Red Dragon rising: The modern, confident China

Red Dragon rising: The modern, confident China

By: Kamal Raj Sigdel

[The article was published in Ka Leo on 12/4/08]

It is undisputed that China is in the spotlight today, especially after the U.S. financial crisis. China, unlike other democracies, is not an open country; its central policy and budgets are still secretive, and a single party, the Communist Party of China, rules the country. This has been one of the main reasons why the world is so curious about China.

I, too, was curious. Despite the fact that my home country, Nepal, shares borders with China, I had very few chances to understand it. The Asia Pacific Leadership Program, which brought together 38 young and mid-career professionals and students from 21 countries at the East-West Center, provided this opportunity to explore China.

During November, the group traveled all across China to figure out the future of the world through a Chinese lens. Given the rising panic among Western intelligentsia over what they call the "Chinese hard landing," I had a couple of questions in mind. Why is the West so scared of and critical about China? And is the image of China, which the Western media has created, real?

After our visit, we found out that China is much different than what we had in our minds and what appears in the international media. An outsider is indeed overwhelmed by the negative images about China. What we get through the media is sensationalism that reinforces the stereotype of China as a mysterious and angry dragon. Though these caricatures dominate our mindset, they do not portray the broader reality.

Just a week ago, before departing for China, I followed the newspapers like The Economist, The Washington Post, The New York Times and others to get updated on current affairs in China, but what I saw was only negative.

When I first landed at the Beijing Capital International Airport on Nov. 6, all I saw was progress. Beijing was in no way lesser than other world cities. The city was booming; construction was going on everywhere. Beijing was just an entry point.

We traveled to other major cities such as Chongqing, Hechuan and Chengdu. In all these cities, we saw exemplary efforts for pollution control and environmental conservation. The municipal governments have promoted bicycles, electric vehicles (two-, three- and four-wheelers), electric public transportation (trolleys, buses and subways) and solar-powered street lamps.

I read an article in The New York Times titled "In rural China a bomb is ticking." So we wanted to see how the "bomb" looked. It is true that China has a rural-urban gap where rural Chinese have not benefited from recent economic growth the way city dwellers have. But with the recent reforms on rural development, rural China is much more optimistic about the future.

That's not to say there aren't valid concerns. We met a farmer whose land had been confiscated by the government, though he is being relocated to a 20-story apartment building for free.

In one of the meetings in Beijing, Xiao Geng, director of the Brookings-Tsinghua Center for Public Policy, said that China dealt far better with the earthquake crisis than the U.S. dealt with Hurricane Katrina. Indeed, the visit has changed my perspective on China.

There is still, of course, plenty of room for improvement, such as in press freedom, democracy and the rural-urban gap, but China has made some real achievements too. What I see now is a confident, modern China, not an angry dragon.

Sigdel, a Nepalese journalist, is an Asia Pacific Leadership Program fellow at the East-West Center.
© Copyright 2008 Ka Leo O Hawai

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