Tuesday, October 19, 2010

China's Rising Star

Folks who follow international news are likely aware that China is becoming more and more prosperous, and by extension more powerful year by year. Since the death of Mao in the 1970s, economic reorientation has brought the Chinese economy to almost unimaginable heights. They have maintained 10% GDP growth ever year since the early 90s, and now have the second largest economy in the world, surpassed only by the United States. With the US economy on the downturn, it is not uncommon for me to hear people say that China is set to become the new dominant world power. However, as I've pointed out before, media hyperbole, and actual fact are much different things, so I'm here to briefly address China's social and economic stability.

Here's the deal: China is arguably the most powerful country, economically, in the world now. They have experienced unprecedented growth, and are still in the possession of enormous economic surplussed, while most of the rest of the world is in debt. Nearly every powerful country in the world, including ours, would like to see China become a democracy, mostly because it would allow us to influence their economic policies in a way that would be more favorable to us. Bodies like the UN want China to adopt humanitarian measures that would open up their society to greater social freedoms. The very simple fact is that none of this is going to work, because not a single one of us can back it up. China owns most of the US debt through various governments bonds, meaning there is not one bit of leverage we can bring to bear against them. As a member of the Security Council, China is practically immune to international pressure of almost any kind. It is reasonable to label them as a great power, because in many senses, they cannot be touched by anyone else.

It is for many of these reasons that China is predicted to replace the US at the top of the international totem pole. It is for others, however, that I would argue that China cannot maintain its current society as is. Political scientists have noted a tendency within various countries that as they become more wealthy, they also tend to become more democratic. This principle, called post-materialist values, while unproven statistically is nevertheless compelling. The idea is that as people become less concerned about providing themselves and their families with the basic necessities of life, they become more interested in freedom of expression, and influence in political discourse. This poses a particular danger to China as it brings in even more wealth.

There is also the simple fact that dictator-like countries are not stable. The particular characteristics of what we call authoritarian regimes prevent long term stability. So while China may survive and continue to grow in the next several decades, there are a vast number difficulties they would have to overcome in order to survive in their current state while continuing to grow and maintain their influence. Just something to keep in mind. If you're interested in more on this subject, click on the title to view an article on China in the coming years.

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