Village life has never been easy in China, especially in the mountainous central and western regions, mostly arid and poor, which were once the refuge of Mao’s communist movement. This has changed little over the past three decades. It appears that China’s villages have fallen victim to the very policies of economic reform and opening up that have lifted over a hundred million people from poverty since the 1980s. Many villages, still hidden from the outside world, shrink and wither as more young people go off to work in city factories.
On a dusty sidewalk outside the U.S. embassy in Beijing, just before the fall academic semester of 2002, two dozen Chinese students assembled under the nervous watch of public security officers. They hastily pulled on white t-shirts as a symbol of hope.
In the history of China there has been perhaps no greater influence on society, no more customary standard of virtue, than a love and reverence for one’s parents and elders. Confucius is said to have told his students that “our bodies—to every hair and bit of skin—are received by us from our parents.” For this reason, if no other, dutiful children must attend to their parents’ wellbeing in old age.
Only 30 years ago, when China’s state-owned enterprises began the uncertain process of market-oriented reforms—resulting in large closures, downsizings, and mass layoffs—the employment outlook for young people in China promptly clouded over. The world that they once felt was opening wide before them suddenly filled with redundant workers. After years of slow growth and rising prices, many college students found themselves on the cusp of graduating without jobs.
In the 2000s, “public diplomacy” became a central part of the function of diplomacy. As a result of the communications and transportation revolutions, diplomats, national leaders, and more can now be seen and heard by more people in more places than at any previous time in history. Skillful public diplomacy can influence public opinion beyond one’s own country to support policies and positions, and can influence foreign peoples to have a favorable view of one’s country. Conversely, blundering public diplomacy can undermine even well-conceived policies and positions, and can project an extremely negative image of a country.
Lee Kuan Yew is best known for having taken Singapore from the third world to the first world, an improbable achievement that he chronicled in a lengthy 2000 memoir. As he prepares to turn 90 this September, however, the cohesion, equanimity, and order for which his country has become legendary are coming under strain. Amidst rising income inequality and growing popular discontent about a government proposal to attract more foreign workers, some question how much longer Singapore’s current model of governance can endure.
Not too long ago, Brazil, Russia, India, and China were looked upon with envy by the international arena. Predictions of decoupling—a theory in which emerging economies have strengthened so much that they no longer depend on the United States for economic growth—were seen as a foregone conclusion for the BRIC nations. To the surprise of many, what was once a mere formality is now a distant reality.
Lately, BRIC nations have encountered different degrees of turbulence with engineering economic growth. The European economic crisis, coupled with sluggish U.S. growth, has hindered the BRIC’s economic growth when analyzed as a single bloc—discarding the decoupling phenomenon and proving the opposite is still the norm, to the chagrin of BRIC leaders. In addition, corruption continues to be an endemic problem for all BRIC members, dampening not only their political systems, but also investor confidence. High taxes and heavy regulation are thorny matters that never appear to cease, stalling future productivity, investment and growth, especially in Brazil and India. In short, not all is rosy in BRIC land.
In 1958 a young Chinese Cuban named Armando Choy posed for the camera in front of a drab brick farmhouse in Fomento, a town close to the Escambray Mountains in central Cuba. Choy stiffened almost to attention, his shirt buttoned to the collar, his hands clasping an old rifle by the muzzle. His seven comrades in crumpled fatigues, stranding alongside or squatting before him, smiled through bushy black beards that would become emblematic of Fidel Castro’s socialist revolution.
For Choy, growing up in Cuba had not been easy. The son of a humble Chinese shopkeeper, he suffered from the racism and wretched living conditions that plagued Havana under Fulgencio Batista’s regime. Batista’s brutal social indifference to poorer Cubans was, as Arthur Schlesinger Jr. put it, “an open invitation to revolution.”
China’s villages, which used to be models of communal unity or flashpoints of stormy peasant uprisings, now languish in the shadow of the nation’s prosperity. They appear to be losing more to urban growth than mere acreage or precious groundwater. Year after year, young men and women from China’s hinterland go off to work in big city factories, along with millions of other migrant workers. But the women are not returning home—at least not at the same rate as their male peers.
Marriage prospects in China’s big cities are brighter for young rural women. This has not always been the case. Historically, women in the countryside have enjoyed little choice in their matrimonial fate. Typically, they married from within their village, or nearby, and at times they had no say in whom they married.
While the U.S. presidential candidates were slugging it out during the debates on foreign policy, India remained conspicuously absent from the narrative. At face value, the omission of India from the debates gave an impression that the country hardly matters in U.S. foreign policy. However, the case was exactly opposite. If there was one foreign policy issue where the Republicans and Democrats had more or less similar views, it was the role of India in the future of U.S. Grand Strategy. In some sense, the presidential elections settled the debate on India’s importance in the U.S.'s world view and future strategic plans. While the campaign was reaching its crescendo, India and the U.S. were engaged in their third annual strategic dialogue–an event of immense geo-political significance first started in 2010. The annual strategic dialogue clearly indicates the level of strategic convergence between New Delhi and Washington, DC.
Copyright 2006-2014 The Diplomatic Courier™. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.