The Chinese Nile

Surely the Times’s compulsive need to find fault in every Chinese triumph, nicely demonstrated today by the paper’s trashing of the new Beijing airport, has contributed to the gross misestimation of China’s potential for success that the Times itself is finally reporting.

Beijing is about to complete a massive new Zaha-Hadid-designed airport in, as today’s article notes, record time, but the paper is quick to salve the wounded sense of superiority of its readers with a reminder that:

[T]he airport also reflects a less glamorous side of China’s rapid change: a reliance on the heavy hand of big infrastructure as a salve for deeper problems in politics and economics.

These intractable problems include an overbearing military, whose dominance of Chinese airspace hobbles existing airports, as well as a broad retreat from market-driven economic reforms, leading to a dependence on infrastructure investment to increase growth.

Hm. A government that is willing to grow the economy by investing in infrastructure and a military that puts national security before commerce. Sounds like the recipe for national success that we’re missing these days here in America.

If we keep on discounting Chinese achievements because they threaten our sense of superiority, then we won’t be able to take the steps toward national unity that we need to compete. We’ll deserve to lose out in the competitive struggle with China for global leadership.

Postscript: Comes now a Times columnist providing an even better example of the Chinese Nile:

If you define power as the power to attract and not simply compel, then Beijing — with its dystopian vision to fully surveil and rate all citizens by 2020 — isn’t a rising power at all. It’s a collapsing one.

I suppose we didn’t really need to fight Nazi Germany, because by this definition it too was a declining power. No. The logic that says that undemocratic countries are doomed to failure is a nice American bedtime story, but one that really should be reserved for children.

Come to think of it, I’ve been reading a great big book about a counterexample. It’s big because it’s about ancient Egypt, and that undemocratic power lasted nearly 3000 years.

And then of course there’s imperial China itself.

Democracies aren’t inherently stronger than other governments. That some democracies have survived is a tribute to the leadership, wisdom, and luck of their people, not to some iron law of political science. Forgetting that is a recipe for failure.