Friday, February 20, 2009

Exhibit A

Further to the idea raised in the prior post about bringing together texts that try and melt the language barrier using the force of the original as the blowtorch, here is an example from reader Parvati who posted her English rendition of a report by Beijing-based reporter Federico Rampini in La Reppublica, quoting senior Chinese financial officials giving their point of view on the problematic relationship with America. My point is highlighting it here is that obviously these people are talking to Rampini in their own language, and bluntly, and since both Rampini and Parvati know what they are doing, the original thinking by the Chinese officials comes across in a very direct way. Here are the last four paragraphs of the article (I italicized the climactic piece):
The palpable tension on the upper floors of China's leadership structure is proportionate to the wealth that Beijing has entrusted to its great overseas debtor. Fang Shangpu, the head of China's foreign exchange bureau, makes this very clear: "America must protect the interests of foreign investors. Its currency is China's number one foreign investment". With 2,000 billion dollars in official foreign currency reserves, Beijing's central bank is the richest on the planet. But that war-chest is subject to de facto sterilization. Its destination is obligatory: US Treasury Bonds, yet again, as always. In 2008 China bought a further 700 billion of them. Every US treasuries auction would fail if the Chinese central bankers did not turn up to play the role of kind-hearted creditor. And this situation continues despite the exchange-rate losses they have already suffered : since China's renminbi abandoned its fixed parity to the dollar (in July 2005) it has risen by 21%, thereby decreasing the value of China's dollar investments to an equal extent.

Meanwhile, the social costs of the US locomotive's crash are extremely severe. In the third quarter of 2008, as a result of the fall in exports, China's growth rate was brutally halved: 6.8% in GDP growth as compared to 13% in 2007. Following the mass layoffs in the textile, toys and electronics industries, the unemployed workers forced back into the rural economy now officially number around 27 million. Over a million and a half young college graduates too are unemployed: an even more politically explosive army of discontents. Now that Beijing needs to mobilize all available resource to relaunch its domestic growth, it is frustrating to remember those 2,000 billion dollars "frozen" to finance America.

The straw that has broken the camel's back is the revival of protectionism in Washington. First Treasury secretary Tim Geithner accused Beijing of "manipulating" its currency. Then came the Buy American clause in the 787 billion dollar public expenditure package launched by Congress, with Chinese steel as its number-one target. Xi Jinping, China's vice president and designated heir to the supreme leadership position, is furious. He too briefly abandons the language of diplomacy: "Even in this crisis", says Xi, "certain westerners seem to have nothing better to do than pick on us. I would like to remind them of some of our merits. Firstly, China does not export revolutions or hostile ideologies. Secondly, we do not export poverty or hunger. Thirdly, we do not export armed conflicts".

The seething resentment in these words does not yet mark the end of Chimerica. With Mrs Clinton the regime's leaders will rehearse the continuation of a constructive dialogue, convinced as they are that aggravating the global recession would benefit no-one. But in the light of mainstreet America's increasing hostility towards them, the leadership of the People's Republic is studying a "Plan B". Its most audacious moves include using the country's massive currency reserves for new purposes: to finance buy-ups of deposits of raw materials in other countries, ranging from Australia to Africa to Latin America. A reconversion that would have heavy consequences: a blow to the stability of the dollar, a worrying shortfall in treasury funding for Washington. However, the decision to step over this fatal threshhold has not yet been reached: "We hate you but we can't do without you" is still the key sentiment in the present phase. But even Confucian patience has its limits.
These comments of Xi Jinping and others are the kind of thing you won't see in the Washington Post.

What I would like to see is a site that would focus on this idea of vivid rendition of points of view and moods that you won't otherwise see--whether because the original language is obscure (for instance, anything in Pashto giving the locals' views on things), or because it is politically unpalatable (a lot of interesting stuff by the Iraqi armed resistance in recent years that I struggled with didn't get linked anywhere that is widely-read); or for other reasons (current-affairs stuff in Hebrew for instance). Or as you will see if you compare with above Rampini piece with a typical WaPo piece on the same general topic, just because.

This might turn out to be simple or complicated, but for starters I just want to try and get across what the basic idea is. (For instance, although many times the topic will have to do with geopolitical ideas and so on, the idea wouldn't be to put together a theory of any kind, but merely to offer snapshots of others' views, and in so doing to raise up a little bit the reputation of liberal and language-based culture as something more than just a branch of national-security studies...)

Parvati suggests linking to material that may already be posted on blogs of people with expertise in those languages. So if I'm not posting here for a while, it's because I'm busy looking...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

i noticed this link yesterday in your comment section and was actually on my way over here to post the last paragraph over @ moon. so glad you front paged it. and thanks to pavati for the translation.


8:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looks like even your often maligned Informed Comment blog - admittedly, the Global Affairs section - is following suit!

Best, Peter

2:48 PM  
Blogger badger said...

It is providential

And an excellent piece of work it is too, that post you refer to by Manan Ahmed. I was imagining and searching the web for just that kind of thing, and as you point out, there it was, right there!

I have some comments in the next post...

4:59 AM  

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