Putting China Into Perspective…
The increasing importance in recent years of China as a world power, and to a much lesser degree Russia’s emergence, have arisen some logical unease and questioning about how Western societies will fare in the new world order over the coming decades, given the inevitable interconnectedness among nations.
China’s share of the world’s economy has grown in an accelerated manner during the past three decades. The repositioning of China in the world economic scene during that period has been near miraculous, essentially due to a couple of factors:
The huge economic growth differential, particularly noticeable when comparing China’s growth rate against the average growth rate of developed nations.
At present, China’s share of the world’s total output is around 14% —versus the US’ 19% contribution, and the EU’s 18%—; that is China contributes 1/7 of the aggregate global product. Three decades ago it used to contribute less than 1%!
The substantial critical mass of the most populated nation on Earth, accounting for almost ⅕ of the total world population.
Stating the obvious, China’s growing world influence —particularly in the economic and the political arena— is chiefly due to its growing economic presence, in a comparative basis.
Through the ages, China has been one of the largest economies, and most powerful nations on the planet in multiple occasions. That status, however, although maintained throughout a great deal of its history, was last held over two hundred years ago, during the Qing Dynasty —1644 to 1912. So, for practical purposes, the contemporary emergence of China as a world superpower has all the feeling of something new.
Although it seems highly unlikely that China will ever again return to the low double digits rates of economic growth achieved during most of the past three decades, it is very probable that China can sustain growth rates of about twice as much as the average of the rest of the world during the coming two decades or so. If that growth differential proves to be right, there are two certain outcomes:
China’s economy will become the largest on earth, volume wise, surpassing the US. According to recent statistics, the US’ $16.24 trillion dollar economy is currently only about one third larger than China’s, at $12.26 trillion. Thus, China’s economy is at a relatively striking distance to match and eventually overtake the US economy in size, most likely within the coming 10 years or so, depending on the growth rates of these two of nations.
The anxiety and general uneasiness of the developed world will only grow larger, in direct proportion to the differential in economic growth rates of the developed world versus that of China’s.
History shows that every time an emerging world power has jumped into the scene, the internal recomposition among the displaced leading nations has been both painful and unsettling.This threat is more menacing if the emerging superpower, China in this case:
Comes from outside the inner circle of the prevailing ruling elite of nations.
If the emerging superpower quite often resorts to aggressive and even hostile tactics and attitudes in the multiple interconnections and day-to-day interactions: trade, financial, political, and even military, to name a few.
For China to become again the largest economy in the world will be a feat in itself.
Nonetheless, as previously stated, China’s sheer economic power is currently owed more to volume and huge population mass than to efficiency. In fact, on a GDP per capita basis, China is a rather poor nation, way below the developed world’s minimum level, currently around US $30,000.
China’s present US$9,100 per capita GDP is just a fraction of the US’ $51,700, and still painfully lower than a host of developing nations, like:
and Thailand’s US$9,500, to name just a few countries.
As previously stated, the major unsettling factor about China’s emergence as a world superpower among the current ruling elite is more due to China’s frequent hostile attitudes and lack of harmony towards the general spirit and tradition of Western civilization than to anything else.
If China’s government leadership learns to abide more by the present world order rules of the game, becoming a powerful yet respectful and harmonious player, the general atmosphere of unease will very likely be drastically reduced. That case in no way would imply any sort of blind submission from China to an already relatively well established world order, but a constructive attitude to learn, to negotiate, and to contribute to the continuous improvement of that world order, which anyway is a work in progress, far from perfection.
Most fortunately, China’s case appears to be significantly more hopeful than Russia’s.
In the second part of this series…State Capitalism & Western Society (Part Two): China vs Russia, and Then Some