Capital Ethiopia Newspaper

The inevitability of learning Mandarin

A fresh University graduate requested her father to finance her new French language classes. Her father, a well established businessman, in what looks like indifferent mood suggested to his daughter whom he secretly groomed her to be the “CEO-in-waiting” for his diversified business empire, to study Mandarin (Chinese) language instead of French.
Chinese!? How? Where and what for? A perplexed young girl kindly demand her father more explanation. The response of her father was simple and short. “China is the future!”
This happened fifteen years ago. Currently, she is the Chief Operation Officer of her family business holdings. Though very late, she realized how visionary her father was and how correct his proposition has fifty years ago. She took many Chinese classes. She frequently travels to China for business. A mini Mandarin-English Dictionary is a must to be with item in her lady bag.
Concerning the fate of neoliberal globalization, the indomitable Iron Lady, the former Prime Minister of Britain, Margaret Thatcher once said, for the record of many, that it is the global system and order without any viable alternative. As the world known staunch neoliberal, it is not totally surprising that Margaret Thatcher considered the neoliberal globalization as a system of no equivalent match.
Since the proposition of Margaret Thatcher, the process of globalization passed on a number of profound changes and challenges. Currently, the debate is not whether we will have a viable alternative for the neoliberal globalization; rather it is where the leaders will take the world in the future. Compared with 50 years ago, the world is faced with a whole new level of international volatility, spurred by a convergence of cataclysmic events. The question is what then is the prospects for the next 50 years and, as explained above, where are the leaders who have a vision of where to take the world over the coming decades?
Ethiopia, the newly designated “African Tiger” economy early chose its line of direction where its leader will take her in the years to come. As a world known progressive leader and an avid admirer of the Chinese leadership, Prime Minister Meles adopted the “State-Capitalism” notion of economic development. He conveniently termed the State-Monopoly capitalism as “Developmental State”. For him, neo-liberalism is a dead-end development ideology responsible for the very many economic woes of developing countries in general and Africa in particular.
As the noted social historian, Beat Guldimann explained, it is easy to find out what was going on fifty years ago, in 1962:  Algeria, Rwanda, Burundi, Jamaica and Uganda all see their occupation by colonial powers end, making 1962 their year of independence. The Cuban Missile Crisis brings the USSR and the United States to the brink of nuclear confrontation. Kmart and Walmart open their first stores, while fast-food chain Taco Bell opens its first restaurant. During this period, the Cold War was in full swing. Nikita Khrushchev, John F. Kennedy, Konrad Adenauer, Mao Tse-tung, Harold Macmillan, Charles de Gaulle, the names of some memorable world leaders at the time, not everybody liked what they stood for, but they were all recognized as leaders, with a vision and a plan.
Since then, the world has gone through lots of change. Some of it was progress. The Americans landed a man on the moon, Ronald Reagan told Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall,” (the German Wall) and the Cold War ended. Germany rose from the ashes of the Third Reich to become a world economic power within a peaceful European Union, and China reinvented itself to become a global powerhouse.
The world has also created a host of new problems, including a number of recessions, the global financial crisis of 2008, and the sovereign debt crisis of last year that left politicians and central bankers alike paralyzed as they ran out of quick fixes and other quasi-palatable options.
Over the past couple of years, many people have come to the sobering realization that the collective “us” simply can’t continue to muddle through, kick the can down the road and pretend everything will somehow eventually sort itself out. The developed world is going down the wrong path, on an increasing slope, and nobody seems to have a good idea of how to stop the slide.
To make things worse, the populace has risen to challenge current leaders, be it politicians or Wall Street CEOs. With an unprecedented degree of coordination, people around the globe, in all major financial hubs, are telling their leaders and the insensitive CEO class that enough is enough. Americans for example, are unimpressed with their leadership, from the White House to Capitol Hill. And in the Arab world, dictators have been thrown out of Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, with resistance movements forming in almost all the other nations in the region. “People power” there easily translates into an explosive power vacuum.
