I'm beginning to side with the camp that questions whether or not the Chinese government can be trusted as an ally of global business and trade given that it often changes policy on a whim -- not to mention the cultural inability of the Chinese people to willingly debate topics of identity rather than crush them with an iron, nationalist fist. Consider how China recently instituted new visa restrictions with no warning. According to the New York Times, "the visa rules, which were introduced last week with little explanation, restrict many visitors to 30-day stays, replacing flexible, multiple-entry visas that had allowed people to remain for up to a year. The new rules make it harder for foreigners to live and work in Beijing without applying for residency permits, which can be difficult to obtain. The restrictions are also complicating the lives of businesspeople in Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore used to crossing the border with ease." The President of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong is quoted as saying, "I can't begin to explain how serious this is going to be ... a barrier like this is going to have a real ripple effect on business."
Sooner or later, the Chinese will realize that capitalism is a force stronger than that of any centralized authority. But it will take some self-inflicted pain -- brought on by centralized, authoritarian policies -- for the Communist party to realize the damage it is creating for itself. In addition, it's become abundantly clear to me that the Chinese have complete tolerance for free speech -- as long as they share in the opinion of those offering up the perspective. Consider the anti-French sentiment running rampant in the region thanks to the French protests over Chinese policy in certain geographies (which will go unmentioned here lest the great firewall block this blog once again). The Times notes that "some French residents complain that nationalist ire is seeping into their daily lives. One businessman who plays tennis at a Chinese sports club said acquaintances refused to join him on the court last weekend ... More ominously, the owner of a popular French restaurant here said he was denied a visa extension on Wednesday by an official who simply told him, 'It's because you're French.'"
It's funny to read this, as I happened to be in Paris at the time the Second Gulf War broke out -- which the French vehemently opposed -- and found the Parisians nothing but welcoming to an American with virtually no French language skills. Sure, they hated my President's policy, but I was a welcome guest that they wanted to argue and debate with -- not shun. And that's telling of the huge cultural East/West difference in reaction to national policies and politics that we'll need to collectively bridge for China to get closer to the West.
- Jason Busch