Every foreign trip results in impressions. Impressions about China can be ambiguous, but you may find the following impressions useful.
My trip started in Shanghai and then proceeded up the Yangtze River from Nanjing to Chongqing. From there we flew to Xi’an and Beijing.
The Yangtze, the third longest river in the world, is in the heart of China. It is China’s foremost river of commerce, with, what seemed to be, an infinite number of barges carrying goods up and down the river. The barges transported coal, gypsum, sand, concrete, newly manufactured cars and trucks, rebar, steel and all sorts of other materials.
Four hundred million people live along the Yangtze, which is 30% of China’s population.
The Three Gorges Dam is the largest construction project along the river, and I will comment on the dam and its power generation capability in another article.
A major question mark about China is how it will develop from this point forward. From the death of Mao until the present, there has been a nearly miraculous change in China. Economic growth has been nothing less than phenomenal. There has been a cautious, but steady increase in personal liberties, even after accounting for the Tiananmen Square demonstration and government reaction. Transitions in government power, from Deng Xiaoping onward, have been peaceful.
My impression is that China’s future direction will be decided over the next ten to fifteen years.
Both scenarios would see continued, rapid economic growth.
In one scenario there would be a continuing, cautious movement toward democracy, where China could, conceivably, become a friendly equal of the United States.
In the other scenario, there would be a hardening of government policies, less democracy and more government control, with China assuming an adversarial role in its foreign policies.
While this is a somewhat simplistic analysis, i.e., maybe they will be good or maybe they will be bad, it does reflect the current situation with the transfer of leadership from President Hu Jintao to the new president later this year. The new president is expected to serve for two five-year terms.
The recent ousting of Bo Xilai, party chief of Chongqing, who seemed to lean toward supporting more of Mao’s ideas, may be the result of differences between the supporters of these two trajectories.
These alternative trajectories, however, could be affected by other events.
For example, if the government cannot maintain rapid economic growth, there could be popular unrest that could turn violent. The young, educated professionals who make up a significant population within the major cities of Shanghai, Beijing and Chongqing, expect a better life for themselves and their families.
Another situation that could affect how China evolves is the control of the South China and East China Seas. These areas are purported to have large oil and natural gas reserves. Japan, the Philippines, Borneo, Indonesia and Vietnam all have competing claims within these areas. China believes it has history on its side and has drawn a dotted line on the map showing that it has sovereignty over these areas.
While I was in China, Chinese activists successfully planted the Chinese flag on an island claimed by Japan, with the boat on which the activists sailed being rammed by Japanese Coast Guard craft.
This is a clipping from the Shanghai Daily.
Resolving competing claims in the South China and East China Seas will be difficult.
A resolution of the North Korea matter, in a manner where China doesn’t perceive it as a threat, remains another potentially disruptive issue.
There is also the issue of Taiwan that has the potential to create conflict.
All things considered, there can be little question that China’s progress over the past quarter century has been remarkable. Its future progress and role in the international community remains uncertain.
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