Friday, December 01, 2006

Learning from China's mistake

Learning from China’s mistakes

ALTHOUGH China is only the third nation to man spacecraft, the success of that country's first manned space flight has global implications. Why?

The first is at the military and thus political level. We all know that since the break-up of the USSR, there is in effect only one superpower. Such a monopoly can be very unhealthy and unproductive for the whole world, as can be clearly illustrated by monopolies in the business world.

A visitor to the National Museum of China in Beijing looks at a wax model of spaceman Yang Liwei.The fact that China is now capable of launching its own astronaut has created a new chapter in theglobal balance of power – AFPpic

The fact that China is now capable of launching its own astronaut, or yuhangyuan, has created a new order, a new chapter in the global balance of power. While it is not a major technological achievement like Yuri Gagarin’s historic orbit in 1961, the success of China’s space efforts means that it is a serious player on the global scene, one that has the technological and management know-how and clout to undertake such a complex exercise.

For the first time since the demise of USSR, the US faces a serious and credible competitor. The emergence of China in the technology and military dimension has to be seen in connection with its emergence as an economic power.

China’s economy is now a major engine of global economic growth. While Japan and the US keep focusing on its booming exports, imports by China have been booming too. The Australian economy, for example, has benefited significantly from China’s fast rising consumption. Many agricultural and industrial commodities have benefited from rising prices as China’s consumption surged, benefiting producers from Latin America to North America to the energy producers to Japan and more. The millions of Chinese tourists are also pouring their spending power into the global tourist industry.

What is of even greater significance is what the future holds. China’s space programmes will definitely not end with mere manned flights. It has greater ambitions. The moon, space stations and the list go on. This is not surprising. The space programmes are not just scientific adventures. Their success with these leads to a multiplier effect. They have immense technological, military, commercial and political implications on a global scale.

Each future space success will catapult China to a higher level. It is not inconceivable that China will, in the future, overtake Russia and the US in space exploration and technology. It has the potential and the clout to do so. It is already ahead of Europe and Japan in space programmes.

At the same time, China’s rapid economic growth, like its space programme, still has a long way to go before it matures. As China’s economy races ahead, it will, alongside the US, be the engines of world economic growth. China is already a very important engine of global economic growth. It is just that in the future, China’s economy will be an even more important world engine and will one day surpass the US in terms of contribution to world economic growth.

So, if one peers into the rest of the 21st century, we will see the world becoming more balanced with two superpowers in place. However, while such a balanced structure may not lead to a less tense world, the world will be more peaceful because it will be in equilibrium. It will be in equilibrium precisely because the single superpower will now have a counterweight.

For Asia, in general, and Malaysia, in particular, such an outcome can bring many wonderful opportunities. But before Malaysia can take advantage of these endless opportunities, it has many lessons to learn from China’s experience in transforming itself from a gigantic has–been to a credible superpower.

First, Malaysia has too many hang-ups. To aggravate this entrenched problem, its leaders try to overcome them with short-term measures and short cuts. Just look at the number of ludicrous attempts to enter the Guinness Book of Records. In trying to create the spirit and culture of Malaysia Boleh, Malaysia has given its citizens the dangerous impression that all it needs to do in order to succeed is to sail one time round the world or send an astronaut to space or have the tallest building just for a few years.

To cure our hang-ups, Malaysia needs to eat humble pie first. No, we have to swallow the humble pie (let us hope that we do not choke as the humble pie has become really big).

China invented fireworks, the basis of modern rockets. It also invented compass. The West copied and improved on them and used them to conquer the rest of the world. As the emperors of China wallowed in false pride and complacency, the West learned and copied from a more advanced civilisation, caught up and raced ahead. A few centuries later, the leader became the laggard while the imitator became the boss.

What China has painfully learned and is still learning is that it must get rid of its hang-ups and be willing and open-minded to learn from the rest of the world. While China developed its own intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear capability, it had to learn from Russia when it comes to space technology.

i Capital hopes that our Government can learn from the mistakes of China and overcome our many silly hang-ups. For example, Malaysians have this notion that by learning English, one becomes westernised. Malaysians think that by learning and embracing science and technology, one becomes less religious. Malaysia cannot have more press freedom because it worries that every criticism is ill intentioned and directed to destroy the country.

China’s economy has succeeded precisely because it is willing to undertake and undergo reforms. Despite the pain and suffering, China has and is reforming day by day, month by month, year by year and decade by decade. It is this willingness to continuously reform that will propel China to further success, be it space, economy, politics, etc.

Do not get us wrong. i Capital is not looking at China through rose-tinted glasses. China has to undergo so many reforms now because of the endless list of mistakes that it has committed in the past. In trying to tell Malaysians that they can do it or can succeed, the message has become “it is so easy to succeed”. No wonder we go for cheapskate stuff like the longest chee cheong fun or the roundest thosai or the highest teh tarik.

i Capital hopes our Government can bring the mindset among Malaysians down to a more earthly level. Having the least number of potholes in our roads or being able to achieve the cleanest toilet in South-East Asia would be an excellent start. Malaysia has no choice but to reform. i Capital places its faith in the Government to take the lead in this do-or-die mission.

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