The Rich Get Families

Much has been written about China’s one-child policy that punishes married couples who commit the crime of multiple procreation. Forced abortions and jail time face most of China’s poor population who conceive a second or subsequent child. However, the nouveau riche have discovered that even in China’s supposedly classless society, money can buy them love, or at least its byproduct:

China’s new rich are sparking a population crisis by disregarding the nation’s one-child rule.
Under the controversial policy introduced in 1979, families face fines if they have two or more children. But rising incomes, especially in the affluent eastern and coastal regions, mean that more people can afford to pay to have as many offspring as they like.
According to a recent survey by China’s National Population and Family Planning Commission, the number of wealthy people and celebrities deciding to have more than one child has increased rapidly, despite fines that can be as high as 200,000 yuan (£13,000) for each extra child.
Almost 10 per cent of high earners are now choosing to have three children because large families are associated with wealth, status and happiness in China.

It’s a rather interesting change. In agrarian societies, children act as assets for the family business of farming, and the economics provide incentives for large families. In China, where the land workers do not own their farms, the need for children for economic purposes abates, with only the considerations of old age remaining for the couple, at least in economic terms.
Now the rich, who have no particular economic need for offspring, have turned babies into status symbols. As the Chinese government keeps flirting with market economics, they will find that their market distortions will create bizarre reactions like Pet Rock children. In this case, they have basically attached a price tag on multiple children, and some now can afford to pay it. Now a large family becomes a Rolls Royce in Chinese society, and the have-nots that find themselves unable to compete face sterilization and forced abortions instead of smiling children at home.
Authorities have now started to add costs to the status symbols. Along with the taxation that the rich can now afford, Chinese officials will start a shaming campaign. They will face sanctions at work if employed in civil service, and others will have their names publicized and declared ineligible for awards and honors. Those prices may not mean much for a society that clearly sees the ability to keep children as a status symbol and as a hypocritical dividing line between the classes in the Communist classless structure.
In the end, the Chinese have approached this problem from the wrong angle. The problem isn’t so much population as it is production. The artificial rationing of children is a response to an inability to produce in the Communist system. Up until they began to liberalize the economy, they could not produce enough to feed an expanding workforce. Had they given the people the opportunity to own their own land and control their own production, they would have never had a problem in feeding the offspring of their populace, and the Chinese would eventually have limited their own growth, just as the Western nations did during and after industrialization.
Instead, they implemented a top-down solution that has eventually exacerbated the difference between the rich and the poor, in the most personal manner possible. If the Chinese think they can solve that problem with even more top-down policymaking, they will find themselves very frustrated indeed.

Turkish Secularism Lives

Turkey has reached a crisis over radical Islam, as their recent elections have created a precarious position for the tradtionally secular democracy. Abdullah Gul, the candidate for the leading party, will become Turkey’s next president despite his history of supporting Islamists. The army has announced its intention to defend secularism, a most decidedly blunt warning to the Parliament not to elect Gul. The situation looks ripe for a civil war or a coup d’etat.
Today, though, Turks have rallied in force to express their own support for secularism:

Hundreds of thousands of people are rallying in Istanbul in support of secularism in Turkey, amid a row over a vote for the country’s next president.
The protesters are concerned that the ruling party’s candidate for the post remains loyal to his Islamic roots.
The candidate, Abdullah Gul, earlier said he would not quit despite growing criticism from opponents and the army.
Mr Gul failed to win election in a first round vote in parliament as opposition MPs boycotted the vote.

