Wandering China

An East/West pulse of China's fourth rise from down under.

[How can China get better?] China at No. 1 — already [CNN]


It can be easy to be critical of China.

Maybe because it is so large.

It consists of so many people, dreams, desires and motivations arguably all running in the same direction under top-down direction since the first epochs of dynastic systems, and now for the first time, they are all set free.

Maybe because it encompasses such a land mass, a large chunk of which is inherited from the foreign rulers of the Qing dynasty  and is now under ethnic and political contention.

Large can sometimes mean – easy target. And some have not forgotten how not to bully it.

That said, it can also be easy to wax lyrical about what some see as the longest continuing civilisation in the world. In some ways that is true, the fundamental Chinese mindset has not changed much. But let’s not forget China was ruled for about a third of its dynastic era by foreign powers. Perhaps one way to examine this is to study its performance and give it constructive feedback that resonates with the Chinese mind.

The article I focus on examines how China fares economically. It’s been a year since this interactive from CNNMoney claiming that China’s already No. 1 in a broad spread of areas.

So far so good for China it seems.

It has been largely able to keep its prime directive of having its immediate environment relatively stable. Flashpoints do exist still. Externally we see  socio-economic and geopolitical tensions in the South China Sea, the Sino-US proxy chess game with Taiwan, and a North Korea China seems increasingly less willing to tolerate. As a matter of history, China also casts a constantly vigilant eye over Russia and Japan and India.

Domestically the Autonomous Regions are giving the Chinese two major lessons.

First they’ve learnt the Great Firewall is not too good at denting the amplifier properties of social media. With its reach, the dissent that has always been there can be heard, felt, shared and acted upon by global communities breaking the tyranny of distance and time.

Second, they have to regulate and manage , or better integrate the internal migration of the Han majority to its outlying territories which is fundamentally the reason for dissent in the first place.

Further, the cost of capitalism and self-interest over its age-old collective nature are leaving scars (See: Tragedy forces nation to reflect, China Daily October 28, 2011) .Despite pockets of domestic issues that need fixing, the capitalist authoritarian machine stays on course to achieve the overarching goal capitalist roader Deng set out; that money talks. In the developed part of the global village today  soft power deployed through networks of economic interdependence (some see it as a redux of China’s dynastic tributary systems) yields more return of investment than the dated veneer of hard power.

The Chinese have become hungry consumers, having been cooped up behind the physical and mental constructs of the Great Wall for too long. For example in 2009 China surpassed the US in terms of car sales, we’re looking at 13.6 versus 10.4m cars sold in US and China respectively. I remember my father relating to me how China almost single handedly saved Volkswagen on the turn of the millennium. In 2010 there were an estimated 420 million internet users, more people were online than the entire population of the US.  Further, the Agricultural Bank of China raised the biggest IPO ever seen, raising 22.1 billion, a demonstration of China’s immense domestic people power.

It’s not all positive though.

One third of smokers on the planet come from China.

China took over the US as the biggest emitter of carbon emissions (in ’07 they expelled 14% more than the US though this is a tricky one as the consumers and trans-national corporations and the domestic industries are guilty too – they’re all involved in the global production network). Interestingly enough, it is the largest producer of solar cells in the world, taking up a third of the market.

One year on since the article how else has China been No. 1?

For one it’s on course to be the largest consumer of luxury goods having bypassed the US in 2009 and it’s now neck to neck with Japan and due to overtake sometime this year (optimistically reportedly since  as early as May, though this article’s in September, by Chinese state media).

China has been providing foreign aid since 1950. In recent times, its international aid presence has increased significantly, with the Africa, and of course the US benefiting from Chinese aid and investments. Now that it is doing better, will it correspondingly take over as the the most generous nation in the world?

Europe and the growing pains the Eurozone seem to be exhibiting has been in focus of late. A Reuters report in late October 2011 revealed China was willing to invest up to 100 billion U.S. dollars for injection into Europe. Declaring their shared common interest in the image of a concerned and increasingly responsible international citizen to step in to help, China also comes under scrutiny – some say they’re stepping in to buy Europe’s silence over its human rights record. Others paint a gloomier picture with China’s central role in global production networks meaning it will inevitably be ‘kidnapped’ by European debt. Later, a report from Bloomberg stated Vice Finance Minister Zhu claiming that it was ‘too soon to weigh more Europe-Fund bond purchases‘.

Its immense rapid rail networks also come to mind charting out new silk routes with a twenty-first century mind. How about its spanking new cross sea-bridge (36.48km, under the length of a marathon) that happens to be the longest in the world.

Its growing use of public diplomacy through cultural capital (Confucius Institutes are one obvious example) and intercultural exchange have been commanding international mind share and eyeballs. The volume of state-funded epic films is one such charge into popular culture. From the Beijing Olympics to the Guangzhou Asian Games to the Shanghai World Expo, the surge has been relentless. Its vigour in hosting international events trigger a strong positive visual reminder in the media scape, doing just enough to take away mass attention to its domestic human right issues it is still learning to sort out.

So what does all this this say?

Though one may be inclined at times to still think of China as a sepia-toned postcard with bicycle-filled roads, perhaps it’s time to reconsider that China has arrived. And they’re learning their lessons pretty quick.

Let’s share with them how not to pick up  bad habits that will have a collateral effect on the rest of us along the way.

Any thoughts?

– – –

China at No. 1 — already
By Kevin Voigt
Source – CNN, published November 12, 2010

(CNN) — As this interactive from CNNMoney shows, the U.S. is still by far the world’s largest economy, despite the Great Recession and tepid recovery.

But China is coming on strong, passing Japan as the world’s second largest economy and predictions that sometime in the next 10 to 15 years it will eclipse the U.S., too.

Some think it’s already happened. A Pew Research Center poll last year found that 44 percent of Americans already thought China had become the world’s number one economic power. Only 27 percent knew that the U.S. economy is still on top, nearly three times the size of China.

Still, there are several areas where China has already taken the mantle from the U.S. China has become the world’s largest car market, a symbolic transition after the recession left Detroit in shambles. But some may not know that before cars, Chinese beer drinkers passed U.S. as top consumers in 2002, and now knock back nearly a quarter of all beer produced in the world.

Beijing is aiming to steer its economy away from exports toward domestic consumption — and, in doing so, will inevitably supplant the U.S. as the top market destination for consumer goods.

“We expect China will overtake the U.S. as the largest consumer market in 2020,” Fan Cheuk Wan, head of research for Credit Suisse Asia Pacific, told CNN.

If so, China will reach its goal of having half its GDP generated by domestic consumption in the next 10 years; currently about 33 percent of China’s economy comes from domestic spending, Wan said.

“China cannot rely on the indebted consumers in the developed economies any more as a key growth engine in the next decade,” Wan said.

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Filed under: Beijing Consensus, Charm Offensive, Chinese Model, CNN, Communications, Culture, Democracy, Domestic Growth, Economics, Environment, Finance, Government & Policy, Influence, Media, Nationalism, Peaceful Development, Politics, Public Diplomacy, Reform, Resources, Social, Soft Power, Strategy, Tao Guang Yang Hui (韬光养晦), The Chinese Identity, The construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese identities, Transport, U.S., Yuan

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