Both China and North America reside as large geographic islands, Beijing has always had an eye on its interior, for it is there where we witness Beijing’s massive security apparatus continually divide and conquer legions of ethnic groups long hostile to the Han masters from Beijing. My friend, the late great Nin Cheng, CEO of British Petroleum in Shanghai and bridesmaid to Mao’s second wife (his first was dissolved during the civil war) had tutored me on the political wiles of this vast interior. It was Toynbee who taught that large flat contiguous plains act as communicative devices, holding, possessing and transmitting cultural mores too disparate to witness in time except synoptically. For Cheng, the North American frontier beckoned, for Beijing it always solicited a haltering gaze. In a word barbarism. It remains so today.
If you want to Beijing’s respect, introduce into its interior, alien concepts of liberty anathema to the concentric hold openly applied by Beijing. The source of anxiety for Beijing is an open frontier of mixed unassimilated folk unafraid of the Han.
In ancient times, China’s regional movement of social capital was oriented along a north-south axis because the littoral South China Sea was China’s breadbasket. This was the route taken by tens of millions recently as China grew under a capitalist yoke. It still holds, even if only partially given how Indochina has received manufacturing that left China. Still, the country now has over 270 billionaires, yet it remains stuck in a “middle income trap” unwilling to unleash the politics of liberty to consummate a first world political economy. Instead, the Han masters love the commanding heights of debt, depreciation and capital controls. The state owned enterprises will remain, as will the wholesale theft of intellectual property.
Still, the calculus dominating Washington remains: will Beijing seek military adventurism? If so, the cause of brinkmanship may seek the amelioration of social policy from China’s interior.
Even still, the long game in Asia is liberalization of the Indo-Pacific. How this occurs in a closed economy isn’t known, but Beijing will seek the alievation of debt that is 250% of GDP, it does this by accelerating a debt-for-equity swap. It isn’t growth or reform, but a conjuring trick learned from us. This occurs as Xi continues to consolidate his reign through the appointment process for the autumn congress. One thing remains: Toynbee taught that the criteria for growth is self-determination; how do the Han Masters in Beijing reconcile a failed growth model to the preservation of economic stability.