Gul would replace another Islamist, Tayyip Erdogan, who won the presidency on a promise to remain secular in his approach to leadership. Gul, on the other hand, appears more tied to Islamist thinking. His wife would be the first to wear a hijab. Gul’s party would also control parliament, the presidency, and the governments, and Gul could act as a Trojan horse to impose a more Islamist rule over Turkey.
That has many Turks worried and upset, and today they have gathered by the hundreds of thousands to express their concern. They do not want a coup, although the army appears poised to conduct one. Turks want a free, open, and secular democracy, where mosque and state stay separated. Islamists believe in shari’a and the Qur’an teachings that make Islam the basic form of temporal government. It is a conflict that many Arab nations either have or will approach in the near future, but the Turks had thought this conflict settled long ago.
The army conducted its last coup in 1997, to remove Islamist president Necmettin Erkaban from power. Its statement shook up the Turks, who see it as a message to the Turkish constitutional court to dissolve parliament and declare the elections invalid. The army sees itself as the defender of the legacy of Mustafa Kemal, the man who established the modern state of Turkey after World War I as a relentlessly secular democracy, and they will not allow Gul to move them backwards towards Islamist theocracy. The court has until Wednesday to stop the second round of voting, and the army’s readiness to overrule them will certainly be part of their considerations.

Indonesia On The Brink?

Der Spiegel reports that Indonesia’s ostensibly secular government faces increasing pressure from the Islamists in their midst. The Muslim nation may start down the road towards a Taliban-Lite government as radical Islamists gain more seats in their assembly and demand a greater imposition of shari’a law:

With 221 million inhabitants, of which 194 million are Muslims, the island nation is not only Southeast Asia’s most populous country, but is also home to the world’s largest Muslim population. And that population looks to be growing increasingly devout. Significantly more women wear the headscarf today than a decade ago, and the number of Indonesians making the pilgrimage to Mecca grows year after year. Alcoholic beverages are disappearing from the shelves of supermarkets, and in some places those who violate the Islamic ban on alcohol already face public whipping — a brutal spectacle that is even broadcast on local television stations.
Since two bombs killed 202 people, most of them Western tourists, at the Kuta beach resort on the island of Bali in the fall of 2002, Islamist terrorists have repeatedly attacked Western targets at the same time of the year, prompting Indonesians to refer to autumn as “bomb season.” Al-Qaida, which is clearly allied with local extremists, has identified the country as a battlefield of the future.
While the country’s secular president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, may be tough on terrorists, there is little he can do to stop the Islamists from gaining political ground. The winner of the struggle between proponents of a secular state and radical imams calling for a theocracy stands to capture a valuable prize — one of the world’s most strategically important countries. All major shipping routes connecting Europe and East Asia pass through the waters off this island nation. It is precisely here, in this archipelago between the Straits of Malacca and the Celebes Sea, that a new front in the battle of cultures is emerging.

The reference to shipping lanes seems rather significant. Not long ago, the History Channel produced a show on modern pirates — men who do a lot more than just shout “Aaaargh!” The new pirates have attacked shipping all over the world, but have especially concentrated their efforts in the waters of Indonesia. They have even, at least once, hijacked a ship just to learn its operation, maneuver it for a while, and then escape from it without docking it. On that occasion, they also stole all of the technical manuals but left the cargo with the terrorized crew, which survived the incident.
It looked like a dry run for an attack similar to 9/11, but using shipping rather than commercial airliners. With 95% of the world’s oil transported by sea — and even worse, a large percentage of its highly explosive liquid natural gas transported by tankers — the shipping lanes of Indonesia seem very susceptible to that tactic by a group with al-Qaeda’s organization.
That is one reason why the radicalization of Indonesia has such dire consequences for the entire world. If AQ and its religious allies can create a Taliban-like state there, the security implications could be catastrophic. Certainly, Australia would face the most direct threat, but with control of the shipping lanes falling into the hands of a terrorist-supporting government, that threat will go global in an instant. It would require a much larger naval presence by the Western powers in that region and probably some sort of convoy arrangement that doesn’t exist at the moment for the marine trade.
The shipping trade might find other routes through the Indian Ocean and bypass Indonesia. If that were possible, it could reduce the threat — but it will hasten the collapse of Indonesia. With the radical Islamists targeting Western assets every fall (referred to by the locals as “bomb season”), foreign investment has dropped by over a third last year alone. Instead, capital has shifted to Singapore, Malaysia, and Vietnam, causing a collapse of the Indonesian economy. The poor have been easy recruitment targets for the radicals, especially living on $2 per day, and a further shift of foreign investment will hasten that process.
The West will face a crisis soon in the world’s largest Muslim nation. We had better pay attention to what happens in Indonesia, because al-Qaeda has already highlighted it as a future battleground for its war on the West. We cannot afford to let it slip away.

