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The world's next superpower
Taipei Times ^ | 07.23.03 | Jonathan Fenby

Posted on 07/23/2003 3:49:12 AM PDT by Enemy Of The State

The world's next superpower

China is growing with bewildering speed, but it is undergoing social upheavals on the way to becoming an economic superpower

By Jonathan Fenby
Wednesday, Jul 23, 2003,Page 9

Conventional wisdom insists that nations ruled by communist parties are regimented, unimaginative failures. Yet nowhere on earth is changing so fast and on such a scale as in China, where market economics and rampant consumerism meet the remnants of Maoism, throwing up paradoxes with profound implications for its 1.3 billion people -- and for the rest of the world.

It is not clear, however, if even the leadership in its heavily guarded Beijing compound knows exactly what is going on in the 9.5 million km2 between the booming development zones of the coast and the huge deserts and mountains on the doorstep of Central Asia.

China is racing to meet its future, confident it will grow into a superpower within a couple of decades, with all that implies for the West and for its Asian neighbors. Yet it remains stunted under the authoritarian hand of a Communist Party for which the retention of power has become an end in itself.

It is the main motor of international expansion, but it contains an uncomfortable expanse of shady zones and, owing to its size and diversity, is very hard to control.

China's gleaming airports put Heathrow to shame. The size of construction projects have led to the joke about the crane being the national bird.

The tycoon class has expanded so substantially that the American business magazine Forbes produces an annual list of China's 100 richest. Car production is rising by millions of vehicles a year.

There are about 300 million mobile-phone users. Shopping malls are crammed with designer clothes, real and counterfeit. Top tickets for Real Madrid's forthcoming game against a Chinese team are priced at ?125 (US$200) each.

Figures issued last week showed that, despite a dip last spring because of the SARS epidemic, China's economic growth should still hit the 7 percent target for the year, with industrial production up by 16 percent in the first six months. Though there are doubts about the precision of official figures, this rate is even higher in the special economic development zones where big, modern factories ally automation with low-cost labour

Having started by making cheap goods, Chinese firms are moving on to more profitable ones as their country's membership of the WTO guarantees them access to world markets.

From toys to computer chips, just about everything seems to come from China these days. Despite SARS, exports in the first half of this year bounded by 34 percent to the equivalent of ?120 billion (US$192 billion). Foreign investment, bringing money, technology and expertise, rises by the year as Western and Japanese executives put the country at the top of their plans.

Made in China

A recent article by an American economist was headlined: "What happens when everything is made in China?"

That raises concern about foreign jobs being exported to China -- as in the decision by Waterford Wedgwood crystal to close British factories and shift production to China for lower costs. But, while international pressure on Beijing to revalue its currency upwards grows, economic expansion is making the mainland a major importer of raw materials, machinery and factory components. Its purchases of crude oil rose by a third in the first half of this year and it could be the salvation of the world steel industry.

On his drive from the airport, British Prime Minister Tony Blair would have seen Beijing engaged in a huge building program running up to its staging of the 2008 Olympics. In Shanghai, a new business district has gone up on marshland and gleaming blocks of flats line the eight-lane roads into the city. A German magnetic-levitation train whisks passengers in from Shanghai's new Pudong airport at 402kph, and a Japanese bullet train is likely to link the city to Beijing. Shenzhen, a pioneering economic development zone across the border from Hong Kong, has grown from a small town into a city of millions attracted by work in its fast-growing factories. Chongqing, capital of the biggest province, Sichuan, is being transformed from a shabby city notorious for its nasty climate into what aims to be a model of growth in a special zone containing 30 million people.

The Three Gorges dam, with its enormous hydro-electric potential, has gone into operation, and there are plans for a mammoth waterway across the country to check the recurrent pattern of droughts and floods. Visit city centers from the once-isolated Kunming in the lush south-west to Manchuria on the border with Russia, and you find the same lines of glass and concrete offices, shops and flats on proud display as signs of modernity.

A middle class is emerging and, this being China, it is numbered in hundreds of millions. Artists and writers challenge tradition in a major way. The "iron rice bowl" of cradle-to-grave welfare promised by Mao Zedong is being smashed. Beijing's development is demolishing the alleyway hutong houses that were a characteristic of the capital for eight centuries.

Modern life is eating away at the traditional family: 14 percent of households now consist of either a single adult or a childless couple who both work. Older people are deeply worried about the future, as their children save to pay for health care and private education. At a lunch in Beijing, the Education Minister spoke to me enthusiastically about the model set by Warwick University for attracting paying students.

