How will we address modern China?

in Contributors/Scott Graber/Voices by

By Scott Graber

It is Sunday and it is warmer.

The early morning warmth is in stark contrast to the frigid weather we experienced in January and February. The sunlight streaking my lawn seems to be a harbinger of a warmer, happier, vaccine-attenuated future.

Today we learn that Hong Kong is relatively quiet, its streets no longer choked with Chinese — young people who resent Beijing and who long for their British Colonial past. These beaten-back kids accepting, grudgingly accepting to be sure, the Beijing model that says, “We’re going to let you make money… but you can’t criticize the Party or the government.”

The Chinese have made a remarkable economic turnaround in my lifetime. In 1945, when I came into this world, China was a huge, impoverished, unstable empire sliding inexorably into civil war. When I was in college they got themselves into a internal, self-consuming “cultural revolution” that turned China’s teenagers against their parents.

The kids shamed, exiled and systematically destroyed their elders because they were not pure — or pure enough. We watched this self-flagellation from a distance wondering if these strange folk would ever learn to get along with each other.

China has a geography that begins with 160,000 square miles of real property known as the North China Plain. This fertile, well watered topography permits two harvests (mostly rice and soybeans) and is the home of one billion people. It is China’s center of gravity.

For a long time various governments — called dynasties — tried to protect the North China Plain from the fierce horsemen who wandered down from Mongolia. The most famous of these, Kublai Khan, ruled for almost 90 years. Later the British and other European powers divided China into spheres of economic influence. Then, in 1932, the Japanese invaded, engaging in rape and butchery that beggars the modern imagination. Please read “Rape of Nanking” if you need more details.

China now has a population of 1.4 billion people and an authoritarian government determined to keep these 1.4 billion people employed and fed and reasonable healthy. In order to do this it must keep its economy expanding. And so it has engaged the world with an economic strategy that effectively says, “We will make televisions, cell phones and ear buds for cheap; sell them for cheap; but you’ve got to let us get our raw materials wherever we can — and for cheap.”

This formula plays itself out everywhere, but mostly visibly in Africa, where China has captured the markets for cobalt, coltan, manganese and oil. It has completely replaced the Colonial powers in terms of trade (in these raw materials) and it is currently rebuilding Africa’s roads, its colonial-era rail beds and its port facilities under its “One Belt, One Road” Program.

“One Belt, One Road” worries many in the United States because we see resources falling under Chinese control. But what really worries the United States is the fact that China wants to insure that these raw materials get back to China without any geographical hindrance. In this connection they are essentially annexing the South China Sea and the East China Sea. They are also building aircraft carriers and submarines in order to make these annexations creditable.

But does this de facto annexation have anything to do with Beaufort?

Some years ago the Port of Savannah made a decision to focus on Chinese made goods and the distribution of those goods throughout the United States. These days about 40 percent of Savannah’s port business deals with huge Chinese container ships and their cargo.

The other local interest, the United States Marine Corps, trains many of its young recruits on Parris Island. It is the presence of these young men and women on Okinawa, now going on 75 years, that has lent stability to the relationships between China, Japan, the Koreas and the Philippines.

(It is important to remember that the Japanese, worried about a reliable source of oil, rubber and raw materials, also took control the South China Sea in 1941 by seizing Singapore, Saigon and Manila.)

Recent polling reveals an overwhelming distrust of the Chinese people. Part of that distrust stems from the Wuhan Virus and the appropriation of American technology. But do we have a stake in keeping China’s economy growing and stable?

Mass unemployment will bring chaos to the 1.4 billion people crammed into urban areas. Unemployment will bring demonstrations. And where those demonstrations go may not be a good place for China, for its neighbors, or for the United States.

Scott Graber is a lawyer, novelist, veteran columnist and longtime resident of Port Royal. He can be reached at