China can’t make it rain

by Daniel on February 14, 2008

I have a post up at the Guardian blog on the general subject of it not being terribly practical to assume that if we all shout hard enough at the Chinese government, they will wave their Chinese magic wand and the Darfur crisis will go away. In the post, I unaccountably forgot to link to Alex Harrowell at Fistful of Euros, who inspired the post by reminding me that I held this view. I’m now correcting this (frankly the CT referral stream is probably a little less, shall we say, problematic[1] than the Comment is Free one). So let the circle-jerk be unbroken, etc. Sorry Alex.

In general, though, and I didn’t explore this enough because it would have looked like rambling, a lot of people seem to think that the Olympic Games is the most important thing in the world to China. How much do we think they really care about it going well? I mean, seriously, we are going to be hosting this thing in London soon, and if it really is true that major world governments regularly make massive shifts of geopolitical influence in order to avoid a few slightly embarrassing scenes at their opening ceremony, then I am rather worried about what the rest of the world might have planned for us.

[1] No, let’s say “insane”



Minivet 02.14.08 at 7:09 pm

Nah, it’s only this big a deal when it’s a country’s first time – validation, etc. Tokyo 1964 and Seoul 1988 were much the same.


Russell Arben Fox 02.14.08 at 7:57 pm

I agree with minivet; you should have seen the paranoia that the arrival of the Olympic Games in Korea in 1988 resulted in. They were ordering that certain soup shops close down solely out of the fear that someone would be mortally offended to discover that Koreans sometimes eat dog meat. I’m certain that if they’d been engaged in trade with some shady foreign country, they’d have happily shut it down for the time being.


Gdr 02.14.08 at 8:39 pm

Those Guardian blog commenters are completely unhinged. It’s like Harry’s Place turned up a notch on the insanity dial: “Why bring the jews into it or do you prefer joooos”


Sam 02.14.08 at 9:29 pm

The Olympics are more important politically to China, and especially the CCP, than they will be to the UK or were to SK. It’s all about legitimation of continuing political authoritarianism and economic neo-liberalism. The Party relies on performance legitimacy, none of the bourgeois democratic electoral consent stuff, which was sorely tested as recently as 1989. A good games will allow the Party to say to its people: see, the world loves us, your life is getting better (for some of you, materially at least), and our food is better anyhow. In SK, the international attention created by the Olympics contributed to a process of political liberalization that was already underway. In China, quite the opposite is the goal: to use the global stage to bolster domestic authoritarianism. Spielberg was smart to get out. And, as one friend put it, by hiring Spielberg, the Party was looking for ET, but now has gotten Jaws….


Jacob Rus 02.14.08 at 10:53 pm

Off the subject, hasn’t there been recent discussion of Chinese cloud-seeding experiments, etc., which are directly aimed at literally “making it rain”? I was under the impression that they’d even achieved some success at that.


seth edenbaum 02.14.08 at 11:10 pm

Living in Beijing for Sept/Oct last year, I think I have to agree with the other commenters about the significance.

“your life is getting better (for some of you, materially at least)”
Actually it’s getting better for the vast majority, but the rates of change are also vastly different.

“The Party relies on performance legitimacy,”
If only that were true of our own government.


soru 02.14.08 at 11:24 pm

Follow the money.

Sudanese oil production is 250,000 barrels per day, or ~ 10 billion dollars a year. If an extortionate 20% of that money goes to a chinese oil company, that is $20 billion over a decade, and the reserves won’t last much longer than that.

That’s almost exactly equal to the 2012 olympic budget, and, as pointed out above, the legitimisation value of it to the Beijing regime is almost certainly much higher than it is to Brown.

Estimates of the Chinese annual defence budget range from US$25 billion to $90 billion. That provides a reasonable estimate of the size of the stakes involved – in comparison, Sudanese oil revenues are small beer.

Of course, what you don’t want to do if cause the chinese state to forget the Olympics and seek legitimacy by the traditional route of a short victorious war…


dsquared 02.15.08 at 12:30 am

I have Sudan producing 344kbbl in 2004, with ambitions to get to 500kbbl by 2005. And of course, it’s all about the reserves rather than current production, so I think that calculation could be off by a factor of four or five.