A lot of dark areas lie behind the bright lights on the Yangtze cliffs of Chongqing and the Shanghai Bund, where the huge Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank building from before the World War II has been restored as the headquarters of a local development organization.

Income inequalities are enormous. Factory modernization has boosted unemployment, and there are periodic demonstrations by workers who have not been paid. Outside the city centers and modern apartment blocks, China's urban areas are dirty, unhealthy and overcrowded. Workers newly arrived from the country sleep out around train and bus stations, and drive down the already tiny wages paid for manual labor on all those building sites.

Health and safety

Low health and safety standards are highlighted by repeated industrial accidents and the recent spread of SARS. Pollution and environmental destruction are high. Floods kill an average of nearly 4,000 people a year.

The government has launched a series of high-profile crackdowns on major offenders, but corruption is embedded. Badly paid officials exploit their position -- in one city, police stopped motorists to tell them their cars contravened cleanliness regulations: they had a friend standing by to wash vehicles for a small fee.

Much of rural China, which contains most of the country's people, is left behind. Depending on the criteria adopted, upwards of 100 million Chinese live below the absolute poverty line. Though cities are linked by a fast-expanding motorway network, rural communications remain poor. Farmers stage periodic protests about local officials levying "special taxes" for their own enrichment.

Many villages are age-old huddles of mud or adobe huts without sanitation. One villager joked that, if the government really wanted to reduce the number of children, it should lay on electricity so people could watch television at night rather than having sex.

Foreign financial houses have started trading in Chinese shares, but the stock market is run largely for speculation and to direct capital to well-connected firms. The banking system is shot through with huge bad debts as a result of channelling money to politically favored enterprises rather than those which could best use the cash.

The reform of state enterprises seems to be taking longer than expected. Corporate accounts often bear little relation to reality.

An inquiry found recently that most state firms cooked the books. No wonder some commentators see as inevitable the scenario outlined in a recent book called The Coming Collapse of China.

Some of the highest-flying businessmen have crashed to Earth -- the second-ranking person on the Forbes list for 2001 has just been jailed for 18 years for fraud. Huge smuggling rings involving local dignitaries have been uncovered. Municipal officials in Manchuria's main city were found to have been in cahoots with the local mafia.

This is partly the result of such rapid development in a country with no independent legal system, where favors that bring the chance to make a fortune are bought and sold. But the way China is developing poses a distinct problem for the organization that sits obstinately on top of that system and has used its ability to hand out favors and punishment, as the glue that holds it together.

As an old Maoist once said, if the Communist Party does not get rid of corruption, it is done for; but, if does get rid of corruption, it is doomed anyway. Since the move to the market launched by the patriarch Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) two decades ago, individual liberty has grown enormously. Walking in the streets of Chinese cities, you do not feel the oppression that characterized eastern Europe under communism.

Taxi drivers joke about the leadership, and only the politically ambitious pay much attention to its ideological forays.

Basic gamble

That is, in its way, is what the leadership is after. Its basic gamble is that growing wealth will provide a legitimacy to replace the tenets of Maoism. After the first, second and third ways of politics, welcome to China's fourth way where the prospect of getting rich means that politics, in the conventional Western sense, can be pigeonholed for so long as the economy roars ahead.

So, though there have been some electoral experiments at local level,democracy is far away, as it has been throughout China's history. For the new leadership of President Hu Jintao, as for his predecessor, Jiang Zemin stability is paramount -- the Cultural Revolution is held up as a terrible example of what can happen when things get out of hand.

Crossing the political line is perilous. Dissidents are out of the headlines in the West, but they are still persecuted relentlessly. Members of the deep-breathing Falun Gong exercise group are arrested as a security threat. Tibet remains tightly policed, and the war on terrorism is a convenient pretext for cracking down on the mainly Muslim population of the vast western territory of Xinjiang.

China has put on its best face for the world, particularly since it realized the benefits to be gained from Sept. 11. Blair and the other leaders beating a path to Beijing should realize, however, that, useful as foreigners are, China has never set much store by them. The round-eyes can provide technology and money, but the country will go its own path, making temporary alliances that suit it while increasingly using its clout as it chooses, in its bid to displace Japan as Asia's economic and political motor.

To do that, the leaders Blair met this week have to maintain the breakneck momentum of "socialism with Chinese characteristics" to demonstrate that "It's the economy, stupid."

