Saturday, August 13, 2005

China's growth signals the birth of a new superpower

By As'ad Abdul Rahman, Special to Gulf News

When China awakes it will shake the world, Napoleon Bonaparte once said. It seems China is now awakened and rapidly so. With a population of 1.3 billion, the country looms large in the world's imagination.
Its growing economic power ensures it will play a larger role on the world stage in the years ahead. China is now the world's largest producer of coal, steel and cement, the second largest consumer of energy and the third largest importer of energy, which explains the soaring gas prices in the world.
The country's exports to the United States have grown by 1,600 per cent over the past 15 years while US exports to China have grown by 45 per cent.
The history of China is both fascinating and complex. Its culture has been described as both peaceful and warlike. China was created by conquests and has essentially been ruled by a series of warlords.
The past century has been extremely difficult for China. The occupation by the Japanese in the 1930's and 1940's and the civil war which brought the Communist Party to power in 1949 were extremely turbulent times.
Series of reforms
From this civil war, the People's Republic of China emerged. Following Mao's death in 1976, the new leader, Deng Xiaoping, commenced a series of reforms that radically changed the country.
Deng delivered a speech that turned out to be the most important one in modern Chinese history. He urged the regime focus on development and modernisation, and let facts, not ideology, guide its path.
Since then, China has done just that, pursuing a modernisation path that is "ruthlessly" pragmatic and non-ideological.
Deng encouraged international trade and allowed foreign investment. The result has been China's phenomenal entry into world markets and a booming economy.
The specific aim of these policies was to obtain large foreign exchange earnings, which would allow China to both modernise and become more independent.
The results have been astonishing. China has grown around 9 per cent a year for more than 25 years, the fastest growth rate for a major economy in recorded history.
In the same period, it has moved 300 million people out of poverty and quadrupled the average Chinese person's income. And all this has happened without catastrophic social upheavals.
As China emerges as a global power it is important to know what role it will play and the security perceptions it has of both Asia and the rest of the world.
The most important issue for China today is political stability at home. Any attempt to influence the status quo is not welcome and is deemed to be an interference in the country's internal affairs.
Many Chinese believe the United States represents the core values of Western civilisation and is in conflict with Eastern civilisation which is represented by China. As a result, the Chinese leadership views any American influence as a challenge to China's political stability.
The Western view of China's emergence is mixed. Following a period of condemnation after the 1989 Tiananmen Square turbulence, Western countries have thought of normalising relations with China.
The US granted China Most Favoured Nation trading status and a 1995 decision determined that human rights would no longer be tied to commerce.
The issue of China's military modernisation has attracted attention. China's military strategy underwent a major change in the mid-1980's when it embarked upon an ambitious modernisation programme. Its economic growth has been key in the implementation of this programme.
The actual size of China's military spending is hard to determine due to the secrecy that usually surround military matters. The country currently has the world's largest military.
The Peoples' Liberation Army consists of over two million men and is complemented by the world's third largest air force and largest small-ship navy.
Some American officials chiefly neoconservatives and Pentagon strategists tend to exaggerate the Chinese military threat. But facts remain facts, and they belie what American strategists are claiming.
Small fraction
China is certainly expanding its military, with a budget that rises 10 per cent or more every year. But this is only a small fraction of what the US is spending. America's military spending is equal to the rest of the world's military budgets combined.
The arrival of a new super power usually produces tension, if not turmoil, as the newcomer tries to fit into the established order or overturns it to serve its purposes.
Great powers' conflict is something the world has not seen since the Cold War. But differing attitudes on the rise of China are likely to produce permanent strains in the Western alliance.
Inevitably, the China challenge looms largest for the United States. Historically, when the world's leading power is challenged by a rising one, the two have had a difficult relationship.
While neither side will admit it publicly, both China and the US worry and plan for the future. Beneath this calm, there is probably going to be a soft war, a quiet competition for power and influence across the globe.
Professor As'ad Abdul Rahman is the Chairman of the Palestinian Encyclopedia


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