The scope and scale of the Chinese march is enormous. As the ever cerebral David Aaronovitch pointed out in The Australian recently, China is even making sure the march continues by buying up the world’s oil and gas reserves, spending almost $40 billion on energy assets last year.

In fact, in terms of both population and economic growth, what is happening in China is like trying to count the stars in the night sky. Seeking to understand what it all means has led to some fascinating theories.

A few years ago, Martin Jacques left his readers in no doubt: the title of his absorbing and provocative book was simply When China Rules The World. The West, he argued, is about to be challenged – economically and also morally, politically and ethically – by a non-Western superpower for the very first time. China has long regarded itself as being at the centre of the world and the West should be prepared as the Chinese seek tribute from others as acknowledgement of their inherent superiority.

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The aftermath of China’s fatal high-speed rail crash in July was a reminder that the foundations of the country’s remarkable economic growth are perhaps not as solid as some may suggest.

With the outpouring of anger and grief came a series of accusations over what was to blame for the crash, corruption, cheap equipment and botched reverse-engineering among them. It was barely the best advert for a new rail network that was supposed to be yet another signal of China’s arrival as a modern global superpower.

Of course the West still looks on at China with envy; its growth rate remains at a level most can only dream of. China has revelled in the role of the white knight riding to the rescue of the global economy, buying up US and European debt and even lecturing the US on fiscal responsibility.

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TWO THOUSAND AND NINE has been a momentous year for the world, but especially for China. Late last year, with the Olympics barely over, the global financial crisis delivered a body blow to its economy. Facing the disastrous decline of export markets and the jobs they supported, the government engineered a major stimulus package, and the country now seems to have staged a miraculous recovery. And while economists continue to debate the dimensions and downstream costs of the policies behind the upturn, China has been taking a great propaganda windfall from the financial embarrassment of many western states, not least the United States. Even Australia, which suffered less than most, has owed its resilience primarily to China and – if you believe the media – has found itself on the back foot in a whole series of its dealings with that country.

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