Jonathan Fenby edited the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong from 1995 to 1999 and is the author of Dealing with the Dragon: A Year in the new Hong Kong.

TOPICS: Business/Economy; Crime/Corruption; Culture/Society; Editorial; Foreign Affairs; Front Page News; Government; News/Current Events; Philosophy
KEYWORDS: china; chinastuff; next; superpower
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To: Jeremiah Jr
RE your post #3

The photo you posted is that of King Abdullah of Jordan. So, he is the 4th King
41 posted on 07/23/2003 8:30:12 AM PDT by The Pheonix
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To: Enemy Of The State
China is no longer a communist nation. To put it in their own words, they are "Socialist with Chinese characteristics".

More accurately, they've graduated from communism to national socialism (the term "Nazi" was a contraction of "National Socialist German Workers Party"). The people who are wealthy necessarily must have ties to the ruling communist elite, and over time the wealthy class and the communist elite will merge into oligarchy.

This merging is necessary -- you only "own" property if you have the means of defending it (either personally, or thru the use of the state's police powers). If the ruling elite cannot arbitrarily confiscate your property, then that means there are limits on their power. This would lead to the wealthy being in a position to have a say in how things are run. The ruling old men cannot tolerate that, however much some degree of liberalization would benefit their economy

42 posted on 07/23/2003 8:31:09 AM PDT by SauronOfMordor (Java/C++/Unix/Web Developer === will work for food)
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To: harpseal
Forgot about the Phillipines.

They would probably need to hold at least part of that country to take Australia.

New Zealand would probably be a tasy morsel too.

43 posted on 07/23/2003 8:31:36 AM PDT by the
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To: harpseal

The Philpines consiste of well over 7000 islands and a population of 70 million. There is widespread poverty and a host of social-economic problems. It is the "sick man of Asia", what the Brits call "a basket case"

Now, in view of this, who in his right mind would even think of conquering her ?
44 posted on 07/23/2003 8:34:03 AM PDT by The Pheonix
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To: FreepForever
Got through all of it. It's an astute article.

I have forgotten which river is where so I don't know that 3 Gorges' collapse would flood Shanghai or another coastal region.

Corruption etc. remains a serious, serious problem. But Chinese jugglers are greatly skilled in politics or the circus stage.

Millions of unmarried men are likely to be a very troublesome force whether they turn into AIDS spreading homosexuals or angry violent gangs roaming where they can.

Officials are aware of the fact that persecuting the authentic Christians only seems to make them multiply in numbers. Yet, they do it. The impact of that remains to be seen. I suspect that it will be the Believers who will pick up the pieces--except that they may be gone on a 7 year Heavenly holiday while evil in the world is punished and the world cleansed of evil.

Anyway--with China on the scene, dull moments are likely to be less and less.
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To: Enemy Of The State
46 posted on 07/23/2003 8:34:35 AM PDT by Helms (GWB is Lance Arm-strong-ing the Euros.)
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To: Hootowl
Plus, their emphasis on sons is going to produce a huge surplus of single men with no one to marry in a few decades. All in all, I'd say things don't look that rosy for China.

It will just mean that there will be an incentive for Chinese men to immigrate to other countries in search of wives.

47 posted on 07/23/2003 8:34:43 AM PDT by SauronOfMordor (Java/C++/Unix/Web Developer === will work for food)
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To: sergeantdave
True, they didn't do much for 100's of years with


--paper money
--gun powder
--block printing


However, underestimating their creativity, brilliance, persistence, determination to rule the world

would be foolish to the extreme.
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To: the
Australia seems like the ticket. Thinly populated by Asian standards and wide open spaces

"Thinly populated" doesn't seem like a good place to go find a billion women.

49 posted on 07/23/2003 8:37:52 AM PDT by ASA Vet ("Those who know, don't talk. Those who talk, don't know." (I'm in the Sgt Schultz group))
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To: Always Right
Communism and capitalism cannot coexist in the same realm for long.

One of them will eventually topple the other in China, and based on their records, I'd put my money on capitalism.

Might go fifteen bloody rounds though.

50 posted on 07/23/2003 8:37:52 AM PDT by dead
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To: Enemy Of The State
Guess I disagree that they are not a totalitarian state.

Whim decisions at the top can still result in arbitrary deaths from the top down to the lowest rice paddy.

Granted, decisions are usually agonizingly methodical and pedantic by hamstrung group process.

