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China's bigger secret - and its relevance to Australia? (Email sent 20/7/10)
Re: 'China's big secret', Australian Financial Review, 16/7/10
I should like to suggest that China's 'big secret' is not the pervasive influence of the Communist Party, as Richard McGregor suggested in the book your article reviewed. Rather it is the way in which power is exerted.
Under 'Asian / Confucian' traditions, power is traditionally exerted by having control of access to information (most particularly by bureaucracies). Making decisions is the traditional Western criteria for having power, but this is the role of subordinates in 'Asia' (eg see Asian Power and Politics). This origin of this approach and its implications are further explored in the detailed comments on Time may not be on China's Side.
It is necessary also to recognise that 'marginalizing all opponents' who might have the ability and skill to run anything is not likely to be simply applied within 'Asian' nations such as Japan and China, but rather is a component of traditional Art of War strategies to defeat foreign opponents (eg by behind the scenes suggestions to opposing leaders about steps which superficially seem constructive to them, but which have the effect of hollowing out opponents' competences, particularly in handling information).
Australia's governance competencies have been 'hollowed out' very severely in recent years (arguably as a consequence of politicisation of public services by political leaders who believed that it was necessary to overcome 'bureaucratic resistance', but in doing so eliminated any serious reality checks on their often inadequate policies) - see Decay of Australian Public Administration. As a result, the competencies needed to provide realistic information to key decision makers has been severely weakened, and Australia is increasing at risk from the half baked policies of political populists (see On Populism).
No one will ever know whether Australia's leaders were subjected to outside encouragement to 'hollow out' the competencies needed for effective government, but in a regional environment in which the ability to access practical information and experience is now becoming the basis for economic and political power, it seems highly desirable to begin reversing the damage that naive politicians have done as soon as possible.