“The Chinese Dream Is to Leave China”

When I wrote my book The Chinese Dream eight years ago, I observed an extreme optimism and anxiety among the newly-bred middle class in China.

middle class mediocreAt that time, although many were anxious, there was still a fair amount of optimism. Even a Pew Global Attitudes Survey said that more than two-thirds of Chinese expected their personal position to improve in the coming years.

Only a few years later, things have changed substantially. According to a New York Times article, middle class Chinese are anxious to move their money out of the country. Although the government has tightened the control on capital flight, people find ways to get around the restriction. The article indicates that in the last year and half, individuals and companies have moved about $1 trillion out of the country.

And, more people are trying to leave the country:

In fiscal 2014, 76,089 Chinese were awarded permanent residency status in the United States, up by 4,291 from the previous year. Of the 10,692 investment visas provided by the United States in the 2014 financial year, 9,128 went to Chinese nationals, up about 30 percent from the previous year. Meanwhile, 88 percent of Australian “significant investor visas” have been given to Chinese citizens.

More and more Chinese students are studying overseas and many of them are looking to stay abroad:

In the 2014-15 academic year, at least 304,040 Chinese students were studying in the United States, up about 110,000 from 2011-12.

The economic slowdown has certainly caused anxiety. But lack of confidence in one’s own country goes far beyond economic reasons. As I have said and written many times, without the rule of law, the Chinese middle class will never feel secure in China.

This reminded me of a conversation I had with a professor in China early this year. While attending the Stanford+Connects event in Shanghai, I shared a taxi with a Italian professor who leads the China program at Zhejiang University. Naturally, we had a discussion about China. When he learned I wrote a book called The Chinese Dream, he asked what is the Chinese Dream, and what’s the difference between the Chinese Dream and American Dream. Before I elaborated, he said something that took my breath away:

“I think the American Dream is that everyone wants to go to America; and the Chinese Dream is that everyone wants to leave China.”

America’s Smart Congagement In Asia Pacific

Last week, Daniel Russel, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, came to speak at the Stanford event, “America’s Pacific Future Is Happening Now,” on the administration’s rebalance to Asia policy.

Evernote Snapshot 20160421 121042Mr. Russel began the talk by saying that the relationship between the U.S. and the Asia Pacific “has changed in a big way” in the last seven years. President Obama is determined to use diplomacy to advance American interests in the region.

Russel discussed four aspects of the “rebalance” strategy. First, to increase trade and investments in Asia Pacific. The world’s economic gravity has shifted significantly to the Asia Pacific. The region represents nearly half of the world’s population with a burgeoning middle class. America recognizes that its future is critically linked to that part of the world.

Second, to strengthen US relationships with its allies to enhance security, which is at the center of the “rebalance.” Continue reading

The UK Wants to Be China’s Best Friend, Why Not the US?

In a recent Commonwealth Club event in Silicon Valley, two prominent China experts, Martin Jacques, author of When China Rules the World, and Susan Shirk, author of China: Fragile Superpower, had a fascinating exchange of opinions about China’s relationship with the West.

Photo Credit: Frank Jang of the Committee 100.

Photo Credit: Frank Jang of the Committee 100.

The premise of the discussion was that the United Kingdom is the U.S.’s closest ally, but it has adopted a very different policy toward China. As I wrote here, the British now call themselves “China’s best partner in the West.” Last March, the U.K. decided to join China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) despite the strong opposition from the U.S. When the Chinese President Xi Jinping visited the U.K. in November, the British government showered him with an extraordinary pageantry – a startling contrast to his treatment from the U.S. where President Obama threatened to sanction China.

“This is a symptom of the rise of China,” Mr. Jacques said. “It represents a shift in [global] geopolitics.”

Susan Shirk, who is also a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State during the Clinton administration, said the United States has a consistent policy toward China. Since Nixon’s time, Continue reading

War or Peace in the South China Sea?

Last week, Taiwan’s president Ma Ying-jeou made a visit to Itu Aba, a disputed island in the South China Sea. Itu Aba, also known in Chinese as “Taiping Island,” is under Taiwan’s control. Taiwan has recently finished upgrading a port and built a lighthouse. The island has an airstrip and a hospital.

MaYingjeouTaipingWhile Washington considers the visit “extremely unhelpful” to regional stability, many in China applaud it. The rational is that Taiwan shares China’s claims in the South China Sea. Since Taiwan is part of China, Ma’s assertion proves that the South China Sea is part of China’s territory.

On WeChat, China’s most popular social media site, people cited Ma’s speech on Itu Aba that Spratly Islands were originally discovered by their fore-bearers during the Han Dynasty (200 BC). At least during the Qing Emperor Kangxi’s time (around 1700), China had officially incorporated most islands and reefs into China’s coastal defense system.

After WWII, the U.S. sent Chiang Kai-shek-led Chinese troops to take over Itu Aba from the Japanese. In 1947, Chiang Kai-shek, China’s then president, issued maps with eleven dotted lines that included virtually all of the islands in the South China Sea. Continue reading

Xi Jinping’s Mideast Trip to Push “One Belt One Road”

The Chinese president Xi Jinping has recently completed a three-nation tour in the Middle East – Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Iran, offering tens of billions in loans and investments. These three countries are strategically located on the routes of the new silk roads that China is trying to revive, also known as “One Belt, One Road.”

