China’s competitive edge

I was bemused by John Key’s statements on China’s ‘competitive edge’ yesterday, during an interview with Guyon Espiner on Q+A.

When asked about what he actually says to Chinese leadership when he brings up human rights, Key replied:

You know at a leader level I go in there and say: “Look, New Zealand has a proud record in human rights, it’s an area where we want to continue to have dialogue with you and exchange views and exchange ideas, because we have strong views in that area.” Now should we get down to an individual level? I think that’s really not what’s necessary, unless there’s a specific thing that we’re concerned about, and at this point you know that’s not something we take up at a leader level.

As we all know, China doesn’t have the greatest record on human rights. While John Key was in China Amnesty International called on the Chinese government to halt harassment and censorship of HIV/AIDS activists.

This is but one example of the plethora of crimes against human rights perpetrated by the Chinese government.

GUYON: Just finally, do you get a sense from China that it wants to move towards democracy?

JOHN: I don’t think they do actually in the very short term, that’s not the sense I get. Look I think they’ve got a model that’s actually working here which is they have a lot of people, they’ve got a very planned and staged strategy of how to bring this country into an economic powerhouse. It’s not easy to manage some of the issues that they actually have.

… In fact, I think they see their current structure as the competitive edge over India where there is democracy… Now will it change over time? History tells you most cultures have, but in China’s case they’re very focused on getting these people into the 21st century of economic wealth, providing for their people, and probably increasing the reach and the influence of China. And you’ve gotta say over the last 20 years they’ve done a pretty good job.

Note my emphasis added.

John Key seems almost adoring of the way in which China can get things done. Why can they get things done so fast? Could it be the total authoritarian control that the government exercises? The imprisonment and execution of dissenters? The subjugation of free speech, freedom of association and human rights in general? Yeah. That has something to do with it, John.

Calling the lack of human rights a competitive advantage is somewhat worrying. One almost wonders if we’ll see a National Party policy along these lines in the lead up for the next election.

Do you, like John Key, think that the Chinese system of growth at all costs is where we should be headed?

55 thoughts on “China’s competitive edge

  1. and as we rush there….

    the ‘smart-money’ is bailing out..

    http://whoar.co.nz/2010/end-of-the-cheap-made-in-china-era-sends-companies-scrambling-for-optionsi-tell-them-put-your-helmet-on-its-going-to-get-ugly/

    “…Factory workers demanding better wages and working conditions are hastening the eventual end of an era of cheap costs that helped make southern coastal China the world’s factory floor.

    A series of strikes over the past two months have been a rude wakeup call for the many foreign companies that depend on China’s low costs to compete overseas

    … from makers of Christmas trees to manufacturers of gadgets like the iPad.

    Where once low-tech factories and scant wages were welcomed in a China eager to escape isolation and poverty …

    … workers are now demanding a bigger share of the profits.

    The government, meanwhile, is pushing foreign companies to make investments in areas it believes will create greater wealth for China … like high technology.

    Many companies are striving to stay profitable by shifting factories to cheaper areas farther inland … or to other developing countries …

    … and a few are even resuming production in the West..”

    phil(whoar.co.nz)

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  2. Yikes! He;s going to sell us out to whomever has money – how will we clear NZ’s foreign debt when we no longer own our means of production?

    Although we can already ask this since my guess is that Aussie banksters benefit more from our Dairy industry than NZ does.

    John is like a Jocky – NZ his horse, and he’s racing us into poverty and environmental holocaust.

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  3. Kia-ora
    Sounds like F and P’s argument for moving manufacturing to Mexico. To Paraphrase: We can add or subtract 100 positions from a production line any time orders change. We cannot ramp it up and down in NZ like that. This is peoples jobs they are talking about.

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  4. they see their current structure as the competitive edge over India

    Does the People’s Republic really have a competitive edge at the moment though? India isn’t reliant on Western consumption for its economic growth quite as much as the People’s Republic. Also, we cannot forget that there are some significant social constraints in India (the caste system), and it was only recently that India got rid of its socialist chains (1991 in fact). We need to also remember that India appears to be building itself up for a massive growth spurt – certainly there has been a big push in education (note all the scientists and other educated types that come from India) and many of the other things that are needed for a long sustained growth pattern. My guess is that the 21st Century will be the Indian century and not the Chinese century – the growth of the People’s Republic will eventually grind to a halt.

