"The pen is mightier than the sword." For nearly a decade, Brahm has used newspaper articles, magazines and authored over 20 books to explain current affairs, reshape stalled negotiations, and provide a communication platform to Asian leaders and policymakers. His writings reveal underlying central challenges facing Asia over the past decades.

Harmony or Chaos?

Written by Laurence Brahm - Published by South China Morning Post on 10/16/2007

The 17th Party Congress will espouse lots of “Chinese characteristics”, which can be interpreted as alternative paths to economic and political development. Most mainlanders smirk at the term, as its popular misinterpretation is an open wink at corruption, cronyism and local rule by economic warlords.

We can expect to hear this congress regurgitate Marxism, Leninism, Maoism, Deng Theory and the Theory of the Three Represents. These will be cited as foundations for President Hu Jintao’s new theory of a “harmonious society” – or as proof that capitalism was right all along. (Marx, Lenin, Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping must have said this somewhere, so it’s acceptable to repeat it as long as you cite their names.) “Socialism with Chinese characteristics”, then, means hard-core capitalism in a one-party state.

That may disappoint many lesser-developed countries looking at China’s development as a potential economic model. Or a social and political model. They shouldn’t count on it, or on Beijing’s leadership for poor nations: the current administration will do nothing for poor countries unless they receive a quid pro quo in energy supplies or market opening. This is blatant capitalism with Chinese socialist characteristics.

Mr Hu’s own political ideology – the “harmonious society” – merges four pillars of thought: a “democratic legal system”; a “fair struggle for righteousness”; a “sincere and honest love for each other”; and “stability and order”. These are called the “basic starting points of Chinese society”.

But are they? These wonderful ideals cannot be found anywhere in China today, so how can they be starting points? Mainland society is arguably the most unharmonious of any nation in the world today not being torn apart by war. “Harmonious society is a policy for the people and the rich,” the Central Party School recently explained. That raised the question of whether the concept is intended to fill an ideological or spiritual void among people, or is just another stimulus to encourage mainlanders to get rich.

In June, Mr Hu gave a speech at the Central Party School in which he elevated the notion of “social construction” onto the same plane as economic, political and cultural “constructions”. By way of explanation, a Central Party School scholar said this established a “bottom line for China’s people’s social development” – in short, every individual has ample space for their own free development.

But don’t think they are talking about individual freedoms along the lines of America’s founding fathers. They mean everyone is free to use whatever means he or she likes to make money and get the material things they want. The Pandora’s box of Dickensian capitalism has been opened.

Such statements are dangerous for a nation that has witnessed the reappearance of slavery in rural areas of Shanxi and Henan provinces. In such places, making money any way you can – and at any cost to other people – has become mainstream thinking. Does this mean economic anarchy?

When Deng announced Beijing’s adoption of a market economy in 1992, many did not understand what that meant. They stretched its definition, taking the new market model to mean carte blanche to engage in smuggling and counterfeiting. Illegal stock markets opened all over the country, and property projects were developed without approval. That led to chaos and the 24 per cent inflation that had to be reigned in by then vice-premier Zhu Rongji .

Is there a danger, following these latest pronouncements, that capitalism will once again be taken to extremes?

In the run-up to the 17th Party Congress, the mainland media quoted an editorial in Britain’s Guardian newspaper which said that during the 19th century, Britain taught the world manufacturing; during the 20th century, America taught the world consumption; and, for China to find its rightful place as leader of the 21st century, it should teach the world sustainable development. But can it? Mr Hu may be asking the same question.


Laurence Brahm is a global activist, international mediator, political columnist and author. He is the leading advocate of a fresh development paradigm - The Himalayan Consensus - an innovative approach to development.

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