MiddleEastMapAccording to a Reuters article, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told President Xi Jinping during the visit that “Iranians never trusted the West…. That’s why Tehran seeks cooperation with more independent countries” (like China).

Xi certainly wants to cash in on this distrust. The two countries agreed to increase bilateral trade to $600 billion in the next 10 years. Among many agreements signed are 17 memorandums to kick-start “a maritime Silk Road of the 21st century,” one of the two routes of the “One Belt, One Road” program. Continue reading

Reports of the Chinese Economy’s Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

I was baffled by why some people think a 6.9% growth for a $10 trillion economy is such bad news. The headlines were occupied by China’s economic slowdown, and what a catastrophe it might bring to the world.

quote-Mark-Twain-the-reports-of-my-death-have-been-88406To me, slower growth is long expected. It means that the Chinese economy is maturing. Even when I interviewed people in China about 10 years ago, no one had any illusion that the Chinese economy would continue its breakneck speed forever. “At some point,” many told me, “the economy will slow down.”

Now we are at that “point.” I am actually surprised that the high growth period lasted as long as it did. Yes, the volatile stock market was nerve-racking. The industrial overcapacity and high level of debt are alarming. But the government still has tools to address these problems.

For example, the New Silk Roads, or “One Belt, One Road” program, can be a way to help absorb China’s overcapacity in construction and steel. American companies are jumping on the bandwagon. Continue reading

China’s Middle Class Has Become a Major Pillar of Its Economy

The Chinese middle class, now estimated at more than half a billion strong, has become a key driver for the country’s economy.

ChineseConsumerIphone

The newly released data indicates that China’s retail sales grew more than 11 percent in 2015, despite economic slowdown. Consumer spending was one of the brightest spots in the Chinese economy, which is now $10 trillion in size, and registered a 6.9 percent growth last year.

A Bloomberg article, “Beyond the Headlines, Five Things to Watch in China’s GDP Report,” wrote:

Rapid income growth over the last decade has made Chinese consumers an increasingly powerful force, snapping up Apple iPhones, Tiffany diamonds and Toyota sedans.

Urban household incomes increased more than 8 percent, the new data shows. China also added 13 million jobs last year, exceeding the government target of 10 million, thanks to the booming service sector.

The unemployment rate was at 5.2 percent, about the same as the United States.

While investment in fixed assets slowed, the residential housing market is rebounding. The data also shows that “home-price recovery spread to more cities in December, especially smaller ones.”

All these indicate that the Chinese middle class is still growing, Continue reading

Is China’s Economy Running Away from President Xi Jinping?

China’s stock turmoil last week sent a shockwave across the globe. Many are concerned that the world’s second largest economy is on the verge of collapsing, and it may drag the rest of the world into a recession.

china-stocks-selloff-1024x576In an article by Wall Street Journal, The Consequences of China’s Stock Slide for Top Leaders in Beijing, Russell Leigh Moses pointed out that China’s top leaders have been sending conflicting messages regarding how to best handle the economy.

For example, the Chinese Premier, Li Keqiang, has argued that “China’s transition to a developed economy won’t happen while innovation and entrepreneurship are being stifled by too much bureaucracy; that central government oversight has given Chinese firms too little leeway in making difficult choices.”

However, China’s number one guy, President Xi Jinping, believes that “economic instability demands even tighter oversight of society, and that it’s the duty of the Communist Party to come to the rescue of citizens and companies…. Capitalism cares not for losers, only socialism can save China — and saving socialism means making sure that the Communist party is not only clean and loyal, but also willing and able to play the role of savior when the economy stumbles.” Continue reading

China’s Triple Wins: The New Silk Roads

I recently came across an interesting article by Financial Times, China’s Great Game: Road to a New Empire. It describes China’s new Silk Road program – “a modern version of the ancient trade route,” and how it has become China’s signature foreign policy initiative under President Xi Jinping.

NewSilkRoadThe New Silk Road program consists two routes, known as “One Belt, One Road” (see the map). The land route is called “the Silk Road Economic Belt,” linking central Asia, Russia and Europe. The sea route has an odd name: “the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road,” and goes through the western Pacific and the Indian Ocean. Thus, “One Belt, One Road.”

If successful, the New Silk Roads could be the largest economic development scheme on the face of the earth. The Financial Times article compares it to the US-led Marshall Plan after WWII:

If the sum total of China’s commitments are taken at face value, the new Silk Road is set to become the largest programme of economic diplomacy since the US-led Marshall Plan for postwar reconstruction in Europe, covering dozens of countries with a total population of over 3bn people.

Indeed, if successful, the New Silk Road program will be triple wins for China. Continue reading

Will China Challenge U.S. Global Dominance?

Will China challenge U.S. global dominance? If you had asked me this question two years ago, I would have said “definitely NO.” But now, I am not so sure.

In an article “A Bigger, Bolder China in 2016,” Jeremy Page, Beijing-based Wall Street Journal reporter, wrote:

With Beijing holding the rotating presidency of the Group of 20 nations next year [2016], Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to press ahead with his drive to challenge U.S. dominance of the global financial and security order.

South-China-SeaPage listed a number of issues: the South China Sea, cybersecurity attacks, Taiwan, and Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). None are new, but any one of them could potentially spin out of control and result in more tension between the U.S. and China.

In the case of the South China Sea, China hasn’t stopped the constructions on the disputed islands. Continue reading