    Of course it also helps when you have an artificially low currency, and when the Americans and the Europeans aren’t willing to do anything about it (but seem to be keen to retard the growth of Africa by paying cows a couple of dollars a day).

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  5. John Key seems almost adoring of the way in which China can get things done.

    Good lord – did we watch the same Q+A? What I saw was Key reporting what he saw, flat, and without emotional content. He said, and I’ll quote you: with my added boldness “they see their current structure as the competitive edge over India”

    I think The Frog is, after the recent Green Party TV appearances, confusing competence and coolness with “adoring”. Although Mr Key’s politics and economics are (largely) not for me, its easy to understand why he’s the country’s favorite leader, and Goff is getting nowhere.

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  6. then again…key does seem to get ‘caught up in the moment’ on these overseas sojurns..

    (c.f..his bonding-encounter with mccrystal…?

    ..where he came over all sabre-rattling…?

    ..and vowing ‘war for the forseeable future’…in mccrystals’ service..?)

    ..maybe he needs a reality-check-minder..on these o/s trips…

    ..eh..?..)

    phil(whoar.co.nz)

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  7. Surprise surprise – more green disease – make up a false position and attribute it to your adersary-

    Frog says “Calling the lack of human rights a competitive advantage is somewhat worrying”.

    Key was talking about government structure.

    Frog completely changes that to FALSELY state Key was talking about human rights.

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  8. “Look, New Zealand has a proud record in human rights, it’s an area where we want to continue to have dialogue with you and exchange views and exchange ideas, because we have strong views in that area.”

    I’m betting he didn’t say anything like that at all.

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  9. On the face it reads very much like the PM’s personal preferences to me..

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  10. INTERNATIONAL WAGE FIXING?

    I don’t think that we will ever know what Mr. Key really said to the big shots in China, we are only hearing Mr. Keys version of what was said.

    The Chinese workers strikes could be the saving grace of this country in the long run. OK it may mean higher prices at places like the Warehouse, but it may be the re-emergence of local industries.

    This could happen if there was a process of international wage fixing!
    Think about it!!

    It would be interesting if the so called Chinese ‘communist’ would applaud such a concept, wouldn’t it.

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  11. “Calling the lack of human rights a competitive advantage is somewhat worrying. ‘

    I agree that this is over-stating the case against John Key – it isn’t a lack of human rights he is backing, but a government system that is devoid of democracy.

    Key claims that this system is ‘working’, which kind of brings into question what Key considers to be the role of a government – to represent its people or simply to produce results in terms of economic statistics.

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  12. It is a fact that China have been highly successful at vastly improving the lives of hundreds of million of their people.

    Other countries that have been at risk of splitting up (i.e USSR and Yugoslavia) have not been nearly as successful.

    The question is, could China have been as massively successful at improving it’s citizens lives if it had become a democracy?

    Does anybody know of any democracies who have improved their citizens lives at such a fast rate for even 10% of the number of people?

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  13. Photonz1 said: “Key was talking about government structure.”

    A structure based on oppression and subjugation. You can’t unravel economic success and how a government treats it’s citizen.

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  14. A right-y arguing in favour of communism. Wonders never cease.

    The mental gymnastics that authoritarians will go through to follow their leaders….

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  15. “It is a fact that China have been highly successful at vastly improving the lives of hundreds of million of their people.”

    Is it? Apart from the World Bank’s revising of China’s GDP per capita – reducing it by 40% in 2005 (http://www.voxeu.org/index.php?q=node/4799), it isn’t easy to measure ‘improvement’. The old $1 per day poverty line has been much critiqued – particularly as moving people out of a primarily non-cash economy into a cash economy can hugely improve statistics without any increase in the actual wealth of individuals.

