China ought to be feared because of its weakness, not strength
In the meantime, all these accomplishments rest on the shaky foundation of exploitation of the millions deprived of elementary social rights. The existing treats to China's security, both internal and external ones, make its road to global leadership all the more difficult.
Is there valid corroborative evidence to back this assumption? Judge for yourselves. Just like with any other country, China's hypothetical status of a world power requires absolute independence from external influence and absence of serious domestic problems. That was how America developed in the 20th century once the Great Depression of the 1930's was over. Processes of globalization did not affect the United States as greatly then as they do nowadays. Status of a naval power separated from the rest of the world by the oceans was another asset guaranteeing America's security. China lacks any such assets. Globalization gaining momentum increases its dependance on the international community. China is located in a potentially unstable region, and that's an external liability. An internal liability boils down to the growing social inequality in the country itself that foments tension in society.
Globalization vs China-ization
Chinese economy's dependance on foreign capitals is substantial. US, European, Japanese, Taiwanese, and Korean companies account for nearly 60% of the total industrial output in China. Four hundred and seventy transnational corporations out of 500 operate in China. Exporters into foreign countries, these corporations wield considerable clout with the foreign commerce of China that already constitutes 37% of the national GDP. That is how foreign capitals exert influence with the principal economic parameter of the country's development.
Global expansion of Chinese produce ups the country's dependance on consumption abroad. Here is a fresh example. Since the United States is so large a market for the Chinese goods, relations with Washington are the factor all of the Chinese diplomacy is centered around. Loss of the American market may crash the Chinese economy. Rerouting flows of goods and commodities to other markets will certainly be problematic and time-consuming.
Geopolitical relations are having their effect on China too, restricting its capacities to a certain extent. Taiwan is a pawn in the geopolitical game of chess between the United States and China now. Official Beijing values its close commercial, economic, and financial ties with the United States too much to jeopardize its relation with Washington over Taiwan.
In the meantime, it is the global problems of international terrorism and extremism that pose probably the worst threat to China. The country in question is too close for comfort to the so called Arc of Instability. Central Asian states, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India constitute a threat of destabilization in the north-west, west, and south-west. In the meantime, it is north-western and western territories that are the poorest in all of China. The Xinjang-Uigur autonomous district and the Tibet, restive regions clamoring for sovereignty, are located there. All of that may foment a "great Chinese rebellion" and, aware of the implications, official Beijing is doing what it can to normalize the situation and minimize the risk of new conflicts in the region.
Free market socialism, Chinese edition
The Chinese ruling party launched free market reforms to escape the lot of the late USSR. Unfortunately, it is the Chinese bureaucracy and social strata close to the establishment that are benefiting from the reforms. Party functionaries and state officials are like bona fide capitalist now, with privatized factories and plants and practically all of commerce in their hands.
Chinese workers and peasants by the millions are still living in socialism. Chinese bureaucracy needs the one-party rule to control the vast masses that produce goods and commodities with a high surplus value permitted by low salaries and absence of social guarantees. All of that earns the Chinese establishment fantastic revenues.
Mounting social inequality
According to the latest studies made by the Academy of Social Sciences of China, the gap between the wealthy and the poor in this country keeps widening. Ten percent of the wealthiest representatives of Chinese society own 40% of all private assets in the country. The authorities cannot reverse this negative trend.
Aware that the worsening social stratification may undermine stability, Beijing views the necessity to narrow down the gap as the first priority that takes precedence over everything else. It does not even rule out the possibility of slowing down the economic development as leading to the continued social stratification.
Social guarantees for workers in China are minimal, and loss of job usually leads to impoverishment. Capitalist "reforms" had a thoroughly negative effect on the state-owned sector of national economy that became unprofitable. Millions lost jobs there. Chinese workers and peasants lack trade unions - or any rights for that matter. The situation worsening, protests become more frequent (up to 100,000 protests were recorded in 2005). They constitute a menace to social stability. "Health care crisis" became a signal of alarm. Chinese state officials bluntly admitted failure of the reforms in this sphere. Medical services are something every second Chinese cannot afford nowadays. The authorities' and society's helplessness in the face of pandemics is another serious threat to national security. China is certainly vulnerable to terrorist acts with the use of germ warfare means.
Official Beijing is facing a difficult dilemma: it has to retain the economic growth and avoid the worsening costs in the shape of political and social instability.
Debates rage in the political establishment of China between supporters of the Development Concept (when "economic development is the end in itself") and Harmonious Society Concept (that promotes social slogans and therefore objectives). The former have been getting the upper hand so far. They claim that the danger to stability is rooted in erosion of the economic growth to under 8% a year and not in inequality. The state is sacrificing well-being of the population to its own economic development.
National idea as salvation
Consolidation of the masses requires a national idea. Chinese bureaucracy believes it has found the solution in promotion of aspirations for the status of a world power. A similar idea united and inspired the peoples of the former Soviet Union once. Essentially paupers that they were, citizens of the USSR took pride in the greatness of the empire. This idea of greatness helped them overlook their own living standards.
Sure, China's impressive tempos of development set it apart from all other countries of the former socialist camp. On the other hand, accomplishments of the country as such have little if any effect on the lives of the ordinary Chinese.
This so called "development" is provided by backbreaking labor of the hundreds of millions. Introduce elements of democracy in Chinese society, and the Economic Miracle will stumble. Fulfillment of workers' demands for a higher pay and social expenditures will make Chinese goods that more expensive. It will immediately affect their competitiveness in the global markets and profitability of foreign investments in the national economy of China. That is why the authorities fear democratization. That is why they are mobilizing society with the slogans of the great future awaiting China.
China's successes are not restricted to economic growth alone. Political propaganda is another field where Beijing has been particularly successful. State officials and analysts enthusiastically predict forthcoming crash of the American might and China's ascension to the status of the world power of the 21st century. Their efforts seem to be having their effect: Chinese economic expansion and military threat are the talk of the day throughout the West. Western commentators never acknowledge problems of China, decisive as they actually are. It is domestic and external threats to security of China that restrict its capacities in attaining global leadership.
Before becoming the only center of power in the world in the 21st century, China has to do something about the mounting discrepancy between its free market economy and the political system ruled by the Communist Party of China. Mushrooming economic rise collides with dictatorship of the ruling party. Democratization of political life of the country becomes a more and more pressing necessity.
Global domination implies global responsibility for the processes taking place in the world and, also importantly, the necessity to keep the situation in hand or the domination may become history. This mantle rests on the American shoulders now. Is China prepared to assume the mantle of responsibility?
Zhang Zilian, Professor of the Beijing University, once said that "This century is not going to be a century of China. The country has too many problems to solve in the nest 50 years." It is not China's strength that has to be feared. The world ought to be afraid of China's weakness and the potential chaos its failure to set up a new economic model may generate.
Ferghana.Ru expert Bahtiyor Rashidov (Tashkent)