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The 21st Century the Chinese Century or No?

If Deng Xiaoping is asked this question today, despite the incredible progress China has made in the last three decades, I’d expect him to say “no!”  Besides the cat quote, Deng has a number of other ones which are less well known in the West.  He said, “keep a cool head and maintain a low profile.”  In fact, this quote is particularly important today, as a “Red Scare” seems to be brewing in the U.S. recently.  See this February 26, 2010 Washington Post article, “There’s a new Red Scare. But is China really so scary?”  It said:

Asked in a Washington Post-ABC News poll this month whether this century would be more of an “American century” or more of a “Chinese century,” many Americans across the country chose China. Respondents divided evenly between the United States and China on who would dominate the global economy and tilted toward Beijing on who would most influence world affairs.

Like others, Graham (Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)) emphasizes the China threat to propel his fellow lawmakers into action.

But, the article concludes:

China is no enemy, but inflating the challenge from China could be just as dangerous as underestimating it.

Deng is known famously for moving Chinese politics from the ideologically to the pragmatically driven. Deng understood that for a country to develop, eventually it’s reality that counts – not ideology, or self aggrandizement or the making up of bogeyman scare tactics.  China Daily had a really good article out by Chen Weihua who, if I had to guess, is heeding to Deng’s advice.  While the Washington Post article correctly argues why the current “Red Scare” is blown out of proportion and articulates for Americans why they shouldn’t succumb to it, Chen argues from a Chinese perspective why the West should not unnecessarily fret by explaining where China IS today.:

China viewed through two different lenses

By Chen Weihua (chinadaily.com.cn)
Updated: 2010-02-26 10:54

Editor’s note: Will the 21st century belong to China? The author doubts that as China is still a developing country, with so many domestic issues to deal with.

NEW YORK: The latest Washington Post-ABC News poll which shows more Americans believe the 21st century will be a China century rather than an American one might again agitate many in the United States and gratify many in China.

The survey, released on February 25, shows that 41 percent of the 1,004 adults polled says it will be a China century in terms of economic strength, while 40 percent named the US. When it comes to world affairs, 43 percent chose China, with 38 percent selecting the US.

An earlier poll in December by the Pew Center revealed a similar picture, with more Americans believing China, instead of the US, is the world leading economic power.

While these polls have reflected China’s rapid rise on the world stage in recent years, both in economical and political arenas, they have also camouflaged the fact that China is fundamentally a developing country and still poor in the per capita sense.

Yes. China may soon surpass Japan as the world’s second largest economy, trailing only the US. Yes. China has overtaken Germany as the world’s top exporter. Yes. China is one of the top creditors of the US.

And China is exerting increasing clout over a multitude of world affairs ranging from the global financial crisis, North Korea’s nuclear talks, Iran’s nuclear program to climate change.

All these have brought new dynamics to the world today. The rest of the world has to adjust and cope with a fast-growing and more assertive China now and in the years to come. And the world is becoming multi-polar rather than staying uni-polar.

However, those who are awed by the sheer size of China’s economy and export should also look at the sheer size of the country’s population of 1.3 billion, or a fifth of the world’s total. It would simply justify China being on the top of major economic indicators as well as a major player in the world.

You could easily misunderstand China if you just visit Shanghai and Beijing and never reach the vast hinterland and underdeveloped northwestern part of the country.

China’s per capita GDP ranks 96th in the world and is less than a seventh of that in the US. At least 150 million Chinese are still living under the global poverty line of $1 a day set by the World Bank.

As a developing country and one in transition, China is facing mounting pressure from serious environment pollution, a widening income disparity, a weak social security network as well as ethical and moral confusion.

China must grow further in order to lift more than 10 percent of its population out of poverty. It will take many years and decades for the country to become a middle-income country in the world.

So for those who feel agitated, threatened or thrilled by the polls, they might have a very different mood if they start to look at China by its sheer size as well as in the per capita sense.

  1. March 2nd, 2010 at 07:01 | #1

    You’re damn right. China is often portrayed as a bogeyman. The US often uses China as a scapegoat to hide its own failures as the sole superpower.

    China has never claimed any leadership role and certainly does not want to take a larger share of “global governance” – in accordance with Deng Xiaoping’s 24 character strategy; and that’s why Wen Jiabao publicly rejected becoming part of a “G-2”, with the US.

    To me US intentions are as clear as daylight – If an international problem is solved, take credit (and use it as an excuse to become even more complacent); and if it is not, blame China.
    When the US alone cannot fulfill its ‘responsibilities’ as a superpower, it conveniently thrusts a ’responsible stakeholder’ status on China to divert attention from its own faults. The US simply uses China as a smokescreen. An excuse to NOT commit to anything itself, as in Copenhagen.

    BTW, the polls offer further proof, if any where needed, that Americans are one of the stupidest people in the world. (http://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2009/12/at-last-theres-proof-44-of-americans-are-crazy/31576/)

    – Maitreya Bhakal – http://indiaschinablog.blogspot.com/

  2. March 3rd, 2010 at 01:20 | #2

    @Maitreya

    Welcome to HH. Thx for chiming in. You have an important perspective from within India, so we encourage you to keep your blog up!

    I think the poll really shows how polarized the U.S. media and politicians have made them so they can’t tell night from day any more.

    Btw, on that James Fallows article, he uses a picture of a run-down dormitory to indicate China is supposedly backwards is so weak. As a supposed “China hand”, I’d expect him to be able to roughly say some of the same things Chen Weihua said in the China Daily article.

  3. March 5th, 2010 at 10:13 | #3

    @YinYang

    Thanks a lot!

    And about James Fallows, his usage of a that photo is not something that one wouldn’t expect from a man of his nature.
    And I’m quite sure that he would jump at the idea of saying some words on the lines of the Chen Weihua article! He would be the first person to call if one wants to accentuate China’s negative points.
    However, he is in fact true about one thing though (which we all knew actually) – that Americans are stupid!

    I have quite a few friends working as BPO workers for American companies who outsource jobs to call centres here in India; and trust me – that anecdote about a customer calling to complain to customer service that his computer isn’t working; and the call centre executive telling him to check if it is switched on (which it wasn’t) – is in fact true! And most of those callers are American!

    – Maitreya

  4. Rhan
    March 5th, 2010 at 20:13 | #4

    Hi Maitreya

    “and the call centre executive telling him to check if it is switched on (which it wasn’t) – is in fact true! And most of those callers are American!”

    Haha, my company IT personnel tell me the same thing, it seem this happen all the time and to everyone. By the way, don’t you think US is often portrayed as a bogeyman as well?

  5. March 6th, 2010 at 10:10 | #5

    Hi Rhan,

    Being portrayed as a bogey-man is in fact part and parcel of being a superpower or a powerful country. Their will always be people who will spread misinformation about rival countries.

    However, I think that often China being portrayed as the bogeyman is wrong because,
    a) Most of the accusations which are hurled on China are quite delusional and have no basis in fact.
    b) Most of the accusations which are hurled on the US do have a basis in fact

    In any case, the international behaviour of these two countries speaks for itself.

    In short, both countries will be portrayed as the bogeyman, it is up to each individual person to do his/her own research or fact-finding before choosing to blindly believe any such accusations in the western media.

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