"The rise of China" is splashed across media worldwide these days. But has this translated into reality?
Industrialization constitutes one of the prerequisites for a country's rise. But China still has a long way to go to achieve modern industrialization.
At the same time, the country's attempts at industrialization are clashing with the environment and natural resources.
It is generally admitted that China is still in the middle or post-middle phase of industrialization.
In 2004, the country only ranked 55 among 108 countries at the initial phase of modernization. This phase is characterized by the degree of urbanization and industrialization, as measured by the Research Group of China's Modernization Strategy Studies.
China ranked 51 among the 108 countries in the second phase of modernization, characterized by universal application of information technology.
In overall terms, China ranked 59 among the 108 countries.
By 2015, the country is expected to complete its first round of modernization, the development level of the developed countries back in 1960.
The rise of China is also a process that depends on sustainable economic growth.
China has sustained an average 9.6 percent growth rate since 1979, when the country embarked on the road of reform and opening-up. But China's GDP accounts for merely 5 percent of the world's total, roughly the same percentage as in 1955.
Sustaining the country's high-speed growth depends largely on overcoming resource deficiency and environmental deterioration.
China is rising in a very different context from the traditional world powers. Western powers, in the course of their rise, felt no pinch of shortages of natural resources or restrictions imposed by a limited environment.
China feels these restrictions multiplied by its huge population, more than 20 percent of the world's total.
Taking all this into account, the rise of China is bound to be subject to the restrictions of resources and the environment.
Environmental problems pose more prohibitive stumbling blocks than resources issues. Resources can be imported but the environment cannot.
The increasingly acute environmental problems constitute the hurdle China must get over on its way to further development.
Worsening environmental problems are threatening the health and well-being of the Chinese.
Among the 20 most seriously polluted cities in the world, 16 are in China. The six major water systems of the country all suffer pollution in various degrees. Some 300 million rural people find it hard to have access to clean drinking water.
In addition, the deficiency of water resources, which is closely linked to environmental pollution, may grow into a paramount barrier to sustainable economic development.
The per capita share of fresh water in China, which stands at 2,200 cubic meters, is only one-quarter of the world average. By 2010, it is expected that, of the 600 large cities in the country, 550 will be subjected to water shortages.
Water shortages are bound to force the country to restrict water use in people's daily life, irrigation and industry, which, in turn, will drag down the country's industrial and agricultural production.
There is more to it than that. A desert belt has taken form between the Tarim Basin in the northwest of the country and the Songhuajiang Plain in the northeast, spanning 4,500 kilometers. The area of this desert belt is 1.7 million square kilometers, or 17.85 percent of the country's total area.
About 62.4 percent of this sandy belt formed as late as the 20th century, particularly in the latter half of the last century.
Worst of all, the country's desertification process is accelerating. The expansion of deserts means dwindling territory for economic and social development.
Environmental pollution continues to stain China's image in the international community. For example, a Canadian company considered cooperation with the Qingdao-based Haier Group, one of the country's major appliance manufacturers, but feared that Qingdao was too polluted.
Another example. Tourists from the Republic of Korea complain about the inferior air quality in Shanghai and Beijing, while praising the cities' architectural grandeur.
China needs to shoulder more international responsibility. These responsibilities are increasingly leaning toward environmental problems brought on by global warming.
Though developed countries should be held responsible for global warming more than other countries, China, as a big developing country, should still assume due responsibility.
China's sense of responsibility finds expression in the founding of the China Weather-Change Experts' Committee at the beginning of this year.
Enormously accelerated forestation programs offer a formula to reverse desertification and environmental degradation, key to sustaining China's economic development.
The author is a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
(China Daily 03/20/2007 page10)