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Bias brings shame to Shambaugh

By Chen Weihua | China Daily | Updated: 2015-03-13 09:29

In the 1990s, some American scholars and journalists indulged themselves in forecasting a China collapse into several republics, like the Soviet Union. Some based their arguments on the growing regionalism in the country, others bet on the passing away of Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping.

To their disappointment, China has not disintegrated into six or seven republics. Instead it has become the world's second-largest economy and it is well on its way to being No 1.

Yet the rise of China has not discouraged some in the United States from continuing to fantasize about the breakup of China.

In his Wall Street Journal article "The Coming Chinese Crackup" on March 7, David Shambaugh, a China scholar at George Washington University, pronounced that the "endgame of Communist rule" in China has begun. But his article is based on some random and superficial facts, and his arguments can best be summarized as yipian gaiquan, (hasty generalization), or the English idiom - One swallow does not make a summer.

Shambaugh is right that no campaign can eliminate the problem of corruption. But no one should be so na?ve as to believe that corruption can be completely uprooted, either in China or in the US, where President Barack Obama has repeatedly complained about money in politics.

Shambaugh's deep flaw is that he looked at China with a bias, completely ignoring the positive aspects.

For example, the anti-corruption campaign launched by President Xi Jinping has raised hope for many Chinese that the thorny issue is being tackled. The campaign has been popular both at home and abroad, including winning support from senior Obama administration officials and many China scholars in Washington. In the past days, US scholars, both on the right and left, have questioned Shambaugh's logic.

I believe Xi and many Chinese know that fighting the war on corruption is really hard. Yet Shambaugh seems to suggest that doing nothing is probably a better way forward.

Shambaugh asserted that China's economic elite have one foot out of the door, and they are ready to flee en masse if the system really begins to crumble. Many entrepreneurs have been investing overseas. But this should be seen as a good sign of Chinese companies increasingly integrating into the global economy. Isn't wooing foreign direct investment into the US what Obama hopes for when he speaks later this month at the Select USA Summit. It does not make sense to assume that businesspeople, whether Chinese or American, will abandon the market of 1.37 billion people. And even the number Shambaugh proposed accounts for only a fraction of a nation with nearly a fifth of humanity.

Shambaugh, who is not an economist, sounded extremely pessimistic about the Chinese economic reform. That contrasts sharply to the wide applause China's Third Plenum reform program, unveiled in November 2013, has received in the US, from both US officials and economists.

The new normal of China's economic growth is rational: China is determined to accept slower growth to move up the supply chain and achieve sustainable growth.

Shambaugh even interpreted Chinese parents sending children to study abroad as a sign of the vulnerability of the system, rather than a positive outcome of a growing middle class who can afford doing things unimaginable in the past. Would he make the same argument for India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Canada, which follow China as the top sources for international students in the US?

In his haste, Shambaugh even cited the crackdown on Chinese "birth tourism" in Los Angeles a week ago as a major vulnerability of the Communist Party of China. Using the same logic, he might predict the demise of Mexico when many of their citizens cross the border illegally into the US.

If Shambaugh is to be regarded a serious scholar, he has certainly not shown it in his latest article.

The writer is deputy editor of China Daily USA.


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