    If you go from semi-subsistence farming to poorly paid formal employment, you can be in a much worse position, having lost much of the wealth generated by your own or communual efforts, but look much richer on paper.

    And then theres the danger of measuring ‘improvement’ solely in economic terms – if you’ve moved into a sweatshop job, where much of your salary goes straight back to the employer to pay for compulsory food and board, and much of your freedom has been lost, you might feel life was better back in the village, despite less access to commercial goods and services.

    Thirdly, the final results for China aren’t in yet. With massive floods, deforestation and sandstorms hitting Beijing, it’s too early to say if the economic improvements are sustainable. And whether the much-hyped new infrastructure lasts long is a moot point as well – I’ve haven’t been much impressed with the longevity of some of the Chinese roads and buildings I’ve run across – and stories of new bridges collapsing don’t fill one with confidence.

    Not that this has anything to do with Key’s fawning “we want to continue to have dialogue with you and exchange views and exchange ideas” – a typical bureaucrat’s cop out.

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  16. Comrade Photonz1 leapt to the defence of his Glorious Leader and in doing so revealed his red undies, all emblazoned with gold hammer and sickle!

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  17. The overwhelming flood of rural Chinese into ‘the city’ should alarm us all.
    What’s happening in the countryside?
    Try GoogleEarth.

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  18. rimu also suffers from green disease – make up a position that was never made, then attribute it falsely.

    “A right-y arguing in favour of communism.”

    I’m not actually in favour of communism – just pointing out a bit of a paradox that China’s achievement may not have happened under a different system.

    And I see RobertGuyton clearly has the same dissease. There seems to be an epidemic of it among green supporters on this site.

    Does anybody here have the ability to discuss points that have actually been made (instead of continually making up false and exagerated positions).

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  19. photonz1 – it’s rumoured that red flannel itches. True or false?
    I’d like to take a pot at one of your clever questions.
    Lay it on me.
    Or should I address this one – “The question is, could China have been as massively successful at improving it’s citizens lives if it had become a democracy?”
    My answer to your hypothetical question?
    A hypothetical ‘probably’.

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  20. robert – I spent several years in Africa and saw first hand that the intent of the leaders often had a far bigger effect on how well a countries people do, than the type of political system they use.

    Some countries under dictatorship did really well, many democracies fell apart violently, and socialist countries often had equality – everyone was dirt poor – and got poorer.

    As for China – for your “probably” to be true, first China would have had to have stopped from splitting into pieces – with the violence that would quite likely go with that.

    Then again it may be a good thing for China to split up – but it could potentially be a very dangerous thing for those who live there.

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  21. “Then again it may be a good thing for China to split up – but it could potentially be a very dangerous thing for those who live there.”

    Probably, but a China that hasn’t split up is pretty dangerous for many who live there – and for others besides.

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  22. McTap, rt.com appears to stand for “Russia Today”, but the article I saw was in English, and all about the USA.

    I agree with them that:

    – there are problems with the housing market
    – it’s a bit rich when the banks and credit rating agencies who failed demand changes in the behaviour of the states who bailed them out

    but the way they go about it does contain a certain fraction of propaganda, and the second guest was rolling her eyes a bit, so I doubt that her position was being represented accurately.

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  23. IS CHINA COMMUNIST OR NOT?

    I have been following the thread here, and I want to know from those is this; is China communist or not?

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  24. Sam Buchanan
    Posted July 13, 2010 at 6:25 PM
    “Then again it may be a good thing for China to split up – but it could potentially be a very dangerous thing for those who live there.”

    Probably, but a China that hasn’t split up is pretty dangerous for many who live there – and for others besides.
    —-
    What about Yugoslavia under Tito. When it broke up all sorts of nationalists took power and we had Bosnia.

    The Greens for their part are strongly influenced by anarchists. They aren’t the sliver beet your mother told you was good for you.

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  25. photonz1 – your message becomes more and more confused…
    but you’ve not yet reached the level of confusion that jh consistantly manages.

