China Claims It ‘Made Lots of Multinationals Better Global Companies’

Chinese President Xi Jinping steps out from behind China's flag as he takes his position for his joint news conference with President Barack Obama, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
AP Photo/Evan Vucci

China’s response to criticism about its overbearing speech codes, government control of industry, and increasingly aggressive foreign policy came in an editorial by the state-run Xinhua news service on Monday: You’re welcome, world!

The editorial argues that China learned much about the nature of “opportunity” from its failures and has become a wise leader for the “new industrial revolution” sweeping the globe.

“The failure to grasp the tide of modernization in the 19th century resulted in a bitter lesson: China was plunged into the darkness of war, poverty and despair that lasted a century. It is since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, and especially the reform and opening-up four decades ago, that the nation has stood up and caught up with the times,” Xinhua contends.

This could be taken as an oblique admission that Mao Tse-tung’s bloody Cultural Revolution was one of the mistakes Mao’s successor in spirit and power, the current and possibly permanent President Xi Jinping, learned so much from.

China’s ruling class has a good deal of trouble reconciling the reality of Mao’s rule with mandatory worship of the great leader, but they also know they must sell the new China to potential clients and customers as the sort of place where Maoism could never happen again. Xi’s life story is presented in a way that portrays him as the living incarnation of China learning from the past but keeping its eyes on the future – an everyman political savant who can tell you a few stories from his youth about how tough life could be in the old Red China.

Xinhua’s editorial gives China credit for bringing stability and opportunity to the world, which should give Beijing a break for managing the “growing pains” of bringing prosperity to its immense population:

China is willing to share its opportunities with a world fraught with challenges, such as a lack of peace, development and governance.

A middle-income population of 400 million has emerged in China, the biggest in the world, giving rise to a vast market, domestically and overseas. Just think about how much salmon from northern Europe or avocados from Latin America Chinese consumers need. Not to mention the amount of imported mechanical equipment and electronics — foreign waste is excluded.

As China pursues development created by smart manufacturing, the “Internet Plus” model, and the digital economy and sharing economy, there are tremendous opportunities for the world. In many ways, the experience in China has made lots of multinationals better global companies.

The good news for foreign businesses continues to come. Premier Li Keqiang said in his government work report on Monday that China’s general manufacturing sector will be completely opened up, and access to sectors such as telecommunications, medical services, education, elder care, and new-energy vehicles will be expanded.

As a responsible major country, China has played a constructive role in addressing international and regional hotspot issues, making significant contributions to global peace.

When you get right down to it, aren’t freedom of speech, self-determination for a few provincials like the unruly gang on Taiwan and some islands in the South and East China Seas a reasonable price to pay for the opportunity to sell salmon and avocados to the growing Chinese middle class? Shouldn’t we be applauding Beijing for teaching foreign corporations to watch their tongues?

The Xinhua piece touts China’s “Belt and Road” infrastructure initiative and its spinoff projects as drivers of global growth and “more inclusive development,” and praises Beijing’s management of “innovation-driven development,” without dwelling on where many of those “innovations” actually came from.

Aware of its reputation for exacting tribute from foreign companies that do business in China, the Chinese government announced initiatives this week that would lower barriers to foreign investment, relax limits on foreign ownership, scale back anti-competitive regulations, and protect intellectual property rights.

“Engagement does not always goes [sic] smoothly,” Xinhua concedes. “China has called for resolving trade frictions through dialogues as equals. No one will emerge as a winner in a trade war.”

The target of the latter statement is obvious enough, while praising “dialogues as equals” is Xinhua’s high-toned way of explaining why Beijing ignores international court rulings it does not like.

“China has taken proactive and constructive actions to build a community with a shared future for humanity. The aim is clear: Work together to make the most of this period of opportunity – a period for making things,” Xinhua concludes. “Opportunity favors only the prepared mind. China’s story over the past 40 years has given enough time and reason for the world to prepare the mind: Share China’s opportunity, and the future is there.”

This soothing entreaty is coming from the same nation that effectively threatened war because the United States passed a bill that would make it easier for American and Taiwanese officials to visit each other.

Beijing would probably be equally displeased if legislation to give the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) more oversight of Chinese deals passes Congress. On the other hand, critics of that legislation argue it could compromise the competitiveness of American companies at the very moment China is taking steps to give its own tech companies more capital to compete abroad.

There most definitely is a ravenous hunger for opportunity across the world today. Every opportunity-seeker should think carefully about the price demanded by competing world powers for the opportunities they offer, and how those powers define concepts like “stability,” “equality,” and “justice.” American and European policymakers should study China’s sales pitch of stability and clarity to the developed world and work hard on their counterproposals.

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