Thursday, July 21, 2005

China's Rise

Interesting editorial, originally published on the IHT, posted on Howard French's site, that offers a clearer perspective than most about the realities of China's rise. These two paragraphs in particular leapt out:
China is actually still poor and weak. About two-thirds of the Chinese population is systematically excluded from the glittering, vibrant urban centers and have the low living standard typical of a developing nation. While China’s most developed regions, Shanghai and Beijing, were ranked by the United Nations in 2001 as equivalent to Greece and Singapore, the more populous provinces, like Gansu and Guizhou, were ranked with Haiti and Sudan.

China is essentially still a giant labor-intensive processing factory. Among the great variety of industrial goods China now produces and exports, few are invented or designed by Chinese. As a result, the Chinese end up earning low wages at great costs to their environment, while foreign patent holders, investors and retailers capture the lion’s share of the profit. No wonder foreign capitalists are among the most enthusiastic cheerleaders of China’s rise.
The author, Fei-ling Wang, a professor of international affairs, offers a variety of reasons why China's rise to superpower status is not preordained, and why such a rise may not proceed smoothly for China or for the rest of the world. He characterizes the current regime as "paranoid," pointing out that "many of China’s business leaders hold or seek foreign passports or residency. Capital flight from China has been surpassing foreign direct investment since the late 1990’s. Beijing’s top diplomatic objective has been to gain external acceptance that will prop up the regime, not to expand Chinese national interests or exercise power abroad."
This profound divorce of the regime’s political interest from the nation’s interest, of course, could easily change: Beijing could quickly become a typical rising challenger or even an imperialist power if it feels secure and powerful enough; the regime could also be aggressive and belligerent if it feels desperately weak and in danger of collapse...

...Still, China should and can be powerful and rich. More important, the Chinese people deserve to be free: free from poverty and backwardness, free from the hurtful feelings of past humiliations, free from deeply trenched ethnocentrism and chauvinism, and free from political tyranny. Such a rise of China would enrich the world and truly glorify Chinese history.
Professor Wang cautions against assuming that China's rise necessarily threatens the United States, warning that such a belief could easily become a self-fulfilling prophesy. "It is morally dubious to suppress the Chinese, a fifth of the human race, just because the government there is now undemocratic."

What is needed to manage China's rise is global cooperation, Wang believes, because the consequences of a failed China are too dire to be confined to within China's borders.

Whether or not we have the wisdom to engage in such an approach, when so many here in the US are looking for the next big enemy to drive our military/industrial economy, is still an open question.

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