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  26. Sam Buchanan questions China’s well known improvement in it’s peoples living standards – “Apart from the World Bank’s revising of China’s GDP per capita – reducing it by 40% in 2005 (http://www.voxeu.org/index.php?q=node/4799), it isn’t easy to measure ‘improvement’. ”

    It’s actually very easy, and already done for you. Just look at any annually published UN Human Development Index, which uses health, education and income to measure human development.

    While few countries have improved more than a place or two in the 2009 report, China moved up seven places – virtually unprecedented for a country that has quarter of the entire world’s population.

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  27. robertguyton says “photonz1 – your message becomes more and more confused…
    but you’ve not yet reached the level of confusion that jh consistantly manages.”

    More green disease. Avoid the issue. Attack the person.

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  28. Truly photonz1 – your message is mangled.
    What are you trying to say?
    What do you mean by your tortured questioning?

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  29. robertguyton = as I’ve already said previously, “I’m not actually in favour of communism – just pointing out a bit of a paradox that China’s achievement may not have happened under a different system.”

    I find it interesting that systems other than democracy in some cases have a greater benefit for people than democracy. And some people are less worried about their own democracy, than we are about their democracy.

    Yet in the west we preach that democracy is the be all and end all, and often miss the big picture because we have narrowly focused on one ideal – just one of many factors in quality of life, while we disregard the rest.

    Why are you confused? Is it because you can’t find an extereme position you want to argue against?

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  30. “What about Yugoslavia under Tito. When it broke up all sorts of nationalists took power and we had Bosnia.”

    China isn’t Yugoslavia, in many, many ways.

    “The Greens for their part are strongly influenced by anarchists. They aren’t the sliver beet your mother told you was good for you.”

    Not strongly enough. But speaking of Yugoslavia and silverbeet – can anybody tell me how silverbeet got to New Zealand? The English don’t eat it, and the one place I found it really popular other than here, was Croatia. Did the Dalmatian settlers bring it with them?

    “Yet in the west we preach that democracy is the be all and end all, and often miss the big picture because we have narrowly focused on one ideal – just one of many factors in quality of life”

    Kind of missing the point – democracy, in its many forms, isn’t a tool for producing benefits, but a tool for deciding what is of benefit and which benefits we want. Without it, somebody else is deciding what benefits we get – like it or not.

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  31. Photonz1’s argument is pretty clear to me. He(?) is simply stating the fact that China’s economy has grown rapidly in the last two or three decades.

    Photonz1 then speculates that maybe some of this economic growth might be attributable to China’s political system, possibly because of the non-democratic nature of its government. This may have some validity … it would make for an interesting research topic.

    Furthermore, Photonz1 points out that until you reach a certain standard of living, things such as providing the next meal and having a good roof over ones head are more important than democracy. I don’t think many people would argue with this.

    The question I would put to Photonz1 is: once a certain standard of living is achieved, is economic growth still the most important thing? Indeed, perhaps once a certain level of development is reached, societies might prefer to sacrifice economic growth in favour of other ideals?

    It is interesting to note that most of the countries in the world which have had so called “communist” governments were poor and under-developed to start with. Yet, communism was always envisaged as a system to replace a well developed capitalist system. For example, the Russian revolutionaries had planned on the revolution spreading to the more industrialised countries in Europe, such as Germany. They knew that Russia would have great difficulty making communism work alone. In a sense, capitalism would bank roll communism. The fact that most of the communist regimes became corrupt and authoritarian is perhaps not surprising; they did not start with the level of development that was necessary for a better outcome. China has been successful because its authoritarian government has placed great emphasis on economic growth; whether the Chinese people will continue to accept this economic growth at the expense of other ideals such as democracy will be an interesting thing to observe.

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  32. samuela – you’ve summed it up pretty well.

    You make a good point that after a certain level of development is reached, other systems are probably less palatable.

    A line I often heard from Africans is that democracy is a nice luxury. There are far more basic needs that have to be met before it becomes a major issue. Some Black Zimbabweans even pined for the lives they had under white Rhodesian rule.

    Clearly that wasn’t tenable, but it does make a stark point that the things we worry about most in a society are often luxuries compared to people who are merely trying to survive and keep their families alive.

