"The End of Cheap China" by Shaun Rein (2012)
"The real answer of [sic] how China's rise will affect the world will be far more nuanced than either camps [sic] will admit, and will probably fall somewhere between the dovish and hawkish arguments. The philosophies of these two camps are largely shaped and perpetuated by people with very little on-the-ground knowledge of what China was and what it is becoming. Only rational thinking, based on objective and legitimate data about China will ensure that corporations and countries properly understand how China's disruptive rise will affect them."
Shaun Rein is the Managing Director of the China Market Research Group. He also writes a regular column for CNBC on business in China. It's worth noting that he's at least part Chinese by ethnicity, that he calls himself a foreigner while clearly being able to pass for Chinese in China, and that his wife is related to some of the higher-ups in the CCP hierarchy.
The title of the book refers to the fact that wages in China are rising, and that as a result the cost of doing business there will also rise. Companies wanting to remain competitive in that market will have to pursue a strategy of combining exports with domestic ventures. The burgeoning Chinese middle class needs goods and services produced in-country, and businesses addressing this need face a bright future.
And before I get too critical, I want to say that I agree with the quote above, even if I question the author's motivations for saying so. I think that competing ideologies have infected a lot of the U.S.-China debate, and we're at the point where positions are hardening beyond anything warranted by the evidence on either side. In 2019, one wonders whether or not we might be entering a second Cold War, this time between the U.S. and China. It will take open minds to avert such a freezing of relations, and this book goes some distance toward a softening of positions.
This said, my main problem with this book is its claim to objectivity. This claim to objectivity is undermined by two things, namely: 1) the author is clearly compromised by his desire to drum up business for his consulting firm, and 2) his family relations would seem to imply a certain "holding back" when it comes to the true workings and responsibilities of the communist government in China.
And for another thing, it's ridiculous to say that the government of China has never overstepped its bounds. This is not to pick on China, but simply to state a fact equally true of any government. Every government oversteps its bounds. Recent news of Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and historical incidents only support the fact that yes, the government of China has overreached itself on several occasions, and yes, the government of China really does oppress people. Whether it does so more than the American government, or whether it oppresses its own people in their own collective interest is not an argument I want to get into here.
Secondly, it's a little to easy to glamorize the central government of China and blame everything else on "corruption," as if one thing wasn't causing - or at least allowing - the other. Either the government is central to the operation of all its branches or it isn't. If officials at the local level are corrupt then ALL of the government is, to some extent, corrupt. I'll agree that all governments share corruption to some extent, but glamorizing the central government while demonizing the local governments is - fortunately - not the kind of doublethink I have (or want) to engage in. The author's discussion of corruption is often like saying "Oh, that man's feet are gangrenous, but the rest of him is fine."
All of the above said, this is a thought-provoking book and I would recommend it. I'm not sure that I agree with the author's ultimate conclusion, that engagement with China above all else will make the world a better place, but I definitely think that the nations of the world need to engage with China to some extent, and that this engagement should be informed by accurate information on either side. There's really too much rhetoric floating around now, and it's clouding debate on both sides of the Pacific.
So is Shaun Rein a shill for China? No, I don't think so. Self-interested, definitely, but some of his criticisms of Chinese society are too pointed for him to be a simple shill. He does venture into the usual "hurt feelings" notions of the communist leaders, but thankfully he doesn't remain there for long.
Oh and by the way, I completely understand the worries over food in China now. If I ever go there - which I'm planning to do at some point - I'll remember the author's anecdotes relating to "Starway" and "swill oil." In a word: Yikes.
"Elite China" by Pierre Xiao Lu (2008)
"China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know" by Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom (2010)
"On China" by Henry Kissinger (2011)
"American Sniper" by Chris Kyle (2012)