In less than a decade China could be the world’s largest economy. But its continued economic success is under threat from a resurgence of the state and resistance to further reform.
AT THE HEIGHT of the Qing dynasty, back in the 1700s, China enjoyed a golden age. Barbarians were in awe of the empire and rapacious foreigners had not yet begun hammering at the door. It was a shengshi, an age of prosperity. Now some Chinese nationalists say that, thanks to the Communist Party and its economic prowess, another shengshi has arrived. Last year China became the world’s biggest manufacturer, displacing America from a position it had held for more than a century. In less than a decade it could become the world’s largest economy. Foreigners are again agape.
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THERE have been many rivals for America’s crown as the world’s greatest power. In the 1950s the Soviet Union threatened its military hegemony; in the 1980s Japan challenged its economic might. These days the pretender is China. The evidence of America’s decline seems obvious. The limits of its military power were exposed after the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and the flaws of its capitalist system were revealed by the global financial crisis that started on Wall Street. The West now looks to China to prop up its financial system, and to the Chinese consumer to stimulate the global economy.
Is the long era of Western dominance, first by European powers and then by America, finally coming to an end? For Martin Jacques, a British commentator and recently a visiting professor at universities in China, Japan and Singapore, the answer is clear. The title of his book says it all: “When China Rules the World”.
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