This morning’s Times article on dangerously high levels of pollution in China presents an interesting contrast with much of the country’s other, hands-on policies. By virtue of being a Communist state, China owns – outright or in part – and regulates virtually every major national sector. China Mobile? State owned. Phone maker ZTE? Formed from the ribs of state organizations. PertroChina? You betcha. What these degrees of ownership and oversight mean is that, obviously, Beijing plays favorites with homegrown enterprises, and will squeeze or sanction any foreign firms that don’t play by its rules. The Party knows that it has a large consumer base, and it uses that fact as a fulcrum in ensuring that corporations like Disney don’t depict subversive content, Google filters its search results, and Apple provides upgraded customer service. In fact, the latest Apple charge seems strongly government-instigated, demonstrating that if you can’t join ’em (at least in a venture), you might as well beat ’em.
But the government’s rigid oversight of all industries – especially telecoms – falls short of the industrial sector – to the point where the People’s Republic of China seems positively libertarian. Manufacturing giant Foxconn only recently brought its working conditions into line – thanks to consumer demand, not government scrutiny. And pollution continues to be a remarkable problem, to the point where smog in Beijing has recently reached record-setting levels. This morning’s report in the Times only cements the fact that China’s regulation is remarkably – and unhealthfully – selective. This degree of regulatory selectivity extends, even, to corruption. Beijing allows – and actively prosecutes – lower level, local party members who fall afoul of the public. But any Baidu searches for the Tainanmen Square Protests – or even the phrase “June 4” – yields nothing.
It will be interesting to see if the recently-appointed Xi Jingping will take a more open tack than his predecessor. Or at least, maybe, clear the air a little.