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Will China Become Another Superpower? No

Discussion in 'BBS Hangout: Debate & Discussion' started by A_3PO, Jul 27, 2008.

  1. A_3PO

    A_3PO Member

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    At least according to the author. I know there is another thread from a couple of weeks ago. I thought this article was worthy of it's own discussion.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dy.../07/25/AR2008072502255.html?hpid=opinionsbox1

    A Long Wait at the Gate to Greatness

    By John Pomfret
    Sunday, July 27, 2008; B01

    Nikita Khrushchev said the Soviet Union would bury us, but these days, everybody seems to think that China is the one wielding the shovel. The People's Republic is on the march -- economically, militarily, even ideologically. Economists expect its GDP to surpass America's by 2025; its submarine fleet is reportedly growing five times faster than Washington's; even its capitalist authoritarianism is called a real alternative to the West's liberal democracy. China, the drumbeat goes, is poised to become the 800-pound gorilla of the international system, ready to dominate the 21st century the way the United States dominated the 20th.

    Except that it's not.

    Ever since I returned to the United States in 2004 from my last posting to China, as this newspaper's Beijing bureau chief, I've been struck by the breathless way we talk about that country. So often, our perceptions of the place have more to do with how we look at ourselves than with what's actually happening over there. Worried about the U.S. education system? China's becomes a model. Fretting about our military readiness? China's missiles pose a threat. Concerned about slipping U.S. global influence? China seems ready to take our place.

    But is China really going to be another superpower? I doubt it.

    It's not that I'm a China-basher, like those who predict its collapse because they despise its system and assume that it will go the way of the Soviet Union. I first went to China in 1980 as a student, and I've followed its remarkable transformation over the past 28 years. I met my wife there and call it a second home. I'm hardly expecting China to implode. But its dream of dominating the century isn't going to become a reality anytime soon.

    Too many constraints are built into the country's social, economic and political systems. For four big reasons -- dire demographics, an overrated economy, an environment under siege and an ideology that doesn't travel well -- China is more likely to remain the muscle-bound adolescent of the international system than to become the master of the world.

    In the West, China is known as "the factory to the world," the land of unlimited labor where millions are eager to leave the hardscrabble countryside for a chance to tighten screws in microwaves or assemble Apple's latest gizmo. If the country is going to rise to superpowerdom, says conventional wisdom, it will do so on the back of its massive workforce.

    But there's a hitch: China's demographics stink. No country is aging faster than the People's Republic, which is on track to become the first nation in the world to get old before it gets rich. Because of the Communist Party's notorious one-child-per-family policy, the average number of children born to a Chinese woman has dropped from 5.8 in the 1970s to 1.8 today -- below the rate of 2.1 that would keep the population stable. Meanwhile, life expectancy has shot up, from just 35 in 1949 to more than 73 today. Economists worry that as the working-age population shrinks, labor costs will rise, significantly eroding one of China's key competitive advantages.

    Worse, Chinese demographers such as Li Jianmin of Nankai University now predict a crisis in dealing with China's elderly, a group that will balloon from 100 million people older than 60 today to 334 million by 2050, including a staggering 100 million age 80 or older. How will China care for them? With pensions? Fewer than 30 percent of China's urban dwellers have them, and none of the country's 700 million farmers do. And China's state-funded pension system makes Social Security look like Fort Knox. Nicholas Eberstadt, a demographer and economist at the American Enterprise Institute, calls China's demographic time bomb "a slow-motion humanitarian tragedy in the making" that will "probably require a rewrite of the narrative of the rising China."

    I count myself lucky to have witnessed China's economic rise first-hand and seen its successes etched on the bodies of my Chinese classmates. When I first met them in the early 1980s, my fellow students were hard and thin as rails; when I found them again almost 20 years later, they proudly sported what the Chinese call the "boss belly." They now golfed and lolled around in swanky saunas.

    But in our exuberance over these incredible economic changes, we seem to have forgotten that past performance doesn't guarantee future results. Not a month goes by without some Washington think tank crowing that China's economy is overtaking America's. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace is the latest, predicting earlier this month that the Chinese economy would be twice the size of ours by the middle of the century.

    There are two problems with predictions like these. First, in the universe where these reports are generated, China's graphs always go up, never down. Second, while the documents may include some nuance, it vanishes when the studies are reported to the rest of us.

    One important nuance we keep forgetting is the sheer size of China's population: about 1.3 billion, more than four times that of the United States. China should have a big economy. But on a per capita basis, the country isn't a dragon; it's a medium-size lizard, sitting in 109th place on the International Monetary Fund's World Economic Outlook Database, squarely between Swaziland and Morocco. China's economy is large, but its average living standard is low, and it will stay that way for a very long time, even assuming that the economy continues to grow at impressive rates.

