1.3 billion people, vast land, abundance of natural resources and pride, China has got it all. Ever since the liberalisation, her economy has turned heads worldwide showing stellar double digit growth rates. Analysts and experts believe that the century of Asia, especially, China, is indeed upon us and the future will see a decline of the US with China rising in her stead. At the same time as China prospers and expands, the US is shrinking being devastated by the recession and the wars going on in Iraq and Afghanistan. At present, the US owes billions of dollars to the Chinese in treasury bonds. What one sees today may be thought of as a precursor of a big standoff between the US and China somewhere down the line. However, I believe that although China may have started out on the path of development, it will be a long time before it can really challenge the mighty USA. And there are two reasons – neither is China as brilliant as many think nor is the US as vulnerable.
The Mighty States
Currently, the GDP of the US was reported to be around US$ 12 trillion which is nearly thrice that of the second largest economy on the planet, Japan. Certainly, there has been the financial crisis and the recession that followed and the economy may seem to be in ruins but the truth is that the US is a lot stronger. Thanks to the World Wars, the US economy boomed in the early part of the 20th century and came to dominate the rest. With giant corporate like General Motors, General Electric, Ford, Wal-mart, to name a few, America Inc. was going places. As Europe reeled from the destruction, the Americans were spending their new found wealth. That was the starting of the age of the USA and it still has a long time to go before it fizzles out.
Besides, the gargantuan economy that is in trouble, but only for the moment, the US is undoubtedly the strongest military power in the world. Its armed forces are unmatched and the level of sophistication and technology can send chills down any enemy’s spines. For the sake of exemplification, the US Navy has 12 aircraft carriers at present, China has none. In terms of the army although China has more troops owing to its humongous populace, the US army is much better equipped and better trained than the Chinese.
Even in geopolitics and diplomacy, the US seems to be the “Big Brother”. Despite strong anti-war protests worldwide and the UN’s rebuke, George W. Bush went ahead with his invasion of Iraq that has led to chaos in the region. The US dictates terms to other countries and organisations often unanimously. China, on the other hand, pales in comparison.
All’s Not Well in China
Despite the juggernaut growth that lifted millions out of poverty, China faces a horde of problems at home. Owing to its population, it has to maintain at least 8% growth to sustain employment. If the economy slows down, massive unemployment will result that may throw the country into social and political turmoil. China is still not democratic and is ruled by the China Communist Party almost autocratically. Although she has opened her markets to some extent, the “Commanding Heights”, as Lenin called the cornerstone industries, are still under state control.
China’s image at the international level is certainly not unscathed. It has a long-standing dispute with Taiwan, not to mention Tibet and the Uighurs. The memories of the Tiananmen Square protests were refreshed with the anniversary recently. China practises surveillance, censorship and a rule with an “iron fist”. Corruption is still evident in the bureaucracy and state enterprises. A lot needs to be to reform education and bring development to the remote parts.
Another major concern for China is the deteriorating state of her environment. During the Olympics, cars were banned on certain days to keep the smog and pollution levels bearable. In fact, more than half of the world’s most polluted cities are in China. This is the result of unplanned industrialisation and reckless exploitation of resources. China achieved growth by putting its millions of unskilled labour in meagre factory jobs, assembling toys and making shoes. This is certainly not sustainable and China will soon need to develop its other industries to keep the growth steady and prevent mass unemployment.
I feel convinced that despite popular beliefs, a China-US standoff is a lot farther than most of would imagine. And then there is the other factor – India. With fast growth and reform, India seems to be catching up with China. However, India has distinct advantages – she is a democracy, markets are more liberalised, domestic entrepreneurship is thriving and the middle class is mobile. India and China may turn out to be arch rivals and competition seems inevitable. Only the future will show how things shape up. Till the times come, we can still enjoy our noodles and McDonald’s burgers and hope that Obama is more competent than Bush.