Fifty years after 1962 people seem to be faced with a whole new level of international volatility, spurred on by a convergence of cataclysmic events. Sovereign nations have become unable to meet their financial obligations. Greece has defaulted, while Ireland and Portugal try to make ends meet with bailout money received from the EU and the IMF.
The questions at this point are where are the leaders today that have a vision of where to take the world over the next fifty years? Will our current leaders look at what directional decisions they need to make to ensure that the progress made over the past fifty years will last long enough for the next two generations to benefit from it? Or will they simply preside over the slow but steady destruction of most of the value that has been created by the past two generations?
These are critical and difficult times in the global village. For one, the issues are of a magnitude that makes them difficult to deal with. But difficulty aside, we are also living in the time of the Internet, when everything we do or say will be immediately broadcast across the ether to the laptops, iPads and smart phones of a global citizenry.
The time is also the time of the Social Medias. The frustrated and disenfranchised have found a voice over Facebook, Twitter and all the other social media outlets. Politicians have the power to mobilize support through these viral channels, as evidenced by Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008. But social media also allows the citizenry to organize in mass against those in power, as evidenced by the Arab Spring and the US and Europe “Occupy” movements.
Political brocades may help the psyche, but they do little to fix a broken economic system. No wonder the Greeks, for instance, are taking to the streets, refusing to go to work or pay taxes and negating for good the legitimacy of their elected government to think and act on their behalf. Anarchy, after all, is a Greek word and that may well be where the people are going to end up.
The current economic crisis will leave European leaders bogged down in survival mode for the foreseeable future, even as America’s political class engages in partisan gamesmanship to ensure its own survival. This kind of survival becomes a full-time job, leaving precious little time for building a vision for the year fifty years from now on.
So, one may ask, where are the leaders of today who will shape the future of our societies? We know we can’t look to Washington or Brussels, as the politicians there are busy protecting their survival rather than leading anybody or anything. Therefore, we probably look to the BRICS countries particularly to China.
This leaves China, and China will not disappoint. The leaders in Beijing are running in a system that is much less driven by electoral cycles than the West’s, and they are blessed with a culture that has taught them to think of the long term in terms of centuries.
In the 1970s, the then-Chinese Foreign Secretary Zhou Enlai was famously quoted as saying that it was “too early to tell” when asked about the impact of the French Revolution of two hundred years earlier. This quote may be apocryphal, but its point is no less valid. It is indeed logical to argue that if there are any leaders in the world today that have the culture and structural ability to make decisions for the long term, it is the Chinese.
They have already proven their ability to take an approach to politics and economics that considers long-term consequences over short-term gains. Their resistance to sell out of the declining U.S. dollar is but one example. This is not to say that China will not see its fair share of issues in the coming fifty years. China will have to deal with uprisings of oppressed peoples within its empire and with socioeconomic imbalances created by its rapid economic development and urbanization. Issues stemming from the rapid growth of its internal consumer market will drastically change the fundamentals of its economy.
However, from the facts both in ancient and contemporary history, it can be deduced that  there is a good chance that the centuries-old tradition of long-term thinking that is engrained in Chinese culture and politics will allow the country to master all these challenges better than most other emerging markets. As Beat Guldimann sarcastically puts it, possibly, in fifty year from now on, “the New York Yankees will win the World Series yet again, just as they had done a hundred years before. And possibly, Americans will still be watching reruns of the Beverly Hillbillies. However, the Yankees may be owned by a Sino-American conglomerate and the commercial breaks on TV will show cars built predominantly in China”.
Therefore, in this globalized world and the undisputed emergence of China as the major world power both politically and economically, it will be inevitable and of tantamount importance to encourage our children to take Mandarin (Chinese language) lessons. A second language has always been an asset when job hunting. To be ready for the year fifty years from now on, add a second alphabet.