We give the Chinese a fairly hard time on MT. We disapprove of the regime’s enthusiasm for bringing in billionaires and detaining them for questioning for days on end. Neither are we overly enthusiastic about midnight raids on Hong Kong booksellers who dare to publish satirical material about the great leader.
But watching this interesting documentary on BBC2 last night and recalling my A-level History on the Chinese revolution I was reminded of what China has achieved. When I was a child if you bought or received a plastic toy with Made in Hong Kong on it that meant it was cheap tat. That is no longer the case there - or for the rest of China. Now they make iPhones, all manner of luxury goods and a good few knock-off Range Rovers.
The word miracle is sadly over-used these days and thus debased. But if you think where China was in the dark days of the Cultural Revolution and where they are now it is little short of miraculous. The average living standards of the Chinese have advanced at extraordinary speed and they are well on the way to overtaking the Americans to be the largest economy in the world.
Some will say that this is an argument along the lines of "say what you like about Mussolini but at least he made the trains run on time." But few Chinese see their regime as a fascist state like 1930s Italy. (Although we don’t know what they really think because they aren’t allowed to tell us. And who knows what the billions of peasants who still toil in the paddy fields believe?)
It made me think about the Middle East. The trains don’t run on time there because they’ve all been blown up. When did anything miraculous for the people happen in Syria and Iraq? The plain truth is that far too many Middle Eastern states are economically retarded and, if it weren’t for the presence of oil - a curse as well as a blessing - things would be even more rudimentary.
It’s not enough - as the Corbynistas will - to attack this racist Orientalist attitude and lay the blame for the region’s backwardness entirely on the legacy of the colonial powers - which, of course, includes us. Neither is it a valid argument to suggest that they’d be living in a land of milk and honey if it weren’t for Blair, Bush and the Iraq war. Life under Assad and Saddam Hussein was nasty, brutish and short for the majority. And even worse for the minority. The point is that Middle Eastern states do not cohere and have the sense of joint purpose that the Chinese people do. China has been coherent for millennia. Its leaders have a very clear long term view of its proper destiny.
Now this fierce, expansionist nationalism is often highly unattractive as we are currently observing as they sabre-rattle in the South China Sea. However, the point is that while the Chinese have some way to go before its citizens enjoy the democratic freedoms we do here I know I’d rather be an average Joe in Beijing or Shanghai than Raqqa, Aleppo or Baghdad. The first duty of any state is to provide its citizens with safety and security and few in the Middle East or North Africa succeed in doing this. Of course, further north Vladimir Putin is succeeding in imperilling not only the safety and security of his citizens but also their prosperity - but that's another story.