The country’s trajectory and the change in its people’s values and aspirations are cause for heated debate. Two experts go head to head
It is now widely recognised that the balance of economic power is shifting from the rich world to the developing world. Indeed, the role accorded to the G20 rather than the G8 in seeking to tackle the financial crisis is a vivid illustration of this. But what is not recognised – and has been barely discussed – are the political and cultural ramifications of the rise of the developing countries. That, I suspect, is because there is a deeply held western view that they will – and should – end up as clones of western modernity: in other words, there is only one modernity and it is western. This is a fallacy. Modernity is a product of culture and history as much as markets and technology. The central question here is China: will it end up like us or will it be something very different and, as a result, change the world in very fundamental ways?
Voter thinking this Tuesday focused on jobs and the economy, and sent a clear message of dissatisfaction with economic progress to-date. Reinvigorating Main Street America’s employment picture, however, will not be easy. Problems have been building for years, long before the sub-prime crisis. Some believe automation is the major source of recent job losses. However, it is difficult to look at the constant parade of long trains carrying shipping containers inland, or the millions of illegals turning up all across America, and conclude that this is the case.
This week, I received an e-mail from a friend in Tokyo tagged: “Greetings from Number Three, Japan.” He was mourning the passing of an era.
The quarterly numbers he was alluding to suggest that, even in dollar terms, China is now the world’s second-biggest economy. There it will remain until, catastrophe or stagnation aside, it overtakes the US to become Number One.
Dollar comparisons are pretty arbitrary, as much influenced by currency fluctuations as by economic activity. They do not take into account that it is much cheaper to buy a house, a meal or a foot massage in Beijing than in Tokyo. In purchasing power terms, China’s economy surpassed Japan’s nearly a decade ago. But symbolism counts. And by that measure, China’s usurpation indeed ushers in a new order. For the first time since 1968, when Japan overhauled the then West Germany to become the second-largest capitalist economy, there is a new pretender to the US throne.
In recent months, as Asia has weathered the financial crisis better than the West, and the Obama administration has taken a deferential approach toward China, numerous new books have declared that, finally, this will be Asia’s era. From Martin Jacques’ When China Rules the World: The Rise of the Middle Kingdom and the end of the Western World to Kishore Mahbubani’s slightly older The New Asian Hemisphere to the recent cover story in the Atlantic Monthly by James Fallows, which compared China’s gleaming infrastructure to America’s potholed roads and horrendous cell phone coverage, the Asia cheerleaders are out in force.