I spent last week in China as part of a board meeting with some of our joint venture business partners based in China. It was my first time in China, and some of my preconceived notions were shattered, as is the case for many people who visit there for the first time. But other perceptions were confirmed.
China is a Communist country, but we were not met at the airport with machine gun-carrying soldiers. We were not harassed during our visit simply because we were Americans. In fact, we were warmly greeted and shown the best of hospitality by our business hosts and the government officials who were invited to attend our dinners and luncheons.
But Communism is about government control. And despite the warm hospitality and reforms instituted over the last 20 years to create a hybrid communist-capitalist country, Big Brother is still Big Brother. It’s just not as obvious as it was decades ago.
We visited the ancient Great Wall of China, which the Chinese started 200 years before Christ across their northern border, roughly 3,000 miles long, to protect themselves from their enemies to the north.
Today, there is another great wall technologically erected by the government to protect the people from outside influences. This wall blocks 1.3 billion people from social networking with the rest of the world. There’s no Facebook, YouTube, or Twitter allowed. There’s none coming into the country and there’s none going out.
When I tried to access my 40,000 friends on Facebook and Twitter, it was blank!
The government owns all three telecommunications companies, and simply restricts incoming information from those sources. Too much information and an open exchange of information are considered a threat to government control.
China welcomes foreign investment and ingenuity, but they do not welcome meddling into how they do things. And they certainly would not want their people to get any ideas about challenging the government through social networking.
It is clear that China is trying to blend their traditional government control with some selective principles of capitalism to inspire entrepreneurial intensity. They are experiencing some success, as evidenced by their explosive economic growth — about 10 percent GDP growth per year. The Chinese will privately admit that there are some growing pains with such a high rate of growth, but they are willing to bear them the pain for the sake of a vibrant and growing economy.
While traveling from Shanghai to Nanjing to Beijing, it was obvious that China’s infrastructure development is on a fast track. One of our tour guides during an outing even joked that the crane has become China’s national bird. As in “construction crane”!
I didn’t say it was funny.
And when we inquired about areas other than construction, we learned that their growth in industrial and technological capabilities was equally intense.
One evening, we received a presentation from an economist who teaches at one of the universities in China, and he acknowledged that if they continue to grow at that high rate and the U.S. continues to grow at our anemic rate, then in 15 to 20 years, China’s economy will be as big as the U.S. economy.
Red light! If our biggest lender becomes the world’s biggest economy with an aspiring world military presence, then our national security could be severely compromised. I have a big problem with that!
China’s rapid economic growth is no big surprise. But when you see and hear it firsthand, coupled with its central government control, there is a chilling and depressing realization. America’s economic and military strength could become second in the world.
That’s a not a perception. It’s reality. But it can be stopped if we counter with American-style strength — a reinvigorated economy combined with real freedom. No countervailing force can stand up to that.
Herman Cain is a former CEO, a radio talk show host on AM 750 and 95.5 FM WSB in Atlanta, and a FOX News contributor.