On retirement and other matters

A slightly more personal post than usual these days. A little over a week ago, I retired. It was an early retirement, since I am not quite yet 59, which is the average age of retirement age in Australia. I have worked for the last 11 years at the University of Newcastle in Australia, although I only ever had one foot in the door since I worked at no more than 50 percent. I must admit that I feel incredibly good about retiring.

Why? The negative side is that universities in Australia – like most universities that claim a heritage from the ‘Western’ liberal tradition – are in a spiral of decline. Governments keep cutting funding in the vain belief that the US model is the one to which one should aspire, so periodic ‘restructuring’ is the order of the day. It goes without saying that ‘restructuring’ is a euphemism for cutting costs and thus positions. For example, I recently witnessed the University of Newcastle axe whole disciplines, such as philosophy, (Western) classics and religion. Given that my training was in precisely in these areas, I felt somewhat alone.

But the negative reasons for retiring are a relatively minor matter. They can continue their downward spiral and lose international pretige and – increasingly important for the bottom line – international students. On a distinctly more positive note, I have been engaged in China for some years now. I first came to China in 2007, but for the last six years or more I have been engaged more closely with a few universities, initially in Beijing and more recently elsewhere.

I have experienced at first hand not only how central Marxism is to the Chinese project, but also the incredible level of work and innovation, forging ahead to continue to build the new China.

So what do I do with all this inspiration from the Chinese experience? I am trying to put all of this in ways that non-Chinese people who are interested in a rapidly changing world can understand. In this light, I am reshaping this blog so that it provides more information for those who are interested, including relevant downloads from my recent (last ten years) of publications.

Light from the east: red star over Christmas

I have always been intrigued by the biblical ‘light from the east’ that led the wise men in the traditional nativity scenes. Clearly, the East was seen as a place of wisdom and culture, and indeed stars. Obviously, this one is ripe for some communist symbolism, given that the red star is a very communist one:

From a nativity scene to the Soviet red star:

Although in the Soviet Union they tended to focus celebrations on New Year’s Day

With Lenin, of course:

And an emphasis on Soviet achievements in space:

Now we still have the red star from the East, the red star over China:

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Model workers: Common people doing their jobs with devotion

China is witnessing the return of the old revolutionary idea of the model worker, reshaped for the modern era. These days, it is ordinary people doing extraordinary jobs. It might be a postman in Tibet, or a teacher in a remote village, or a university graduate who has gone to the countryside to upgrade farming practices in the final frontier against poverty.

In this case, I am interested in a certain Chang Xiaolong, who in 2015 began working as a railway police officer in the mountainous Anhui province. His daily life includes basic conditions, keeping an eye on a 21.48 km stretch of railway line, which has 8 villages, 9 tunnels and 11 villages, growing vegetables, assisting the elderly with buying rail tickets, and working on poverty relief. I should add that in China such a job is seen more in terms of fulfilling a duty to assist in the greater common than simply as a job.

A few pictures from Xinhua News:


What is the world’s second most popular destination for international students?

In 2018, 22 percent of global international students ended up in the United States, although this percentage has been in consistent decline over the last few years.

In the same year, 10 percent of international students went to the UK and 10 percent to China.

Yes indeed, China is now equal second as a favourite for international students. It has outpaced 3 of the traditional post-WWII big five – Australia, Canada and New Zealand are now behind China.

How could this happen? The key is that a sign of a country’s openness and confidence on the global stage is how welcoming it is for international students. And of course how willing it is to provide financial support for such students. Scholarships are available for students from countries that are part of the Belt and Road Initiative, especially students from Africa, Central Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe. If you are young enough and prepared to spend a year of intensive language study before beginning your studies, you too could land a scholarship. Even more, facilities at many universities have been upgraded, and the post-degree job opportunities in China or in the country of birth are bright indeed. As Matteo Giovannini observes: ‘Generous scholarships, investments on facilities and programs, unrestricted access to student visas and introduction of long-term residency permits for talent in specific fields of knowledge all have contributed to make China a friendly environment for talented foreigners’. And this is only the beginning: China is aiming for a staggering 500,000 international students by 2020.

So why is the Anglophone world declining. Perhaps Ahmed Baghdady, the manager of research and content development at WISE, says it best: ‘We’re seeing several movements of nationalism, and even hate speech and racism against international students from some countries’. His reference is of course to the United States, which has been demonising international students from more and more countries. But so also have Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Obviously, this approach is a sign of decline and weakness. As for the United Kingdom (an imperialist project that will come to an end in my lifetime with the independence of Scotland and the reunion of Ireland), the sheer uncertainties over its future are beginning to make it a doubtful destination.