But the corruption alone leads to plenty of totalitarian sorts of ruthlessness.

Add in the army and arrogance in the top levels of the Party and I think there's plenty of totalitarianism left.
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To: SauronOfMordor

How about "mail order brides ?"
52 posted on 07/23/2003 8:39:02 AM PDT by The Pheonix
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To: harpseal
It is human nature that most young males desire females homosexual propaganda not withstanding. Those desires will be filled or there will be violence. Since China does not have the females to fill this need violence will result.

They can fill te shortage with Russian mail order brides

53 posted on 07/23/2003 8:40:01 AM PDT by SauronOfMordor (Java/C++/Unix/Web Developer === will work for food)
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To: meadsjn
My Chinese friends locally insist that China has targeted the USA for acquisition but only after plenty of their other ducks are in a row.
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To: Enemy Of The State
Illegal is sometimes the same as nothing

when the "backdoor" is still so operative in China.

And in medical areas, extra 'payments' and favors have long been required to get the best care.
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To: the
Australia seems like the ticket. Thinly populated by Asian standards and wide open spaces.

The reason Australia has such wide-open spaces is that those spaces are unihabitable for all intents and purposes.

The inhabitable parts are fairly densely populated.

56 posted on 07/23/2003 8:41:31 AM PDT by dead
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To: FreepForever
Nine point five million square kilometers [3.66 million square miles] of land of which an area of more that 2.5 million squares miles is the property of other nations, states and peoples -- not a single elected government in its much-vaunted "5,000 years of history" [Most of THAT fantasized and "recorded" by delusional lickspittle slaves during the reign of Human History's most prolific mass murderer, the predatorily-psychopathological pedophile, the serial-child-rapist, Mao Tze Tung -- and a Peking-based pack of every-bit-as predatorily-psychopathological lying looting, thieving mass-murdering gangster bastards that calls itself "china" in charge of more than a billion pathetic slaves -- and what little's left to loot?

And this joker wants us to believe "china's" figures and to be impressed with its stated "growth" when those of us who live here in Asia and anyone anywhere with a brain can see the life's blood being drained with no better command of "economics" than that afforded one by the old and trusty "Mark Eight eye ball!"

Look at Hong Kong whose wealth of blood and treasure has long ago been leached into the Peking pack's purses -- and with it [And Britain's squalid sell-out] the underpinning of most of South East Asia's so-called "tigers." [More than 85% of whose own much-vaunted "economic miracles" and "growth" represented foreign investment minus theft, graft and corruption]

"China" looks good to those who believe its murderers' lies and/or to those who need it to look good for whatever reason or to fulfil whatever ambition -- but take out America's Trillion or so Dollars of investments and trade imbalances and whaddyah got?

A delusional fantasy.

And a coming American credit-card interest-rate hike similar to those with which our Peter-Principle "managed" corporations' scurrilous underwriters have always "financed" their disasters and recovered their losses. Right up there with "deficit spending" and "inflation" among the most insidious forms of taxation -- and the means by which Wall Street's more evil bastards get away with capatalizing their gains and socializing their [Our] losses.
57 posted on 07/23/2003 8:41:59 AM PDT by Brian Allen ( Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God - Thomas Jefferson)
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To: the
"Australia seems like the ticket. Thinly populated by Asian standards and wide open spaces."

I worked with a Kiwi who told me that NZ has a rapidly growing Asian population. To her surprise, her mother is becoming quite bigoted, making remarks about their driving, etc.
I found this article discussing NZ Asian population trend:,1227,196722-1-7,00.html

Most of Australia is the Outback; I wouldn't want to live there. The book/movie "A Town Like Alice" convinced me (although it was a great novel).
Australia also already has a growing Asian population.
58 posted on 07/23/2003 8:42:38 AM PDT by LibertyAndJusticeForAll
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To: ASA Vet
They could steal them on the way,(Phillipinas) or obtain them as tribute from their neighbors after they have colonized Australia.

I bet Cambodia, Viet Nam, and the like would ship out a portion of their female population to avoid being devoured.
59 posted on 07/23/2003 8:42:48 AM PDT by the
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To: Hootowl
It is more likely that China will implode in the next 50 years

But in the short term, why not make a few bucks off it? The China Fund (CHN) been very, very good to me.

60 posted on 07/23/2003 8:42:52 AM PDT by TheRightGuy (ERROR CODE 018974523: Random Tagline Compiler Failure)
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