Monday, 29 January 2007

Crouching tiger, not-so-hidden dragon

China’s economy grew by a massive 10.7% in 2006, defying many expectations as well as frightinging some and making some update their clocks counting down to either China's being crowned as a superpower or the collapsing of China's economy and/or government. Who knows about 2007…

China’s economical boom has surprised many, on multiple counts. Too much focus is put on India 'catching up', how a democracy should eventually crush an autocracy. There is, of course, a dark side often not seen in the pages of the Wall Street Journal: the extreme poverty and lack of development in these two massive Asian countries. The statistics say yes, the theories say yes, but India has yet to show China who’s boss. China is, of course, more developed. A benefit to pseudo-communism? Probably not, but India needs to make a lot of their urban areas more acceptable to businesses.

So will China reign supreme? It is loony to think any global superpower (empire) — including the United States, I might add — can be a superpower forever. The United Kingdom has been a great power or higher for many hundreds of years; the Roman Empire, which had power on an enormous scale, lasted hundreds of years more, but still eventually crumbled. Technology, it is said, is key to power, as is society. I think three people who have written some interesting things on the topic are Niall Fergruson, historian, Joseph Nye, Jr., a political theorist, and Ian Bremmer, a political analyst. Fergruson specializes in empires; Nye in power in general; Bremmer has a ‘J curve’ theory (see image below) that’s intriguing.

A graph of Ian Bremmer's J curve. Credit: Bremmer's Eurasia Group.

Maybe, in this modern day when it seems impossible for any superpower to fully extend itself, let alone become a full-blown hyperpower or empire, it is best not to think of China as the next superpower. The next great power — if it is not already — yes, but ‘superpower’ might require too much speculation about China’s future. They have energy needs, and do not use their needs very efficiently. If North Korea sloppily collapses that may be a huge problem for China not because of communism — which neither state really practices — but because of the human problems; things like refugees. China itself also may face the problem of stability. China has defied Bremmer’s ‘J curve’ by finding a way across the curve (from closed to open), albeit slowly, without falling to the bottom into instability. Anyway that is a taste of China and its rise to prominence on the political and economical global scale. It goes without saying China will remain a major topic as we enter 2007; they will be hosting the Olympics in 2008 so it will be interesting to see how that affects the country’s openness.

I think the Chinese leadership is doing a surprisingly satisfactory job at managing their bulging economy, but they need to really work on the human rights (never forget: the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre). Until then, the best thing to do is wait and, as responsible human beings, do our best to help those in China without collapsing their society. If China can continue to walk the open-to-closed J curve tightrope, and manage to stay high on the stability axis, things could work out fine.

Song stuck in my head right now: Thom Yorke’s “Harrowdown Hill”. It has both a profound sound and meaning. Read more about the song’s interesting background in this Wikipedia article.

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