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Friday, October 01, 2004


On [Grand Prix] Contradictions

Veteren China Watcher, Philip Bowring, reckons Karl Marx might have managed a wry smile. when Shanghai celebrated the debut of Formula One motor racing in the PRC. It coincided, he said, with the government unveiling its "Decision of Enhancing the Party's Ability to Govern," the outcome of the recent plenum of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. The message: Tighten the party's faltering grip.

One of the more favoured Chinese chef's at Koko's, the ultra-chic Japanese restaurant at Melbourne's Crown Casino told me the McLaren team had flown him to Shanghai for the race (perhaps not trusting the local cuisine first time around or to arrange a police escort for the team's arrival courtesy of a well-placed relative). Nonetheless he claimed it was a grand event with Communist Party leaders enjoying the limelight. He had no idea what Chairman Mao might have thought.

Bowring is far more critical, noting that "the expenditure of huge sums of public money on such an elite and environmentally unfriendly sport said much about the party's present condition":

If you want to know why infrastructure is so deficient in the rest of China, why rural incomes have lagged, why rural education and health services have declined, come to Shanghai and see where public money has gone.

Want to know why China's banking system is so riddled with nonperforming loans? come to Shanghai and see the office palaces built by state enterprises with money from the state banks and tax breaks from the central government.

Want to know the biggest sources of the corruption that so distresses the party? Come look at the processes of real estate development in Shanghai.

Want to know why the party is unable to contain abuses? Look at how those with political power seek to maintain state control while glorifying private acquisition of wealth.

Want to know why high-level corruption in Shanghai, as elsewhere, though much bemoaned, is seldom exposed? Listen to the party's demand that controls on the news media be tightened - in other words, that nothing be written that brings senior party men into disrepute, whatever their behavior.

According to Bowring, Shanghai is alive with capitalist endeavor and individual entrepreneurship but is unwilling to face up to how much it owes both to the central government and its own exclusivist city-state policies "which would be unthinkable in freer countries, like India or Indonesia".

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