AN ORIENTAL 21ST CENTURY?
"Is this the Chinese century, and will Beijing again dominate the global system as it did from before the birth of Christ to roughly 1800? These weighty questions have received additional impetus in the wake of the devastating financial crisis and its tough and protracted consequences for the United States and other western nations. The contrast with an economically and increasingly politically self-confident China could hardly be more stark. Yet, global futures cannot be projected in the linear and a political form, which many employ. There are serious challenges ahead for China.
The comprehensive reforms unleashed by Deng Xiaoping in 1978 set China off on an explosive path to become America's main geopolitical rival, the world's second largest economy, its biggest exporter and its major creditor with over three trillion dollars of foreign financial assets, or the equivalent of three quarters of its gross domestic product (GDP).
By 2030, on current form, China's GDP will overtake the US, possibly a bit earlier. Income per head of population, which has trebled in thirty years to about $3,700, could reach $13,000. With the west in postcrisis economic and political disarray, China's enormous impact is very clear nowadays on neighbours and the world system. What could possibly go wrong in the increasingly common refrain that the future belongs to China?"
George Magnus, "China: Uncertain Leap Forward," The World Today (December 2010), pp. 7-8.
"The Middle Kingdom, this, is merely a middle power. It is not that China does not matter at all, but that it matters far less than it and most of the West think. China matters about as much as Brazil for the global economy. It is a medium-rank military power, and it exerts no political pull at all."
Gerald Seigel, "Does China Matter?" Foreign Affairs, (September / October 1999), p. 35.
"It has not dawned on our countrymen yet, but doubtless it has on you as it has on me, that if the Americans choose to pay for what they can easily afford, they can gradually build up a Navy, firstly as large and then larger than ours."
The Earl of Selbourne to Lord Curzon, 19 April 1901, in The Crisis of British Power: The Imperial and naval powers of the Second Earl of Selbourne, edited. D. George Boyce. (1990), p. 115.
Will the 21st century be an Asiatic or Oriental one? Well on present form, insofar as facts have meaning, the answer is most likely no. And that will hold true even twenty years or less hence, when the PRC (presuming that the state apparatus which carries that name still exists) finally does have a bigger gross domestic product than the USA. Why one may ask will this event, not have an earthquake like shock on world politics? For the very simple reason, that unlike say when in the late-19th century, the USA outstripped the United Kingdom in gross domestic product, the United States was already a wealthier country in per capita terms. 1 If it were the case, that the PRC had a per capita income which was say half the American average, then it could well be, that with the disparity in populations, that the PRC, will be able to quickly devote sufficient amounts of national wealth to outstrip the USA in military spending and in spending on high-technology. However that is not the case at present, nor does it appear will it be be the case in x numbers of years hence. And furthermore, one may recall, that it was almost fifty years, before the United States translated its great economic wealth into pure military power. And, as per Chatham House's in-house World Today article, even by 2030, the PRC will only have a per capita income of $13,000.00. A figure which as per the international monetary fund, already sixty-four (64) other countries have or higher. Which raises the point, that aside from the original "Asian Tigers" of Singapore, South Korea, Formosa, and Hong Kong, none of the so-called rising (or not so rising) nations of the Orient, have even mid-level per capita incomes. With all of the countries which have populations of fifty million or larger, being in world comparative terms, poor. And in the case of say India, Pakistan or Vietnam, being in the category of dirt-poor. Id est, over half of the population of the Indian sub-continent 'survives' (if one may use that term in this context) on two dollars a day. 2 Countries which are that poor, and not even the greatest optimists among the many rather naive boosters of our Asiatic friends in the Anglo-American press have surmised that future growth in non-PRC, Asia will be higher than that of the PRC in the next twenty years; countries which are that poor, both now and in the future, will not as a plausible matter be able to act as Great Powers, in any normative sense. Much less convert their admittedly potentially great increase in national wealth, into being 'Super-Powers' `a la the current USA. Sans, being even a medium-level income country, the likelihood that any of these larger Asian nations can play the future roles that some have marked out for them is to my mind, based upon past history, rather difficult to imagine. For a quick reminder, one may only recall, the difficulty that Tsarist Russia, had in competing successful in the Great Power game, after the onset of West European industrialization in the second and third quarters of the 19th century. Even though, its per capita income at the beginning of the process, was half the West European average, and at the end, still one-third. 3. Currently of course, the PRC, has a per capita income only 1/7th that of the USA, India 1/14th of that of the USA. In short, those who simplistically mark-out that the 21st century is to be the 'Asiatic' or 'Oriental' century have a rather reductionist view of power political realities. Both at the present time and in the future.
1. For this see: A. J. P. Taylor, The Struggle for Mastery in Europe. (1954), pp. xxv-xxxi; Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. (1987), pp. 228-248. Especially pertinent are Kennedy's comment apropos the USA: "The United States seemed to have all(emphasis in the original) the economic advantages which some of the other powers possessed in part, but none of their disadvantages....It was not therefore surprising that U.S.
national income, in absolute figures and per capita, was so far above everyone else's by 1914."
2. Currently, China's current per capita income world ranking is 93 ($7,518). With 64countries have currently per capita incomes higher than $13,000.00. India's ranking is 127 ($3,290); Indonesia is 122 ($4,380); Pakistan is 133 ($2,789); Vietnam is 128
($3,123). All IMF figures from 2009, in "Report for Select Countries and Subjects," www.imf.org.
3. Cyril Black, et. al. The Modernization of Japan and Russia: A comparative Study. (1975), p. 16-17. And, Kennedy, op. cit., pp. 232-241, where he comments: "that Russia's power and influence had declined throughout much of the nineteenth century in rough proportion to her increasing economic backwardness."