New Kuwaiti Minister Shuns The Hijab

Nouriya al-Sabeeh became the second female minister in Kuwait history, after Maasuma al-Mubarak’s appointment followed the May 2005 grant of full political rights to women. Today al-Sabeeh became the first to forgo a head cover, causing consternation among the men of Kuwait’s parliament:

Kuwait’s new Education Minister Nouriya Al-Sabeeh took the oath in Parliament yesterday amid protests by some lawmakers that she was not wearing a head cover or hijab.
As Sabeeh began reading the oath, MP Daifallah Buramia, supported by a few others, shouted out that she should not be sworn in unless she complied with Islamic regulations.
“She should not be allowed to take the oath without complying with Sharia regulations,” Buramia shouted as Speaker Jassem Al-Khorafi refused to allow him access to the microphone. …
Sabeeh appeared unbothered as she completed taking the oath to applause from some 50 women supporters in the public gallery, most of whom were not wearing the hijab either.
However, most of the Islamist and tribal MPs, who control the 50-seat house, did not join the protest. Nasser Al-Sanae, an Islamist MP, played down the importance of the incident. “This issue is no problem for the government. These are individual opinions. It is her own decision,” he said after the assembly was dissolved.

During and after our liberation of Kuwait, Americans pointed out that Kuwait hardly qualified as a democracy. Its women had no suffrage, and the conservative Islam practiced by the emirate contrasted with our professed intentions of freeing the Kuwaitis, except in the narrow context of freeing them from Saddam Hussein. The Bush (41) administration countered that by claiming engagement would bring the best results of reform.
It took a while, but we have begun to see the fruits of that policy. Kuwait has not only allowed women to vote, but has seen two women take ministerial roles in the government. With Sabeeh’s example, women now have the ability to determine whether to wear the traditional garments of Arabic Islam or to adopt more moderate dress instead. And even though the uncovered head of Sabeeh generated yells in Parliament, it also generated even more calls for individual choice and freedom.
Liberty sometimes needs time to find root in a nation. The Kuwaitis have taken a while to reach this point along their development, but the momentum is on the side of freedom, and in a peaceful transition. It couldn’t have happened under the thumb of Saddam, and it couldn’t have happened without Western engagement and the gentle pressure of three American administrations.

China Toddling Towards Private Property Rights

China has passed its first law explicitly protecting the right to private property, a major departure from six decades of varying degrees of Communist rule. The move comes as a two-steps-forward, one-step-back dance, as its passage came along with onerous press restrictions on the law itself:

After more than a quarter-century of market-oriented economic policies and record-setting growth, China on Friday enacted its first law to protect private property explicitly.
The measure, which was delayed a year ago amid vocal opposition from resurgent socialist intellectuals and old-line, left-leaning members of the ruling Communist Party, is viewed by its supporters as building a new and more secure legal foundation for private entrepreneurs and the country’s urban middle-class home and car owners.
But delays in pushing it through the Communist Party’s generally pliant legislative arm, the National People’s Congress, and a ban on news media discussion of the proposal, raise questions about the underlying intentions and the governing style of President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, experts say. …
The measure could not pass the legislature, which acts under the party’s authority, without the active support of the top leadership. Yet the conspicuous silence of Mr. Hu and Mr. Wen appears to be a form of tribute to the influence of current and former officials and leading scholars who argue that China’s economic policies have fueled corruption and enriched the elite at the expense of the poor and the environment.

