and the beauty of democracy, Chinese leaders also have the pressure of stay in power by making people happy, and they do feel the reponsibility of moving China forward after over a century of chaos, foreign invasion and civil war. Many people in China is now willing to give the government a chance since they are getting the economy moving fast at least and this is the first time for China in over a century. Unlike back in 1989, today’s Western criticism on China causes more backlash in China as many Chinese take that as old preaching after keep hearing about it, especially it’s mostly from people whose knowledge about China is 20 or 30 years out-of-date.

  2. I do not agree that the Chinese people have free speech. Can BBC or CNN go into the heart of rural China and get a honest interview with a farmer? The world sees what the Chinese government want’s the world to see. Why do you think the Chinese government has to block the websites of Human Rights groups?

  3. Be very, very careful about using Singapore as an analogy for China. As in Organic Chemistry, many reactions in politics are not scalable – the heat generated by the reaction might be containable on a small scale, but melt the container on a large scale.

    I witnessed this first hand in watching the Baltics recover from Communism and watching the same process in Russia.

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