While US and Eurozone bank and treasury officials continue to dither about what to do next by way of a hoped-for economic revival, what seems to me to be the most significant event since the credit-crunch has taken place in China in the past week or so. It was triggered off by the police chief of Chongqing, one Wang Lijun, fleeing his office and seeking the safety of the US consulate there. He left with Chinese government officials the day afterwards, According to the New York Times, citing an official Chinese document, Wang Lijun had been investigating corrupt practices concerning the family of Bo Xilai, the governor of Chongqing. A few days later, Mr Bo was relieved of his post, despite the fact that he had one of the highest reputations in China as a through-and-through communist and, apparently, was tapped to join the nine-man all-powerful Politburo before too long.
Even more extraordinary in my opinion is the speech a couple of days ago by Wen Jiabao, the Chinese Premier, to the closing session of China’s national assembly. He not only said that Mr Wang’s evidence was being looked into but that China should build on the recent experiments in village democracy. In other words: “Go West, Chinese government”. American presidents have been haranguing China for years about this. But this is the first time that it had been stated by a top Chinese official. Even Deng Xiaoping, who had unleashed the first experiments in free enterprise into China in 1979 hadn’t gone as far as to promote further change in governance. He backed up the tank-led communist break-up and slaughter of the students in Tiananmen Square in 1989. He may have thought privately that China needed a more Western-type governance, but he didn’t say so. He may have thought — probably quite rightly — that the China’s traditionally authoritarian culture was too deep to change much overnight.
The ousted Bo Xilai would almost certainly have made it to the Politburo, and perhaps Premiership in due course, because of his governorship of Chongqing. With a population of over 30 million and still growing, Chongqinq was the largest of the four directly controlled municipalities of China, the others being Beijing, Tianjin and Shanghai. Reflexively, the latter three had predominantly supplied the successful candidates for the Politburo in years past and it was now Chongqing’s turn. If Bo Xilai’s career had not been brought to an end, and if he had been elected further, then China would almost certainly have drifted more deeply into a recent powerful swing (since the credit crunch) to communist-controlled industries rather than to encourage more free enterprise.
This, at least, is the opinion of someone who is probably the most well-informed person to judge. He is, Zhang Xin the biggest property developer of Beijing’s central business district. In conversation with Charlie Ross on yesterday’s Bloomberg website, Mr Zhang said that Premier Wen’s speech was the clearest indication yet that China is proceeding to Western ways with all circumstpect speed. It must be noted that, already, China’s President-in-waiting, Xi Jinping, has visited President Obama in Washington with full state honours.
Whereas China’s highly meritocratic official-led government might be gradually moving towards Western ways, our so-called democracies have, if anything, become far more controlled by their officials in the last few decades than is ever apparent in the conventional media. The way that massive immigration into Europe and America has occurred in the last few years, despite public opinion and the token statements of politicians, is sufficient evidence. The simple fact is that our type of politicians, almost totally uneducated in the sciences, are not up to the job. They have little relevance to our modern way of life which now depends completely on science. (Incidentally, all the Chinese Politburo are scientists at doctorate level or science related.) What’s needed is some sort of elected officialdom. This in-between situation is what both China and the West seem to be approaching. In the meantime, however, China will have to act as the broker to knock America’s and Europe’s heads together and bring about a sensible world currency system. Without this, all three economic systems might collapse completely. We can’t keep on printing money forever.