    The big number wheeled out to prove that China is eating our economic lunch is the U.S. trade deficit with China, which last year hit $256 billion. But again, where's the missing nuance? Nearly 60 percent of China's total exports are churned out by companies not owned by Chinese (including plenty of U.S. ones). When it comes to high-tech exports such as computers and electronic goods, 89 percent of China's exports come from non-Chinese-owned companies. China is part of the global system, but it's still the low-cost assembly and manufacturing part -- and foreign, not Chinese, firms are reaping the lion's share of the profits.

    When my family and I left China in 2004, we moved to Los Angeles, the smog capital of the United States. No sooner had we set foot in southern California than my son's asthma attacks and chronic chest infections -- so worryingly frequent in Beijing -- stopped. When people asked me why we'd moved to L.A., I started joking, "For the air."

    China's environmental woes are no joke. This year, China will surpass the United States as the world's No. 1 emitter of greenhouse gases. It continues to be the largest depleter of the ozone layer. And it's the largest polluter of the Pacific Ocean. But in the accepted China narrative, the country's environmental problems will merely mean a few breathing complications for the odd sprinter at the Beijing games. In fact, they could block the country's rise.

    The problem is huge: Sixteen of the world's 20 most polluted cities are in China, 70 percent of the country's lakes and rivers are polluted, and half the population lacks clean drinking water. The constant smoggy haze over northern China diminishes crop yields. By 2030, the nation will face a water shortage equal to the amount it consumes today; factories in the northwest have already been forced out of business because there just isn't any water. Even Chinese government economists estimate that environmental troubles shave 10 percent off the country's gross domestic product each year. Somehow, though, the effect this calamity is having on China's rise doesn't quite register in the West .

    And then there's "Kung Fu Panda." That Hollywood movie embodies the final reason why China won't be a superpower: Beijing's animating ideas just aren't that animating.

    In recent years, we've been bombarded with articles and books about China's rising global ideological influence. (One typical title: "Charm Offensive: How China's Soft Power Is Transforming the World.") These works portray China's model -- a one-party state with a juggernaut economy -- as highly attractive to elites in many developing nations, although China's dreary current crop of acolytes (Zimbabwe, Burma and Sudan) don't amount to much of a threat.

    But consider the case of the high-kicking panda who uses ancient Chinese teachings to turn himself into a kung fu warrior. That recent Hollywood smash broke Chinese box-office records -- and caused no end of hand-wringing among the country's glitterati. "The film's protagonist is China's national treasure, and all the elements are Chinese, but why didn't we make such a film?" Wu Jiang, president of the China National Peking Opera Company, told the official New China News Agency.

    The content may be Chinese, but the irreverence and creativity of "Kung Fu Panda" are 100 percent American. That highlights another weakness in the argument about China's inevitable rise: The place remains an authoritarian state run by a party that limits the free flow of information, stifles ingenuity and doesn't understand how to self-correct. Blockbusters don't grow out of the barrel of a gun. Neither do superpowers in the age of globalization.

    And yet we seem to revel in overestimating China. One recent evening, I was at a party where a senior aide to a Democratic senator was discussing the business deal earlier this year in which a Chinese state-owned investment company had bought a big chunk of the Blackstone Group, a U.S. investment firm. The Chinese company has lost more than $1 billion, but the aide wouldn't believe that it was just a bum investment. "It's got to be part of a broader plan," she insisted. "It's China."

    I tried to convince her otherwise. I don't think I succeeded.

    pomfretj@washpost.com

    John Pomfret is the editor of Outlook. He is a former Beijing bureau chief of The Washington Post and the author of "Chinese Lessons: Five Classmates and the Story of the New China."
     
  2. HombreDeHierro

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    There are wayyyy too many people there for China to sustain any kind of growth. Energy, water, food.....it's all going to be a big problem
     
  3. bucket

    bucket Member

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    Oh yeah. That's my kind of party.
     
  4. Deckard

    Deckard Blade Runner
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    An excellent and thought provoking read, A_3PO. Thanks! :cool:



    Impeach Bush/Nixon... uh, Cheney.
     
  5. Sweet Lou 4 2

    Sweet Lou 4 2 Contributing Member
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    I disagree - these are mere growing pains. China will find a way to deal with all of these issues - 1.4 billion people can not be stopped when determined...and I think they are.
     
  6. Rocketman95

    Rocketman95 Hangout Boy

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    I think the environmental concerns will end up being the biggest issue out of all of them. Here's an interesting article highlighting the environmental disaster China is becoming not just to them, but to the rest of the world.

    I do know that I am now going to start calling my gut my "boss belly" though.
     
  7. CometsWin

    CometsWin Breaker Breaker One Nine

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    I agree, particularly when it comes to being a military superpower. The US has strategic alliances to check China pretty much anywhere in the world. Plus, China's leaders are still Communists and modern nations won't align themselves with Communists unless there's nobody else at the door.
     
  8. rz04

    rz04 Member

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    Except these growing pains won't go away. There is already a huge disparity of wealth between the poor and the rich, and that is something "determination" can't fix.

