Is China making an unprecedented leap to the top of the global economic hierarchy? Yes, Martin Jacques asserts confidently in his buzz-generating When China Rules the World
Is China making an unprecedented leap to the top of the global economic hierarchy? Yes, Martin Jacques asserts confidently in his buzz-generating When China Rules the World. He sees the country, which recently passed Japan to become the world’s No. 2 economy, rising smoothly to the top spot by continuing to follow a thoroughly distinctive, Confucian-tinged development path. No, say China skeptics like economist John Markin and hedge-fund honcho James Chanos, with equal self-assurance. They predict that bursting bubbles will lead to a Chinese equivalent to Japan’s “lost decade” of the 1990s. To them, as George Friedman pithily puts it in his best-selling The Next 100 Years, which is sometimes displayed near Jacques’ tome in airport bookstores these days, China is just ‘Japan on steroids.’
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The quest to secure Middle Eastern oil and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan consume much of the foreign policy establishment in Washington today. But in the next decade, more of the U.S.’s attention will shift to the new Middle East: China
Economists have been predicting this shift for decades. China is already the world’s top manufacturer, top auto market, top cement producer and top polluter. Its military and naval capacity is growing. Its construction-driven hunger for natural resources, especially timber and energy, is reshaping the landscapes of Africa, Southeast Asia and South America. Experts may argue about the pace of China’s economic ascent — Nobel laureate economist Robert Fogel predicts that China’s economy will be an eye-popping 40% of global GDP by 2040, while others project somewhat more modest growth — but few question that it’s happening dazzlingly fast.
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Which direction now? A lot of China writers like to think they have the answer
A Texas-based media-tracking organization recently announced that it had concluded, via a sophisticated statistical analysis of news sources, that China’s leapfrog up the global economic hierarchy was the top story of the past decade. This claim is debatable: the Iraq War, climate change, terrorism and the financial crisis all garnered plenty of headlines. Still, there has certainly been a dramatic upsurge in fascination with and concern over the People’s Republic — and a concomitant proliferation of Big China Books, as I like to call works that carry titles that cry out to be put in bold type.
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A few years ago, I read a terrific collection of essays — It Must be Beautiful — on the great scientific equations of modern times. I loved it, but as I meandered through the book, I was struck by an unexpected poignancy. The first essays, by and large, described breakthroughs that had taken place in the laboratories of Europe. The second half was quite different. Some time in the 1920s, the balance of scientific discovery shifted inexorably to the U.S. A small book of essays held within it proof of a profound historical change.
I found myself thinking of that while reading a new book by Martin Jacques, a British journalist turned academic. Jacques’ tome is called When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order, and his thesis, which he advances with a depth of argument often missing in similar works, is made plain enough by his title. The most likely scenario for the future, Jacques writes, is that “China continues to grow stronger and ultimately emerges over the next half-century, or rather less in many respects, as the world’s leading power.” His book is an examination of how and why that will happen, and what it will mean.
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