THE GOLDEN GOOSE

It’s Monday, June 17, 2019.

It’s the 25th anniversary of the arrest of O.J. Simpson following a slow-speed car chase through greater Los Angeles. 

It’s the 47th anniversary of the arrest of five White House associates for breaking into Democratic National Committe headquarters at the Watergate office building – what was quaintly the worst political scandal in American history until Nov. 8, 2016.

I didn’t post anything for Father’s Day and it’s not because I wasn’t thinking about it. 

I sure as hell thought about my father and, because he was so much the focus of what my wife and I did in Asia recently, my father-in-law. And, as always, my wife and children showered me with more affection than I deserve.

No, it was just that I didn’t have anything profound to say. I was sad and happy – and not especially cohesive about it. And I figured, hey, sometimes Father’s Day should just be a day of peace and quiet. 

And that’s what it was. If you’re a father, or celebrated one, I hope your day was everything you wanted.

We were in Hong Kong recently – and if you’re looking for an eyewitness account of the protests, you’re in the wrong place.

We didn’t see them. The first big protest took place on June 4, the 30th anniversary of Tiananmen Square. We were in transit from Taishan, in China’s Guangdong Province, to Hong Kong – and we were staying on the Kowloon side, across the harbor from the protests.

There were no protests the next two days, on the second of which we left for Seoul. 

But from being in Hong Kong and China, there are two things I can say about what’s captured the world’s attention.

First, the opposition to the proposed extradition law is pretty obvious.

There were banners all over the city, including one across the street from our hotel. This is not a casual issue in the city – this is pretty existential to these folks, who are now 22 years into the Chinese takeover from the British.

The second is that it would be nuts for the Hong Kong authorities not to at least attempt to placate the thousands – possibly millions – of protesters.

Because Hong Kong is humming. The streets are jammed with tourists and residents. The malls are bustling with shoppers and, unlike the USA, not struggling to keep the spaces leased. 

There’s construction all over the place. Not quite as much as in China – I’ll get to that in a bit. But you see skyscrapers going up and bamboo scaffolding on every other street.

It is obvious that business is good – that business people and tourists are coming to the city to explore or to use it as a jumping off point for the rest of China.

And you have to figure the Chinese are making money from this. Hong Kong is now theirs. They must get some sort of cut.

So why would they risk that? Especially for an extradition law that’s probably going to be more of a pain to administer than it’s worth.

Sure, China is no one’s definition of an altruistic democracy. They are asserting control – we learned that when we crossed out of and into the Special Administrative Region, as it’s called.

But Hong Kong has always been a bustling center of capitalism. What’s the point of having it any other way, especially when China has obviously amended its form of communism to accommodate the profit motive?

And if you get the populace, the tourists and the businesses aligned against you for a law that’s – again – more trouble than it’s worth, you’re putting all that in jeopardy. Who wants to go to a place where they might pack you up and send you to Shanghai for trial?

The Beijing government exercised prudence in getting its Hong Kong affiliate to back off. The idea, I imagine, is to try to diffuse the tensions and allow the business of doing business to get back to normal.

From Hong Kong, we went to Taishan, a city of about a million people – “a small city,” according to our wonderful translator – in southern China. My wife spent three days gathering information for a book about her family, and I tagged along.

This was actually our second trip here. We visited for about 24 hours in 1989 while Angela’s family was on a trip to Hong Kong. 

Some places don’t change that much in 30 years. The hamlet where we live in Rockland County, New York, looks very much like it did in 1989.

Some places change a lot. Brooklyn comes to mind.

And then there’s China. 

It’s a country that’s in a hurry to build stuff. On the nearly three-hour bus ride from Shenzhen, where you cross into China from Hong Kong, you see an uncountable number of clusters of high-rise apartments with those giant cranes lurched on top. 

Equally uncountable: The blue fencing around acres of land where some kind of project is being built.

There’s a network on toll roads and ring roads around cities, all three or four lanes in each direction and filled with cars and motor scooters.

Even in the ancient villages with their signature gates, modern structures are interspersed with the aging stone homes crumbling from the miserable humidity that permeates the area.

China looks almost nothing like what we saw in 1989. It has built the infrastructure to make the next step in its inexorable march toward becoming the world’s biggest economy.

There’s a lot of anti-Chinese sentiment in the U.S. – manifested in the trade spat between the Trump administration and the Beijing government.

The belief is that the Chinese could only challenge the U.S. economically by cheating somehow – that the Chinese are stealing our technology or dumping their products in world markets.

After being there for three days, that notion is too simple.

Because whenever you look up at the mountains that ring Guangdong Province, you see windmills whirring away, powering this region. You see the tall buildings that have been completed with their top floors covered in solar panels.

You see industrial centers next to rice paddies as you whirl down a country highway. You see a population so unafraid of technology that elderly people pull out their iPads to live chat with their kids in America.

For decades, China separated itself from the world. Now it wants to be its leader. The pace of change is fast and it seems as though the country’s billion or so people – with some notable exceptions – are on board.

I didn’t try to watch too much TV in China, since I don’t speak Mandarin or Cantonese. But you can glean what they’re talking about – and it sure seemed as though they talked a lot about the trade war with the United States.

It is existential. These people are building a country as fast as they can – and this trade war stuff is getting in their way. 

There’s a lesson for Americans, of course. 

When Trump was elected, there was talk that he would look for a win by working with Democrats on increased infrastructure spending. 

But, last month, when Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer went to the White House to talk about infrastructure, Trump ended the meeting in a temper tantrum about the multiple investigations into his administration.

That, in itself, is pathetic. But the problem is this country needs a massive rebuild. It needs roads and road repairs, new rail tunnels and fixed rail tracks, new mass transit systems and an overhaul of existing ones.

Not to mention a strengthened electrical grid, reconstructured water systems and updated housing.

We need to start building the future. Because China’s already doing it.

They are leaping forward. They’re bypassing old ways of doing things and embracing the new – they seem perfectly fine with renewable energy, perhaps understanding better than Americans that CLIMATE CHANGE IS REAL!

Much like the Hong Kong crisis, China will wait out the Trump trade troubles. They’ll try to hand Trump one of his patented face-saving solutions – the Chinese are big on that face-saving stuff .

Or they’ll wait to see if the Democrats, normally somewhat protectionist, come up with a candidate with a real strategy that doesn’t include idiotic tariffs.

In any event, from what I saw in three days on the bus, China isn’t slowing down if it can help it. There’s a golden goose out there, and the government wants the benefits ASAP.

 

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