    The problem is China grew too fast, and she will soon reach her limits unless steps are taken, more and more people are moving from the villages to the cities, that combined with rapid expansion of industries, cities, and pollution of arable lands will soon lead to its agriculture system unable to keep up with its rapid expansion. Not to mention the huge energy demands that China's economy requires will soon put a screeching halt on China's growth.

    There are many other problems as well, China now has less and less government sponsored programs such as education, health care, senior services, etc. Too many of those services are now ran like private entities despite its communist back drop.

    All that adds with the usual pollution problems, social issues, and rampant local government corruptions could potentially lead to disasters further down the road.

    This might sound bad but I believe the only way the Chinese government avoid potential problems is to apply more government control to its economical entities, in other words revert back to its policies during the pre-DengXiaoPing eras (with less conflicts and more freedom of course).Because right now they are running a communist bureaucracy system in a capitalist market.
     
  9. meh

    meh Contributing Member

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    The aging population thing is one I'm not exactly too sure about. Mainly because the one-child policy is rarely enforced at a rural level, so I think the source of cheap labor won't be running out any time soon.

    The environment is horrible though. And does not look to be solved in the near future. But I'm not sure if this is one of those things that developing countries just go through and will eventually overcome, or if it's a long term deal.

    Btw, I really can't believe that people may think the one-party system can possibly be good. Corruption is ridiculous. Heck, I even saw shoddy construction by the Water Cube(where the swimming events will be held for the Olympics) and it's not even the Olympics yet! People in position of power spend government money like it's nothing.
     
  10. Bandwagoner

    Bandwagoner Contributing Member

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    you guys should be more concerned if it will rain tommorow.

    it will have a much larger impact on your life.
     
  11. rfila

    rfila Member

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    lol,the Chinese "boss belly" is nothing compared what you see here in America.

    Seriously, this article is a perfect example how an article should not be written.

    The article started with title "... to greatness", then at the the end of first paragraph you read something like "ready to dominate the 21st century the way the United States dominated the 20th."

    what is this article talking about? to greatness? superpower? or the superpower like the 20th century US? you can not keep changing the concept of your article. that is in the writting lesson 101.

    Also, if you want to write something about the power of a nation, you better leave something like economy on a per capita basis or average living standard out. If these are close to that of US, do you think you would still compare the powers of these two countries? Simple math and logic.

    Yet I do not see the clear conclusion from this article.

    If you are saying China will not "dominate the 21st century the way the United States dominated the 20th", there is no arguement. We are already in the 21st century, and China is not dominating. Heck, even the superpower former Sovie Union did not dominated the 20th century like US did.

    If you are saying China will not become one of the superpowers of the world, I do not see how you reach that conclusion. Many problems presented in the article are true, but I don't see they are unsolvable.

    It's kind of laughable this guy try to make his readers beleive what he say because he had lived in China so long. It is like that I write an article about US future and want my Chinese readers give the article more credit than it deserves just because I have been living in the US for so many years. Heck, it is a topic most American couldn't figure out for their whole life, why my stay in US makes me an expert on it?

    There is such thing called profession. A reporter is a reporter.
     
  12. stonegate_archer

    stonegate_archer Contributing Member

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    The only post that makes sense. The article is totally lack of logic and the conclusion is poorly drawn. There is no in depth economic analysis at all.
     
  13. rockbox

    rockbox Around before clutchcity.com

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    China is already a super power. It's sphere of influence is only second to the US and the fact that it has trillions of dollars of our currency gives them even more influence over us. China can pretty much do what ever they want and no one will stop them.
     
  14. pgabriel

    pgabriel Educated Negro

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    now that's a good definition of a super power.
     
  15. KingCheetah

    KingCheetah Contributing Member

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    Too many people -- will never become a true superpower.
     
  16. SamFisher

    SamFisher Contributing Member

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    Taiwan has a good chance at becoming one.
     
  17. KingCheetah

    KingCheetah Contributing Member

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    They have a strong economy (now), but if you can't even put one aircraft carrier out to sea then your country is not a superpower.
     
  18. KingCheetah

    KingCheetah Contributing Member

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    Rumor has it that their new aircraft carrier will be nuclear powered with global strike capability.
     
  19. SamFisher

    SamFisher Contributing Member

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    I heard there were plans to detach the island of Formosa from the bedrock and sail it around using wind powered turbines with nuclear backups - rendering the country of Taiwan into the world's largest floating weapons platform. They could control the straits of Tawan by blockading them - with Taiwan itself, and then sail the entire country into Hong Kong, maybe ram the island off its moorings (there is a long undersea tether between HK Island and Kowloon peninsula) and annex it. If you persuade Singapore to sail up the gulf and join in you would have an alternate China more powerful than China itself
     
  20. KingCheetah

    KingCheetah Contributing Member

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    I've heard this to - but was wary of posting on the internet lest it find its way down the wrong tube and into the eyes of an angry netizen.

    Your valor and bravery knows no bounds SamFisher.
     

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