Let me go back to an earlier observation: a sign of a country’s confidence on the global stage is how much it welcomes foreigners to engage, especially foreign students. Come to study, learn the language and culture, gain a world-class degree and perhaps even stay to work for a while. That was the UK in the 19th century and the USA in the 20th century. But no more. Increasingly it is China.

Chinese speed: Get ready for Chinese naval superiority

They call it ‘Chinese speed’: a bridge built in 24 hours; a high-rise building in Shenzhen that had a new floor completed every 2 days; from a mobile network follower to the world’s 5G leader; a new aircraft carrier in 24 months … the list goes on and on. And this is not shoddy work, but high quality production, using innovative technologies and the Chinese aptitude for finding solutions no-else has even imagined.

Let us take the example of China’s naval fleet. It is well worth paying attention to recent observations from Russian specialists, such as Aleksandr Khramchikhin, deputy head of the Institute of Political and Military Analysis. He spoke of China’s navy development program as ‘totally unprecedented‘. He went on: ‘One cannot even count all the ships being built there. The modern Chinese program is unrivaled throughout the world and the Americans cannot even dream of such pace’. In fact, the Chinese ‘have more shipbuilders than the rest of the world together’.

As for Vasily Kashin, whom we have met before and who is Far East researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences, ‘It is easier for China to increase its fleet numbers as it is the world’s biggest shipbuilder. They have immense shipyard capacities, which the US lacks, as its commercial shipbuilding has been thrown into disarray over the past decades’.

US observers have seen the writing on the wall, knowing they can never match Chinese innovation, efficiency and speed. But what about technology? The Chinese are already ahead of the USA on more and more fronts, but if they still find themselves slightly behind, they can increase their cooperation with Russia. While old-style military alliances are out of favour, the increasing levels of collaboration between China and Russia will see even more breakthroughs.

Interpreting phase one of the China-United States trade deal

Yesterday, Xinhua News carried an announcement that phase one of a trade deal between China and the United States has been agreed, subject to lrgal review, checking and translation.

If you read the report, the initial impression might be that China has ceded more ground than the United States. While the latter agrees to stop raising tariffs and to begin the process of winding them down, the Chinese side agreed to the following:

‘Implementation of the agreement will help enhance intellectual property rights protection, improve the business environment, expand market access, better safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of all companies including foreign firms in China’.

Various ideologues have been banging upon about the mythical ‘forced technology transfer’ to China, as well as breaches in intellectual property rights. I have commented earlier on how a thief always thinks someone else is a thief, as well as asking how a country that is now ahead in so many areas can ‘steal’ backward technology from someone else.

But as Sunzi said in ‘The Art of War’ quite some time ago, know your enemy better than he knows himself. The Chinese are happy to let the United States continue with its delusions, so that what seem like like concessions are not concessions at all. China has already taken the lead in intellectual propert rights (Alibaba, for instance, has won international awards for its stunningly high  levels of security), and when you use a Chinese-made phone – for instance – your privacy is protected far more than anywhere else in the world. If you see a paradox here, then you are right at one level: a communist state can protect your privacy far better than a bourgeois state. Indeed, all of the items mentioned above are part of the standard process in China, so no surprises.

But there are some items worth noting. To begin with, any discussion of state owned enterprises has been dropped from the agreement. China will simply not budge on its socialist model, so the US side has clearly backed down. Further, the agreement explicitly states that there will be ‘bilateral assessment and dispute settlement’. Earlier, the United States had insisted that it would adjudicate on whether China had honoured its side of the agreement. No-one would accept this in an agreement, so this has clearly been dropped in favour of a bilateral process. Finally, a crucial sentence points out that the agreement will ‘protect the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese firms in their economic and trade activities with the United States’. This is a major move, since – if implemented and followed – arbitrary targetting of Chinese enterprises on bogus ‘national security’ issues will be far more difficult.

Worth noting also is the point that China has agreed to import more US goods, not merely agricultural goods but also high-quality goods. The United States does have a few high-quality goods left to sell, but for some time now China has been leaping ahead, and the trade war of the last two years has enhanced that process. The direction will increasingly be the other way.

There is one last point that the agreement makes clear: China no longer needs the United States for prosperity, while the United States clearly needs China. How so? The United States has suffered double the economic damage compared to China, which has withstood the stress test remarkably well. So the United States has increasingly been keen to settle a deal. For example, Chinese trade with the United States is now about 10 percent of China’s total. Yes, 10 percent. Before the trade war began, it was 20 percent, but China has adeptly diversified, with countries involved in the Belt and Road Initiative, Africa and Europe. Of course, China would like smooth trade relations with all countries, but the time of reliance on the United States is over. No wonder the United States wanted a deal.