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China to Friedman: The world is round

The editors of China’s state-sponsored Global Times evidently did not enjoy Tom Friedman’s latest column, which was written in the form of a memo from China’s Ministry of State Security to Hu Jintao about the Arab Spring, though they did find it "weirdly amusing": Frankly, it was a mediocre article for a two-time Pulitzer Prize ...

The editors of China’s state-sponsored Global Times evidently did not enjoy Tom Friedman’s latest column, which was written in the form of a memo from China’s Ministry of State Security to Hu Jintao about the Arab Spring, though they did find it "weirdly amusing":

Frankly, it was a mediocre article for a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner although Friedman does not shun from his inclination to be a teacher of Chinese leaders. In the column, he twice asked the question, "Do you see what I mean, sir?"

In fact, the US as a whole has the tendency to teach other countries what is best for them. Many Americans think they are qualified to do so.

However, globetrotting, best-selling authors cannot see the world from an ordinary person, say a farmer in a developing world country and cannot claim to think from their perspective.

In Friedman’s eyes, China is just another country like Egypt. What happened in Egypt is bound to happen in China, and it should embrace that change. He quoted the so-called Carlson’s Law that "bottom-up innovation tends to be chaotic but smart. Top-down innovation tends to be orderly but dumb." Friedman simply suggests that China should try the same thing. It sounds very easy, hardly like a process that would affect the lives of 1.3 billion people.

Perhaps we should not idealize Friedman. The fate of China is actually irrelevant to him. After all journalists always yearn for the dramatic, or better, the thrilling tale. If China took the wrong route and suffered unpredictable consequences, this would mean nothing and is not something they really care about.

While my sympathies are certainly more with Friedman’s worldview than that of the Global Times‘ editors, they’re right that he can hardly hope to see the world from the perspective of a developing world farmer. Taxi drivers and hotel clerks on the other hand…

The editors of China’s state-sponsored Global Times evidently did not enjoy Tom Friedman’s latest column, which was written in the form of a memo from China’s Ministry of State Security to Hu Jintao about the Arab Spring, though they did find it "weirdly amusing":

Frankly, it was a mediocre article for a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner although Friedman does not shun from his inclination to be a teacher of Chinese leaders. In the column, he twice asked the question, "Do you see what I mean, sir?"

In fact, the US as a whole has the tendency to teach other countries what is best for them. Many Americans think they are qualified to do so.

However, globetrotting, best-selling authors cannot see the world from an ordinary person, say a farmer in a developing world country and cannot claim to think from their perspective.

In Friedman’s eyes, China is just another country like Egypt. What happened in Egypt is bound to happen in China, and it should embrace that change. He quoted the so-called Carlson’s Law that "bottom-up innovation tends to be chaotic but smart. Top-down innovation tends to be orderly but dumb." Friedman simply suggests that China should try the same thing. It sounds very easy, hardly like a process that would affect the lives of 1.3 billion people.

Perhaps we should not idealize Friedman. The fate of China is actually irrelevant to him. After all journalists always yearn for the dramatic, or better, the thrilling tale. If China took the wrong route and suffered unpredictable consequences, this would mean nothing and is not something they really care about.

While my sympathies are certainly more with Friedman’s worldview than that of the Global Times‘ editors, they’re right that he can hardly hope to see the world from the perspective of a developing world farmer. Taxi drivers and hotel clerks on the other hand…

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy  Twitter: @joshuakeating

Tag: China

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