Experts: China's century is taking shape
If the 20th was the American century, the 21st may belong to China.
Just five years into it, China has become the world's third-largest trader, one of its fastest-growing economies, a rising military power in northeast Asia and a global player extending its influence in Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.
Americans and others around the globe can feel the effects of China's voracious appetite for resources and the enormous output of its factories, staffed by an endless stream of migrants who toil for $2 a day churning out low-cost goods, undercutting foreign competitors and upending the low-end global workforce.
Silicon Valley is watching China's rise closely. It's a huge market for such key technology products as Intel's microprocessors and Hewlett-Packard's computers. It's a source of talent, from programmers to researchers, for mighty Microsoft as well as for tiny start-ups. And it looms as a competitive threat, as China's low-cost manufacturing and widespread piracy challenge the businesses of such valley giants as Cisco Systems and Adobe Systems.
Will it last?
The world has never seen a nation as big as China rise as far and as fast as China has in the past 20 years. Its ascent, like those of the United States, Germany and Japan before it, is challenging more established powers. Its continued progress depends on harmony with these and other nations.
Whether China's rise lifts all the world's boats or sinks some of them will depend, first, on whether its rapid economic development continues. There's no certainty. Most of the country is backward and poor. Small-scale rural protests erupt. Corruption erodes the credibility. Citizens have huge expectations about rising standards of living.
It would be unwise, however, to bet against China. With the exception of India, no other country has such enormous scale, including such a huge pool of highly educated people. And in an age of globalization, no country has been better able than China to swallow the innovations of others and leap ahead of them.
China's conglomerates are on the prowl. Following a path Japan once took, Chinese firms are scouring the globe. But instead of buying trophy buildings and movie studios, they've bought IBM's personal computer business, and they're looking at Maytag and Unocal, the oil company.
Economist Nick Lardy, a China expert, said its economy was likely to grow rapidly during the next five to 10 years because of its openness to foreign business, high savings rate and huge pool of underemployed rural workers who are eager to work in factories, even for low wages.
Although much of China's production is still low-tech,
the government is pushing innovation and research into areas that have both
civilian and military high-tech potential.