From their reticence to discuss it, we can draw two conclusions. One, capitalism works, and two, that truth doesn’t quite sell yet in China. That could create some problems for Hu and Wen when it comes time to use the law in any practical manner.
That can already be seen. Beijing tried to sneak this law under the radar by keeping it out of the Chinese media. Two years ago when the idea of private property rights first came into question, the government widely circulated the proposal to get the maximum amount of feedback. Not this time; academics say that their universities pressured them to stay silent, and barely a peep was heard about it in the Chinese media. When the financial magazine Caijing made it their front-page story, Beijing forced them to recall the issue and reprint it without the article.
The law puts China on the right road, but they will need some time to assimilate what private property rights really mean. It has implications for free speech, too, a point Hu and Wen apparently missed. Caijing’s printed issues are also private property, and Caijing should have had the right to sell them in the open market. The mind and soul of a person are also private property, with innate rights, which is why free speech is critical to liberty — and private property rights.
Let’s not be too critical, though. Even if the Chinese government bullied this law into being, its passage has the potential to free millions of people from the yoke of failed statist policy and oppression. It will undoubtedly assist in creating more room for free speech and liberty. Hopefully, it will take China one step closer to the dreams of the Tiananmen Square demonstrators, who foresaw a free China.

Chinese Military Spending Jumps 18%

The Chinese plan their largest jump in military spening in five years, Beijing announced yesterday. They will increase spending by 18% in order to hasten the modernization of weapons and defense systems, and also set themselves up as potential arms suppliers. However, the large increase still leaves their defense budget far behind that of the US:

China announced its biggest increase in defense spending in five years on Sunday, a development that quickly prompted the United States to renew its calls for more transparency from the Chinese military about the scope and intent of its continuing, rapid arms buildup.
Jiang Enzhu, a spokesman for the National People’s Congress, the Communist Party-controlled national legislature, said China’s military budget would rise this year by 17.8 percent to roughly 350 billion yuan, or just under $45 billion.
“We must increase our military budget, as it is important to national security,” Mr. Jiang said at a news conference. “China’s military must modernize. Our overall defenses are weak.”
But China’s military modernization efforts, particularly its drive to develop advanced weaponry, have been raising concern from Washington to Tokyo to New Delhi, where officials are worried that the buildup could be as much offensive as defensive. In January, China set off fears of an arms race in space when it successfully tested an antisatellite missile that destroyed one its own aging weather satellites. A month earlier, the People’s Liberation Army began deploying the country’s first state-of-the-art jet fighter, the J-10.
These advances reflect China’s intense focus on scientific and technological development, and are the fruits of more than a decade of increased military spending. China’s defense outlays increased an average of about 15 percent a year from 1990 to 2005, according to the Chinese military. This year’s jump is the largest one reported since military spending rose by 19.4 percent in 2002.

One of the reasons that American analysts have grown so concerned with these increases is that they believe the actual spending level of the Chinese is much higher than announced. Experts figure the actual outlay on defense amounts to as much as four times the announced level of $45 billion. China plays the numbers down, in part for domestic consumption, and in part from a policy of playing cards close to the vest.
Even at that level, they will still trail far behind the US. We have an annual budget for the military that exceeds $430 billion per year, and as the New York Times points out, that doesn’t include spending on the war in either the Afghanistan or Iraq theaters. Even with worst-case scenarios on spending, the Chinese will spend half of what we do to defend — or oppress — a country many times our size and with four times the number of people.
It could even be a good sign for the West, although one would really have to be the sunniest of optimists to focus on it. Their success in implementing capitalism has boosted their economy enough to make this extra spending possible, and one could hope that further expansion of capitalism will eventually bring China around to the US as primarily a trading partner rather than a military opponent. Also, we have seen capitalism give ordinary people a stake in peace rather than war, and the Chinese populace might reject aggressive measures towards the US as business improves and expands throughout the nation.
The level of spending has not reached a critical point as a threat to us — yet. Most of their focus will probably still be inward, especially since a number of their ethnic enclaves in their own west have begun to develop more significant unrest. They have a problem with radical Muslims there, close to where Afghanistan and Pakistan have their own. As NATO continues to pressure groups like al-Qaeda and the Taliban in those countries, they will find it more and more tactically useful to infiltrate China, where the Coalition would not dare attack — and China will have to deal with the ever-increasing terrorist threat to their own stability in that region.
At this point, the situation bears watching, but their spending levels still indicate that they cannot hope to match us, even close to home. If anything, it might prompt some of our allies to start spending a little more on their own defense.