- China’s Future and Ours
Since the awesome economic rise of China in the post-Mao era makes the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) government influential from the Arctic to Africa, people want to know how China’s future will alter their futures. China’s choices are world-transforming events.
According to economist Arvind Subramanian, China will soon be the world’s largest economy. Its wealth will buy great global clout. The gap between a new number one China and a former number one America will grow, creating a huge chasm. “So the possibility of more dire scenarios under which the United States is dictated to must also be considered” (Subramanian, p. 195). While the enormous expansion of Chinese wealth will benefit many by raising hundreds of millions out of poverty, as an economic powerhouse, China need not be good for everyone in every way. Many of China’s neighbors are very anxious.
In one dire scenario, known as the power transition theory, the leaders of China will find the rules and institutions of the international arena built by the former superpower, the United States, unjust. These obstacles will be seen as blocking a glorious China from resuming its supposedly rightful position as civilization’s central force. To end such injustices, potential hegemon China could even use force to provide the world with the wise and ethical leadership that only a [End Page 351] successful and humane China supposedly can offer. Serious Washington-Beijing clashes are, therefore, ever more likely. Grave dangers may lie ahead.
In contrast, political analyst Kenneth Lieberthal concludes that the corrupt party dictatorship of vested interests headquartered in Beijing will not be able to overcome its many inherent limitations. Indeed, “growth . . . may slow more rapidly than many analysts currently anticipate” (Lieberthal, p. 46). In addition, the CCP government’s zero-sum policies in which you have to suffer for me to prosper (I live, you die) will wound, alienate, and provoke other nations. These governments—Brazil, India, Mexico, Germany, and others—will find themselves compelled to retaliate in ways that “could affect China’s growth rate for some time to come” (Lieberthal, p. 42). Beijing will label these defensive responses to injurious Chinese behaviors as protectionist. Horrible outcomes, such as trade wars, become possible.
The best-informed analysts imagine extraordinarily different futures for China and the world. Is it possible to know which of these is more or less likely or what governments can do to make beneficial outcomes for all more likely?
To Lieberthal, in what is far and away the best book available on doing business in China, that China will race ever further ahead of America is not a given. China’s weak tertiary education system denies China the capacity to innovate on the cutting edge of scientific, technological, and commercial progress. In addition, the Chinese will grow old before they get rich. “America’s demographic pyramid (due to immigration) places the United Sates in a far better position for sustained future growth than does China’s” (Lieberthal, p. 45). How should one decide among conflicting forecasts?
How seriously should one take any long-term prognostication by any of the many very well-informed studies of China’s trajectory? In 1972, Republican president Richard Nixon’s emissary to Mao Zedong, Henry Kissinger, brushed aside as absurd a notion that a backward China could ever become weighty enough in the world economy to disturb vital American interests. Yet China...