    I think communism is a great system and would work very well if people were robots. But with humans it has some serious flaws. Why should I work hard til I’m exhausted when the lazy guy next to me who does nothing will get paid the same.

    Communism incentivises humans to do the wrong things – to be lazy and inefficient.

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  33. Photonz1 – so…you hold that China has done very well to lift the its economy and raise the standard of living of its people, under Communist rule, while at the same time arguing that,
    “I think communism is a great system and would work very well if people were robots.”
    Do you attribute China’s success to its political system…or not?
    Do you think Chinese are humans..or not?
    Do you think a Democratic China would free its robotic citizens to become human…or not?
    Can you understand now why I find your thinking to be muddled and confused …or not?

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  34. robertguyton –

    Hence my point about the paradox.

    Do you think China is fully communist, or do you detect just an incy wincy little bit of capitalism going on somewhere in communist China?

    I think China’s success is due to economic capitalisim and tight control by the govt, keeping the country stable, and of course probably more than a little is due to a hard work ethic by the people.

    As I’ve said before, it often seems that a countries success is more dependent on the intent of it’s leaders than the system of government.

    I’m interested in the paradoxes and contradictions that China presents.

    I may be wrong, but you seem more interested in finding a right winger to argue against.

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  35. Photonz1 – So .. you are tending toward agreeing with my assertion that you are wrong (“I may be wrong”)
    and I guess you mean “a right winger to argue with.”
    That aside,
    “Do you think China is fully communist, or do you detect just an incy wincy little bit of capitalism going on somewhere in communist China?”
    No and yes, respectively, but where’s the breaking news?
    This is common knowledge.
    “I think China’s success is due to economic capitalisim and tight control by the govt, keeping the country stable, and of course probably more than a little is due to a hard work ethic by the people.”
    That seems a reasonable assessment, but your final sentence is debateable :-)

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  36. I actually agree with most of photonz1’s thoughts on China’s economic success. The lack of democracy in China has allowed it to fast track change to a greater extent than India. The tradeoff for this rapid growth are human rights and the environment.

    The capitalist approach that China has embraced has raised the standard of living for many but has also allowed huge disparities of wealth and vast environmental degradation. I guess the real costs of rapid growth will emerge in due time.

    The paradoxes and contirdictions that Photonz1 refers to is a reality, I think Mao would struggle to see little familiar in the new China.

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  37. robertguyton – in all you messages on this page, you’ve offered little except snipping comments.

    Few of your posts make any comment about China at all.

    Hence it appears you are more interested in arguing of people you think are righties than a discussion on China.

    I’d be happy to be proved wrong.

    Sprout makes a pretty good analysis. Rather than a simplistic “China is bad”, surely we are better off discussing what has worked well and what hasn’t, and why.

    And while we may argue about Chinas historical claims to Tibet, and the influx of Chinese culture watering down Tibetan culture, is that any different to what pakeha did in NZ?

    So should Russell be protesting for Maori rule in Aotearoa as loudly as he is for Tibetan rule in Tibet?

    Like the communist/capitalist system in China, gst on food, deep sea drilling, mining, pay rates etc, things are seldom black and white.

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  38. Photonz1 said:
    “Hence it appears you are more interested in arguing of (sic) people you think are righties than a discussion on China.”

    and:

    “So should Russell be protesting for Maori rule in Aotearoa”

    I sense a conflict of credibility between there.

    Photonz1?

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  39. Photonz1-I think there is a vast difference in civil rights in China to that in New Zealand and Russel’s protest for Tibetan citizens was perfectly justified. Many countries in the world have become reliant or indebted to China for a variety of economic reasons but that shouldn’t muzzle us from expressing concern at their disregard for human rights.

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  40. robert – you just proved my point.

    I’m merely asking a question, that makes the point that what is arguably happening in Tibet has already happened in NZ.

    sprout – vast dfference in civil rights? You mean now, a century after Maori have had their land taken? Or do you completely disregard what happened to Maori in early NZ?

    I agree that pressure should be kept up on China. But how that presure is kept up, how effective it is, and what the negative effects are, are all valid issues.

