Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

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
Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first previous 1-20 ... 41-6061-8081-100 ... 141-159 next last
To: Quix
My Chinese friends locally insist that China has targeted the USA for acquisition…

I’ve targeted Anna Kournikova for acquisition, but it's the actual execution that's a bit trickier.

61 posted on 07/23/2003 8:43:08 AM PDT by dead
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 54 | View Replies]

To: dead
There are allot of Leftists at the helms of corporations which are abusing Capitalism. Hollywood for instance peddles an image of the US which daily grows darker.

The following are a list of Prime Suspects in the undermining of Capitalism:


Abercrombie and Fitch



What better way to abuse capitalism than to do it from the inside out.

62 posted on 07/23/2003 8:43:43 AM PDT by Helms (GWB is Lance Arm-strong-ing the Euros.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 50 | View Replies]

To: dead
Well, I guess they're on their way to Kansas.
63 posted on 07/23/2003 8:45:40 AM PDT by the
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 56 | View Replies]

To: SauronOfMordor; Quix
I agree with your thoughts. However, I also found your following statement to be ironic:

"you only "own" property if you have the means of defending it "

The same could be said here in the United States. Though we work our entire lives to purchase a home and property to put it on, it doesn't really belong to us. Try not paying your taxes and see what happens!
64 posted on 07/23/2003 8:47:03 AM PDT by Enemy Of The State (If we don't take action now, We settle for nothing later!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 42 | View Replies]

To: Enemy Of The State
It all boils down to the great support from Wal-Mart, et aluis, for buying Chicom-made junk, bought in quantities by American brain-dead buyers.

The fact of the $80 Billion trade deficit with China does not seem to penetrate American numb skulls as a threat. The Chicoms have already developed advanced missiles tipped with multi-targeted H bombs and the delivery systems to turn the US into dust (all no thanks to the Felon and his evil crew).

65 posted on 07/23/2003 8:47:14 AM PDT by Paulus Invictus (Pseudo conservatives are everywhere.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: dead
Even with 'merely' solar energy, the spaces could have desalinated water.

With super cheap 'zero-point' energy, the open spaces could easily become forests and gardens.

But actually, China might be able to do wonders in Australia 'merely' putting millions treading gears for pumping water, desalting water etc. But she'll have the technology even if it has to be nuclear or solar.

How to make Australia's deserts blossom is merely a technical detail solvable in a list of ways.
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 56 | View Replies]

To: Jeff Head
Looks like the Chinese are going to help make your book a best seller.
67 posted on 07/23/2003 8:47:30 AM PDT by the
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 54 | View Replies]

To: dead
Another way might fit . . . The Bible says a huge army or military force from a "KING OF THE EAST" will attack Israel and the middle east.

Perhaps they could plan to use the oil to desalt water for Chinese Australia.
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 56 | View Replies]

To: dead
BTW, if they conquer Australia, it won't be for long.

God will deal with China harshly if they are the King of the East attacking Israel.
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 56 | View Replies]

To: Quix
What with bozos like Bill Klinton, the democRATS, Hillery, Hollywood etc around , and the headaches they create, we ask,
"why would China wants the US ?" unless they are masochist, or something....
70 posted on 07/23/2003 8:49:50 AM PDT by The Pheonix
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 54 | View Replies]

To: the
Well, I guess they're on their way to Kansas.

No, they’re probably heading somewhere inhabitable.

71 posted on 07/23/2003 8:50:02 AM PDT by dead
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 63 | View Replies]

To: Quix
I agree with your assessments, its just that I dont think that China fits into the traditional meaning of a totaltarian regieme.

When Mao was in power, yes, but not now.

Again, I agree with your assessments, especially when it comes to the corruption that seems to flow endlessly from the top down but they have been doing their homework and things are slowly changing.

I would be more inclined to call Kim-Jong Il a totaltarian ruler. He could get away with an incident like Tiananmen, I dont honestly believe that the Chinese could pull that off again.
72 posted on 07/23/2003 8:51:51 AM PDT by Enemy Of The State (If we don't take action now, We settle for nothing later!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 51 | View Replies]

To: The Pheonix
A nation in search of its raw materials, rice production, territiry and population. It also is a challenger on some possible oil exploration in the Spratly Island area.
73 posted on 07/23/2003 8:51:53 AM PDT by harpseal (Stay well - Stay safe - Stay armed - Yorktown)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 44 | View Replies]

To: Brian Allen
Your declarations seem overwrought to me . . .

However, in terms of The Party, the Peter principle does seem to be a serious problem.

HOWEVER, THEY CAN get top people into top positions when they want to. The competition amongst so many citizens for top merit positions DOES TEND to produce some top flight people.

As a rare western PhD in my provincial capital, I was responsible for teaching a number of such people. They were top quality in a list of ways.

And they had opinions and feelings aplenty about bringing China into the modern world politically as well as economically and scientifically.
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 57 | View Replies]

To: dead
OK, you know the rules, where's the photo?
75 posted on 07/23/2003 8:54:24 AM PDT by ASA Vet ("Those who know, don't talk. Those who talk, don't know." (I'm in the Sgt Schultz group))
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 61 | View Replies]

To: dead
We shall see.

Poohbah would certainly agree with you.
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 61 | View Replies]

To: the
Well, I hope the messages in the books about our current policies and how they are assisting in the accomplishment of these very goals by the PRC will somehow get through.

Right now, there are not nearly enough people who even know about the books. I hope the word somehow gets out.

I guess I need a Sean Hannity or Ann Coulter or a someone with that type of reach to read them, like them and then spread the word.

77 posted on 07/23/2003 8:54:50 AM PDT by Jeff Head
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 67 | View Replies]

To: The Pheonix
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 ?

The islands are in a very strategic position for a naval and air base. Whoever holds the Philipines can project power over the whole South Pacific

The Chinese could use the real estate -- the people are expendable. So you go in with your surplus males and take over. Then you have 35 million Philipine women to keep your men happy. Yes, the islands are poor. This means that the only men with the income to support a wife will be Chinese. The surplus Philipine men can be transferred to the sugar cane plantations.

The same process can be repeated in other poor-but-strategic countries, places with either good locations or good natural resources. I could see the Chinese moving in to take over Zimbabwe and South Africa once the US's economy is so bad that we don't have the resources to contest it any longer. Mugabe would welcome the Chinese if they would guarantee him a few more years in power, in exchange for the Chinese taking final possession

78 posted on 07/23/2003 8:55:32 AM PDT by SauronOfMordor (Java/C++/Unix/Web Developer === will work for food)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 44 | View Replies]

To: The Pheonix
China would view such as useful idiots.

One dream/vision had a very hostile Chinese General in the coming attack on the USA killing EVERY AMERICAN IN CALIFORNIA until he was assassinated in San Francisco at some point in the process.

The fact that a wide diversity of Christians around the world have had dreams and visions of China invading . . . along with perhaps George Washington's dream . . . it's an interesting prospect, at least.
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 70 | View Replies]

To: Quix
Re your post #74

Your point is absolutely correct, eg, look at the number of Olympic Golds China wins in diving, gymnastics, table-tennis and all the sports that they set their minds on. Look at the way they came out with their first atom bomb, from scratch.

Their system is to go round the whole country to search for the best talents and brains from the very young. Place them in special schools and groom them
80 posted on 07/23/2003 8:58:01 AM PDT by The Pheonix
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 74 | View Replies]

Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first previous 1-20 ... 41-6061-8081-100 ... 141-159 next last

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794 is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson