Don’t Drink the Water!

It is no secret that China’s one burning ambition is to meet and eventually exceed the United States in…well, everything! Military might, global prestige, cultural influence, space exploration. They think they should be king of the hill, and they are going to try and claw their way to the top.

Of all the categories mentioned above, it is Chinese efforts to build up their military that most Western analysts find to be the most troubling. We would welcome it if a liberal democracy like, say, Canada would actually stop the slow slide into oblivion that they have decided is the future for their armed forces. But a totalitarian state like China? Not so much.

There have been some rather gloomy forecasts about our prospects of avoiding a war with China, even a few essays posted at this very blog. I find that I just can’t take them seriously, particularly when I keep reading news items like this one.

It seems that the authorities in Beijing, China’s capital city, are warning people to avoid drinking water from the tap when they attend the Olympics next year. It would appear that it is just not safe, being contaminated with who knows what. If you don’t want your guts to get all runny and to come pouring out of you in a shout, then you had better stick to bottled water.

The more I find out about modern day China, the more convinced I become that it is basically little better than a 3rd World nation, although one that has learned to put up a good front. They have a long way to go at home before they could seriously challenge the US.

This isn’t to say that they couldn’t be dangerous, particularly with the nuclear weapons they have. Instead I think the best chance China has in dominating the globe is if the United States, hundreds of years from now, develops space travel that is so cheap we colonize other star systems and leave this planet to those who can’t cut the mustard.

In other words, talk about how China will eventually lord it over liberal democracies is science fiction.

8 thoughts on “Don’t Drink the Water!”

  1. China is indeed tough to call, and I’ve lived here 5 years now. It IS a 3d world country, still, but you’d have to experience the pace of growth to even nearly comprehend it. On military growth, I think it’s just going up around the same rate as government revenues, and if you saw how the average Chinese soldier is equipped, you’d understand why military spending could quadruple and still be under-equipped. What is a battle-ready US soldier worth in equipment and arms? I’d guess around $5,000, with modern arms, flak jacket, night vision and communications equipment. I’ve seen Chinese soldiers armed with sticks only!

    Can you drink the tap-water in Italy or Spain? Just asking. Don’t forget how absolutely lucky we are in the US compared to almost anywhere, just in terms of infrastructure alone.

    Don’t accept any simple analyses, and don’t expect the facts from two years ago to resemble the facts two years in the future: The place is changing fast. But yeah, China isn’t going to overtake the US in my lifetime, and they have multiple problems looming which may cut through the post-Mao boom at any time.

  2. China certainly has its problems, but I don’t think it’s accurate to call it “little better than a 3rd-world nation.” More than three years ago, Financial Times reported that China had become the world’s largest market for machine tools. How much longer before it is also a major *manufacturer* of machine tools?

    Re Phil’s question about Nazi use of animal transport in WWII: in all their campaigns, the Wehrmacht made heavy use of animal transport. There was a hard striking point of fully-mechanized units, but the majority of units were dependent on horsepower in the old sense of the term.

  3. In some ways, China is still third world. In other ways, it is not. In the major coastal cities (Shanghai, Ningbo, etc.), I would say that the standard of living is comparable to Panang and KL in Malaysia. The infrastructure is very good. I think Shanghai is damn near Tokyo in material standard of living.The people in these cities may not be as rich, but these cities appear cleaner than Taipei or Kaoshung in Taiwan.

    I cannot comment about the interior of China as I have not visited there. I suspect its poor, but improving in material standard of living.

    I passed by a military base near Beijing on my way to a customer. I was not much impressed. I think military spending could go up an order of magnitude and they still would not be a threat to the U.S.

    You can drink the tap water in the Penang and KL of Malaysia, but not in Seoul, Korea or Taipei, Taiwan. Its debatable if you can drink the tap water in Phoenix, Arizona (the CAP water tastes like fish). So, drinkable tap water is not always a reliable metric of “third-world” conditions.

  4. The main thing China has going for it is the Chinese people. I’ve been saying it for a quarter century: they are natural capitalists, if there is such a thing, and have dominated the economies of every place they have settled (Taiwan, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam…) except their own country. Under any but the most corrupt and brutal government, they thrive. All they need to do is put the zombies in their graves.

    Of course, the West has built up a great deal of stored capital. It will take decades or centuries for them to catch up, assuming a decent rate of growth for the US and its close relations in the Anglosphere. Continental Europe, Russia especially, had better check the rear-view mirror.

  5. Incidentally, due to a progressive income tax, the 10% GDP growth is resulting in roughly 20% government revenue growth.

    One of the most encouraging reforms, little mentioned in the Western press, is that now private property will receive “equal protections to state/public property”. This was fought bitterly by the old hard-liners, but the modernists/pragmatists prevailed. Now there’s a simultaneous boom in stocks and real estate! Not that this will result in democracy, but you can imagine the ramifications.

    Militarily, they don’t want any kind of war, but as you can imagine, negotiating with a BIG gun on your hip beats a small stick any day. Once they can take Taiwan without obstructions, and protect their many (and growing) resource investments, that’ll be enough. Taiwan knows this, and is watching Hong Kong closely to see how this “two systems” scheme will work in real life.

    Ah, well, it’s a very big subject, and I hope the cooler heads here continue exploring it.

  6. China has serious problems not addressed here. The peasantry is exploited to the point of rebellion, a continual factor of Chinese life, by the Party Aristocracy. The Party Aristocracy is indeed the source of much of the nation’s problems and corruption and inability to muster resource properly.

    MOST of China’s population is illiterate and desperately poor and lives in the interior under horrific environmental and political oppression. For example, schooling is not free in China and most Chinese cannot pay for it. Cadres hunt pregnant women and sometimes cut them open and kill the fetuses with boiling water at 8-9 months. They’ll back off for heavy bribes (the peasantry HATES the Chinese Gov’t for this reason).

    Most of the interior regions would like to secede, since they face this oppression and heavy taxation (essentially serfdom) from the Party Aristocracy, which behaves just like the Emperors.

    The few Chinese who do go to school in the interior are denied any spots at the University, which go to connected coastal elites. Most of the businesses in China are State Owned, and bankrupt, with workers who make things nobody wants at a loss. There are 120 men for every 100 women, most young men in China will never get married or even have a girlfriend (the Party Aristocracy hoards women through wealth and power). Most men leave the interior to live and work as day laborers on the coast, living in appalling conditions and going home only infrequently. AIDS is rampant as are other diseases, which are routinely concealed so China’s new emperors don’t look bad abroad and at home.

    The banks are like the stock market, corrupt places run by the Party Aristocracy for the Party Aristocracy. The Communist Party is just another Emperor system, with all the drawbacks. China will have a few energetic emperors, fall into the typical decay, have the dynasty overthrown by a new more vigorous family, repeat as necessary.

    China lacks the open-ness, free inquiry, rule of law, political transparency, low corruption, and individual freedom not to mention property rights that is essential for modern prosperity.

    I expect some regions to start rebelling when the Party is occupied with some succession crisis. Nothing in China has really changed (sadly).

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