Wednesday, August 10, 2011

China: The Mah-jong Theory

Last century there existed a heavily subscribed to idea called the “Domino Theory”  Quite simply it held that, like a set of dominoes set on their ends and in close proximity to each other, if one fell it would set off a chain reaction known as the “domino effect” bringing all others down with it.

The theory was first ennunciated, referring to communism in Indo-China, by then U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower during an April 7, 1954 news conference:

Finally, you have broader considerations that might follow what you would call the "falling domino" principle. You have a row of dominoes set up, you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is the certainty that it will go over very quickly. So you could have a beginning of a disintegration that would have the most profound influences.

As a mathematical theory it held true, as a political theory of the time, thankfully it did not.

Today I want to quickly explore what I am going to call the China Mah-jong Theory. Like the Domino Theory it contends that once one mah-jong tile falls it will set off a chain reaction bringing many more down with it.

I feel that we are close to seeing a Mah-jong Effect in China. One tile is going to fall and the whole lot will fall down right along with it.

In viewing China over the last several months there has come upon me an ever increasing feeling that something is not right and, that feeling, has been intensified by an additional sense that the Chinese government and the CCP know it as well.

Where does one start when there are so many jumping off points?

Let us start quickly with the economy. Nothing about the economy stacks up in my view.

Rubbery GDP figures that seem to be made up by Provencal governments that, like the “Body Counts” of the Vietnam war era, are very much “ How many would you like sir?”

Enormous local government debt and very little ability, it would appear, to service it. After all they have almost sold all the land they could get their hands on.

State owned enterprises (SOE's). Enormous behemoths that are as enormously unproductive as they are unprofitable. Small and medium enterprises (SME's) geared to the teeth and now facing rapidly increasing wage and interest bills.

Inflation, historically the Achilles Heel of regimes in China, increasing to an “official” 6.5%, the highest in three years. And just how accurate are these inflation figures? Like all statistics in China they have to be viewed with a truckload of scepticism surely? How good is the data capture? What about the prevalence of the cash and black economies that just can not be possibly quantified? An analyst today in an article caste the same aspersions on the figures when he said, to effect, if inflation is so reasonable why is a beer in Beijing or Shanghai so expensive relative to London or Paris?

It is the feeling of Australia's ANZ Banking group, pronounced after the previous figures was released, that inflation will go higher to 7.8%.  Despite the protestations of the Chinese, including Wen Jiabao, who virtually assured all and sundry the worst was over.

I agree totally with the ANZ but my baseline is not 6.5% I contend that in reality it is much higher and will go considerably higher still.

Then we look at societal indicators. The numbers of mass incidents generally, the ethnic unrest in Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia and Tibet. The ongoing and increasing protestations about freedom of speech, land repossessions, train crash cover ups, falling bridges, migrant worker unrest, the list goes on ad infinitum.

But most telling for me is the government's actions, how it anticipates, acts and reacts to what is going on in every single sector of society. Quite frankly it is all over the shop seemingly running from one spot fire to the next with no apparent idea, it would seem, of how to battle the fire-storm that is about to crest the ridge but one they know is coming.

What the CCP has attempted to do is to turn the people's and the world's, attention away as much as possible from internal problems. To create external enemies or highlight what is good about itself and bad about the world. To deter closer scrutiny.

Take the following as examples

  • The aircraft carrier. A good for nothing piece of scrap metal, but how they have played that with picture spreads and the like. "Look at us, people, what China is under the CCP!"
  • The stoush with the Vatican
  • The stirring of the pot in the South China Sea
  • The vicious, no holds barred, pointing of the finger at the U.S. and democracy in general over world economics.
  • The totally ungracious response to the London Riots.
  • The over the top 90Th anniversary celebrations and continuous self congratulations ad nauseum.

All these things and many, many, more are evidence, to me, of a regime in trauma seeking, by whatever means, to deflect internal criticism and attention from it's own failings and the fire-storm to come.

What will be the first tile to fall? I do not know but my feeling it will come from the ground roots and will see all the half truths exposed and trick mirrors shattered.

It is not something I am looking forward to.