SG 02.15.08 at 12:39 am

I remember reading China’s list of 5 things they were willing to sacrifice over Taiwan, and the list included something roughly along the lines of a million soldiers, 10 years of economic growth, membership of the WTO, all the Pandas in China, and the Olympics. I think they value the Olympics as a propaganda device, but it won’t trump their rather serious need for resources and a space where they can develop competitively (e.g. Africa).

Also I’m pissed that Steven Spielberg would throw in the towel over Darfur, but everything else in China – the prison camps, Tibet and the environmental problems – don’t get a look in. At the risk of starting a condemnathon, he seems to think that mass murder by a muslim nation separate to china is more important in his dealings with China than mass murder by China itself. Or maybe he just hates Richard Gere (and who doesn’t?)


seth edenbaum 02.15.08 at 1:08 am

China’s relation to africa is complex. In the long I think it’ll be helpful.
I was impressed by China when I was there. I oppose the government, but I respect it. It’s not a simple adversary.
I was supposed to go back in the spring but that’s off. I’m going back though.
And my big market error of the year was not investing in Chinese Solar. I ignored the advice. Big mistake. “My favorite broker” is cursing himself.
It’s the regional authorities who are only interested in short term gain. Beijing is worried.


mark 02.15.08 at 1:11 am

“According to the British Petroleum statistical review by late 2005, the country produced 379 million b/d and by late 2006 more than 450.000
. Incidentally, this is apparently expected to peak in 2008.

But even if we accept the argument that pressure-on-the-Chinese-to-pressure-Khartoum will have little impact on the Darfur conflict, should we really be that upset at activism that may makes Chinese state companies that little bit less likely to deal so brazenly with unsavoury regimes abroad?

(Of course, as sg suggests, we should perhaps be more focused on the unsavoury regime at home…)


abb1 02.15.08 at 9:53 am

The thing about propaganda – pretty much anything can be used for propaganda. There’s no bad publicity. All the decent people in the world love you, the evil ones hate you. Evil people making scenes at the opening ceremony can’t embarrass you; it’s just another proof of you being perfect.


Alex 02.15.08 at 11:27 am

China’s list of 5 things they were willing to sacrifice over Taiwan, and the list included something roughly along the lines of a million soldiers, 10 years of economic growth, membership of the WTO, all the Pandas in China, and the Olympics.

I have to say I don’t believe a fucking word. If they cared enough to lose *as many men as the UK in the First World War*, they would act. And if they bombed Taiwan they’d lose the semiconductor suppliers to pretty much the entire Chinese electronics industry, not to mention whatever happens when Shanghai’s electricity supply gets bombed and the ships stop calling.


john b 02.15.08 at 12:29 pm

I like the ‘pandas’ point the most: “for every hour that you refuse to accept our annexation of Taiwan, we’ll decapitate a cute little panda on telly. How’d’you like that, Western imperialist running-dogs?”


soru 02.15.08 at 12:59 pm

As the Taiwanese military is half a million strong, better equipped than the mainland, on an island, had 50 years to build defences, and a military ally of the US, I don’t see how Chinese casualties in a successful invasion could be expected to be as low as a million.

The panda plan might work though.


s.e. 02.15.08 at 1:41 pm

More importantly economic and informal social relations between PRC and Taiwan are are strong and growing.


abb1 02.15.08 at 1:43 pm

The thing about Taiwan is that I think it’s quite obvious that the current government of the PRC is so pragmatic and careful that the invasion is completely out of the question. It seems more likely that the US will invade Canada than the PRC Taiwan.


mpowell 02.15.08 at 5:32 pm

Not to mention that China would give up more than 10 years of growth by actually engaging in war with Taiwan.


Anurag 02.15.08 at 8:40 pm

Not to mention that an ever-increasing number of Taiwanese favor reunification with the mainland.


Sam 02.16.08 at 2:15 am

It is not true that an “ever-increasing number of Taiwanese favor reunification with the mainland.” An ever-increasing number of Taiwanese understand themselves as “Taiwanese” not simply “Chinese.” In interviews with leading KMT officials last month, I was struck by how all of them now say: “I am Taiwanese.” Ma Yin-jeou, the likely next president, from the KMT, has said that he will not enter into negotiations about reunification. Many Taiwanese are fed up with Chen Shui-bian, the current president, and his policies of inflaming relations with both the PRC and the US. Many Taiwanese prefer the ambiguous “status quo,” which is a de facto independence without provoking the PRC. While Taiwanese business enjoys access to Chinese labor and markets, very few are thinking about reunification in concrete terms – not for the next century or so….

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