what just happened?

—-  国民党税多,共产党会多  (“The KMT has high taxes and the CPC has many meetings” was popular description of the difference between the Nationalists and the Communists during the War Against Japan. )

On the morning of September 27, 2018, I attended the ten (!) keynote addresses of the International Think Tank Forum in Commemoration of the 40th Anniversary of China’s Reform and Opening-up (and yes, as far as I can tell, Shenzhen has shifted its translation of “reform and opening” to “reform and opening-up”). The Counsellor’s Office of the State Council and the Shenzhen Municipal Committee of the CPC and the Shenzhen Municipal People’s Government hosted the event, which was organized by the Development Research Center of the Shenzhen Municipal People’s Government. So a big deal. And there I was in the midst of all those policy advisors wondering, what’s actually going on here? 

The keynote speakers all boasted high ranking and long titles: Long Guoqiang, Vice Minister of the Development Research Center of the State Council, Nicolas Chapuis, Head of the Delegation of the European Union to China, Zhou Li, Former Vice Minister of the International Department of the CPC Central Committee, Vice President of the chinese People’s Association for Peace and Disarmament, Nicholas Rosellini, UN Resident Coordinator/UNDP Resident Representative, Liu Yanhua, Counsellor of the State Council, Former Vice Minister of Science and Technology, Du Qiwen, China’s Special Envoy for the China-Pacific Islands Forum Dialogue, Member of the Policy Advisory Council of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Former Vice Director of the Foreign Affairs Office of the CPC Central Committee, Mahmoud Amin, Director of the Arab League Representative Office in China, Zhu Min, Former Alternate Governor of the People’s Bank of China and former Deputy Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, and Liu Yuanchun, Vice President of Renmin University of China. The tenth keynote was a video submitted by Jeremy Rifkin, President of the Foundation on Economic Trends.

On the face of it, the keynotes staged the production and purpose of knowledge under the Belt and Road initiative. In this sense, the presence of Europe, the Arab world, and ASEAN nations seemed important, as did the absence of US Americans. The absence of women on stage in contrast to the number of young women assisting these older men was notable for reminding us just how disturbingly gendered globalization continues to be.  During the tea break, when I asked why no Americans, my friends took it as an expression of having been insulted, and so they reassured me that people still wanted to work with Americans, otherwise why would they send their children there? When I asked why no women, my friends took it as criticism and agreed: China needs to give more women opportunities. So I still don’t know why no Americans in the keynote panels. (That said, Jeremy Rifkin is American, but he advises the European Union.)

Now, the reason I was confused about seemingly cross-purposes of this gathering was because the Chinese and foreign attendees behaved very differently during the speeches. Many Chinese, including representatives from each of Shenzhen’s districts sat in their assigned seats and played on their telephones. It seemed that on the Chinese side, it was important to attend the meeting, while the content could be ignored. In contrast, many of the foreign visitors wore headsets and seemed to be taking notes while listening to translated versions of the Chinese speeches. Another friend explained that maybe the different approaches to the meeting could simply be a question of attitude? What if the Chinese assumed the meeting had nothing to do with them, while the foreigners thought it did?


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