May 19, 2013
The China Superpower Hoax
Posted on Sep 23, 2010
By Steven Hill
Beyond economic and ecological indicators, the hallmark of a great power is when other nations want to emulate you. What made the United States the great power of the post-World War II era was not just its military might but its promise of economic betterment and freedoms—glamorized by Hollywood, the best public relations machine ever—which caused people from all over the world to want to flock to our shores. The City on the Hill inspired people toward an ideal, however much America itself didn’t always live up to that ideal. But no one is banging down doors to get into China, and only the poorest countries aim to be like the People’s Republic.
China inspires curiosity with its ancient history and huge population, but not envy or emulation. That will not change anytime soon, and perhaps never unless China at some point opens up its political and economic system. The absolute unwillingness of Communist Party authorities to tolerate any public reflection, let alone protest, during the 20-year anniversary in June 2009 of the Tiananmen Square crackdown exposed their great fear of their own people, as well as the lack of confidence among China’s rulers in either their system or themselves. It remains to be seen how much of a “new China” will continue to emerge, but all these horizons certainly provide a different view of China from the one typically given by the Sino enthusiasts.
Given this reality, why does China receive so many rave reviews while Japan and Europe—which actually do a far better job of providing for their people—are treated with scorn and derision? The answer seems to boil down to the fact that China’s high-growth economy has become the place where corporations can realize the quickest return for their quarterly profit sheets. To many awestruck pundits, China represents the future, or at least the future of business success.
But it is also the case that China’s über-growth has become an ideological weapon in the hands of free market fundamentalists and pro-growth zealots. The Chinese economy and its high growth engine is used to browbeat other countries viewed as growing insufficiently. Europe and Japan are proof that high growth is not necessary to create the highest living standards in the world, yet in an ideological battle between free market fundamentalists and everyone else, China is a useful propaganda tool.
China has come a long way, but it has a long, long way to go. It’s anyone’s bet whether China will sink or swim. So much for superpower status.
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