Domestic Affairs

China can hardly rule the world

By Liu Liping (
Updated: 2011-03-31 13:37
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China's rapid growth since reform and opening-up in 1978 has drawn worldwide attention, yet predictions about the country's future vary greatly. While some observers predicted that China would follow the former Soviet Union's path in five years, optimists have spoken louder and clearer.

In his recent work,China's Megatrends: the Eight Pillars of a New Society, well-known US futurist John Naisbit predicted that the country would evolve into the world's center by 2050 and challenge Western democracy with its development mode. British scholar Martin Jacques has gone a step further in his book When China Rules the World. He declares the inevitability of China's ascendancy and the West's simultaneous decline, thus announcing a nascent superpower in the making.

While I agrees with Mr. Jacques on many points but denies his exaggerations. China is indeed rising, but it is not blooming into a superpower that will rule the world.

Although China skyrocketed into the world's second largest economy in the second quarter of 2010, overtaking Britain, Germany and Japan - ahead of schedule, will China replace the United States, as well? It's not likely in the foreseeable future.

First, relying on a linear curve of development to forecast the future is unreliable.

Anyone with a basic knowledge of statistics knows that a straight line cannot remain so forever. The further the line extends to the right, the more uncertain the result. Take Japan for example. Before the bubble burst in the early 1990s, the Japanese economy was extraordinarily robust. It was the vogue for international observers to predict when Japan would overtake America as the world's number one economy. Then in the beginning of 1990, severe depression hit the country. The US subprime debt crisis tells the same story. It is inherently risky, therefore, to bet on long-term future.

A second point at issue is the missing link of per capita GDP when measuring Chinese national strength. It's ridiculous to judge whether the world’s most populous country qualifies as a developed economy by looking solely at total GDP rather than evaluating per capita figures, economic structure and results of industrial performance. Total volume of GDP is a necessary but not a sufficient condition to join the ranks of great powers.

The Chinese leadership is keenly aware of this harsh reality. Premier Wen Jiabao has stressed time and again that no matter how impressive China's economic indicators may appear, divided by 1.3 billion,the meager result reveals the true story. Ma Jiangtang, Director of the National Statistics Bureau, told the press early this year that despite its high economic ranking in the world, China is still a developing nation, lagging behind a hundred countries in per capita GDP, with the daily income of 150 million people below the UN poverty line.

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