    From a Green party point of view, Russels fiasco only makes the Green look more radical – and far less likely of attain the stated goal of more support in NZ.

    While core support from the far left will probably be strengthened, gaining further support from towards the middle is likely to be erroded by Russels actions.

    It was very undignified and unleader-like. Not the sort of look many people expect (despite already low opinions) from polititians.

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  41. photonz1 – are you still talking about Russel’s protest?
    Goodness he’s been effective hasn’t he!
    I wonder what his next action will be?
    The media will be watching him like hawks, knowing that whatever issue he involves himself in will be one that will capture the attention of all New Zealanders.
    Not bad for the leader of only the third biggest political party in New Zealand.
    We couldn’t buy better exposure than Russel is providing.
    Attempts by the hard-bitten Right to demean his actions mirror their yipping and yelping over Pete Bethune’s release from possible Japanese imprisonment, the freeing of the Ploughshare Brothers, the huge trunout for the Auckland anti-mining protest, the Harbour Bridge ‘people’s walk’, the Christchurch ‘cairn for Democracy’ and so on and so on..
    yippin’ n ‘ yappin’, twistin’ n turnin’.

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  42. robertguyton – it is a simplistic view that exposure equals success, especially if that exposure has mainly been about how rediculous Russel’s actions were.

    And far from your assertions that it was hard bitten right that was demeeaning his actions – there was also plenty from the left and even far left.

    As for you rambling yippin n yelpin turning n twisting. Can you put that in english, or is it just a rant? ( i.e. you sound like you’re doing exactly what you’re complaining about – yippin n yappin)

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  43. Phoyon’s observation is correct, China has embraced capitalism and focused on improving it’s material wealth.

    However Sprout has arrived at the correct conclusion that China’s industrial revolution comes at a very heavy environmental cost.

    I can back that up by asking you all to look at the Literary Review a book called ‘When a billion Chinese Jump’ by Jonathan Watts.

    Very scary reading!!!!

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  44. Photonz1-At the time Maori were being badly treated i hope someone was protesting for their rights too. You seem to be saying that bad things have always happened so why make a fuss? The anti tour marches in New Zealand actually helped bring about change in South Africa and even Russel’s little protest will have made a difference. Bad things will always happen unless people stand up and do something about it.

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  45. sprout says ” You seem to be saying that bad things have always happened so why make a fuss? ”

    No.

    My opinion would be that if you are going to make a stand, do it in a way that
    1/ makes the biggest difference
    2/ doesn’t damage your own country
    3/ doesn’t damage support for the party that put you in power (i.e. the reason you have a job).

    It’s just basic common sense.

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  46. Photonz1-I think you know Russel’s protest did not go the way he intended because of the rough house tactics of the Chinese. The only embarrasment was the lack of collective spine in the National Government when they didn’t defend our rights of free speech or condemn the actions of the Chinese while guests in our country.

    I think this whole issue has been thoroughly debated earlier.

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  47. sprout – I agree.

    Those that see the protest as an attention grabbing farce are unlikely to change their minds, just like those who see it as a heroic stand.

    Just like you are embarrassed National didn’t defend free speech, I’m embarrassed New Zealand were appalling hosts.

    Let’s move on to something else – China’s success? The great new National Standards? GST on food?

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  48. Or how about this:

    “John Key will wave members of the All Whites team off from Parliament next Wednesday to commence a parade in honour of the team’s World Cup success…”

    Pleeeease Lord, protect me from such idiocy!

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  49. robertguyton says “Pleeeease Lord, protect me from such idiocy!”

    You CAN protect yourself. Just pull your blinkers in a bit tighter. And you can protect yourself from seeing any success.

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  50. China is one of the largest country in the world and the most populated. China is a communist country that holds many different beliefs and values. This communist country is very restricted and government controlled. China’s government is a dictatorship it is led by the communist party.China also has a federal government. The country is divided into Provinces, which are divided into even smaller divisions of several types. The Communist party controls the government. Other parties do exist but the Communists Party is in control of the government.

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  51. Just like Christians people who call themselves Communists do not often practise communism. Marx would be appalled!

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