Democracy, debt & US dysfunction: An imagined conversation in China’s halls of power

Ah, cliffhangers.  I write this hours before the United States Congress is set to vote on an agreement to reopen government and avert a US default on debt.  For a few weeks.   And then, we’ll rinse and repeat.

How must this look in China’s halls of power?   In tribute to The Economist’s Gady Epstein as Fake Tom Friedman, here’s an imagined conversation between China’s President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang:

Xi:  Who would have thought when I came up with the idea of the “China Dream,” that it would include our top global rival putting a gun to its own head?

Li: Sure helped us out at the APEC meeting last week.  With Obama having to stay home to look like a leader in the midst of a government shut-down, you and Vladimir kind of had run of the place.

Xi:  Yeah.  Kind of reminded me of the good old days when W was so obsessed with fighting terrorism he forgot about Asia.  Gave us a few great years of building goodwill through juicy trade deals.   For awhile, I think everyone actually believed the “peaceful rise” thing.

Li:  If only they still did.  Burma got all skittish and backed away from our special friendship. Can’t imagine why.  And now that they’ve turned ‘democratic’ – and good luck with that —  everyone seems to want to give them money.

Xi:  Then there are those other Southeast Asian countries keep wanting to negotiate together over the South China Sea, rather than letting us peel them off one by one and make them see that it’s always been ours, pretty much up to the sand in their beaches.   Nice job on your recent goodwill trip to Vietnam, by the way – but they’re tricky, down there.  Keep an eye on them.  And can you believe the Philippines, having the audacity to take this case to the United Nations?  They’ll be sorry.

Li:  Uh — weren’t we going to take advantage of a preoccupied, self-destructive rival by being nicer to our neighbors for awhile?  Stress the old win-win thing?

Xi:  Oh.  Right.

Li:  That might also be a win-win for us.  It could distract our neighbors from focusing too much on the fact that our own economy’s not exactly whizzing along right now.  Debt problems?  The $2 to $3 trillion in local government debt sure keeps me awake at night.

Xi:  Well, the $1.27 trillion we hold in US government bonds doesn’t exactly have me resting easy, either.   Though, come to think of it, I’m not sure where else we’d put the foreign currency we generate by keeping the renminbi from getting too pricey.  That would be bad for our exporters, who are already struggling with higher wages and supply costs.  And for all the billions we’ve spent on research and science parks, we’re not exactly an innovation powerhouse.  Yet.

Li:  No, we’re not.   We’re past due on all kinds of things we need to do to stay competitive, much less surpass the United States as a global leader.  Let’s just be grateful that while we’re working hard to narrow the gap, the Tea Partiers seem to want to sit out a lap or two of the race.  They’re blocking funding for education and research, and insisting that America needs less government.  They’re making the United States lurch from one crisis to the next.    Ridiculous.

Xi:  (Laughs heartily)   At least we in the Party know how to maintain discipline and get things done.  And how to deal with those who step out of line.  Wonder how Bo’s enjoying his new digs?

Li:  And we know we have enough problems to deal with without creating more for ourselves.

Xi:  (Raising a glass of maotai)  To being spared the perils of democracy.

Li:  (Clinking Xi’s glass with his own) And may our American friends continue to live in interesting times.


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