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Why is China Called the Sleeping Giant?

China is a huge nation that has been experiencing unprecedented growth over the past few decades – an average annual GDP of well over 10 percent. While China’s actual per capita income is still classified in the lower-middle category in global statistics, at about $3,200, it is still the third largest economy in the world after the United States and Japan with a nominal DFP of $4.3 trillion (Chinese Government, 2010). Contemporary China now participates in the global private sector. Her companies play a major role in the global economy, and companies in the developed world take Chinese manufacturing trends quite serious. China’s view of her economy is “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics,” which is defined variantaely by scholars. Over 1/3 of the economy is state owned and controlled, and there is significant new foreign investment in the country. Key government industries are utilities, heavy industry and energy resources. China is the world’s largest producer of rice, and is among the top producers of cotton, corn, tobacco, soybeans, and peanuts. Industrially, it is also a world producer in cotton products, coal, crude oil, and its mineral resources are among the richest in the world, albeit only partially developed. All this developed has resulted in China’s populace seeing a gradual improvement in their living standard, even in the rural areas, but it is the cities in which the most vital and burgeoning growth occurs. Like any developing country, though, China has growing pains. It remains more concerned with State economic development that per capita improvement. China’s growth may not, in fact, remain sustainable unless there is a dramatic change in the infrastructure and a redevelopment of natural resources that matches the needs of the global environment (e.g. human rights, pollution control, trade imbalances, etc.). Even with the “new face,” china still has severe corruption issues in the government, huge environmental issues, and a rapidly aging population with limited capital resources to sustain an older, non-working, population (CIA Factbook, 2010; National Bureau of Statistics of China, 2010).

One very telling example is the way China has merged the political with global economic independence, and its ability to negotiate environmental issues. For the past fifty years, the country has spent considerable resource modernizing, coalescing power, investing in other countries, and changing the way it utilizes its greatest resource – its population. Indeed, much of China’s current strategic and tactical foreign policy surrounds its rapid growth over the last several decades and the way it has extended itself in so many directions. China is still dependent upon Middle Eastern oil – importing up to 8 million barrels a day. The vulnerability also extends past oil dependence into fears of an energy insecurity peak. The emerging trends in China are that its energy needs are going to continue to exponentially increase, while if something is not done, there will not be the rate worker base to handle this segment of the market. And, to top it off, such rapid development coupled with global warming and pollution issues threatens to damage China’s agricultural markets – some areas must pollinate their trees and fields by hand (Shirk, 2007). Indeed, what seems to be happening with China is understandable – the Developed World had their Industrial Revolutions and decades of pollution without control. Now the developing world is trying for rapid industrialization but has the added conundrum of restrictions, issues with global warming, pollution, and world opinion.

Citing both qualitative and quantitative governmental data, authors Chung, Fryxell and Lo (2006) maintain that while China is overtly committed to promote programs that have environmental conservation as part of their template, the stark reality is that the country falls quite short of even its own basic standards. This revelation is based on the number of permits authorized for construction versus the number of ISO 14001-4 permits and requirements met (473-6). We must also take into consideration both the vastness of China’s geography and the complexity of their bureaucracy. Governmental regulations are not always translated into actualities at the local level, largely due to enforcement and logistical issues, all politically based.

China’s Path Towards Modernization – China did not experience an Industrial Revolution and modernization in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries as did many European countries and even Japan, to some extent. Instead, throughout even the 19th century, China remained largely rural and controlled by a series of warlord governments. In fact, it was a series of civil wars, internal bureaucratic corruption, and imperialism that damaged the country and economy to the point that China was ripe for dramatic social and political change (China Country Profile, 2010).

Once Japan had been defeated in 1945 another civil war erupted, this time between the Nationalists and the Communists. In 1949, the Communist regime, with the assistance of the Soviet Union, garnered victory and established The People’s Republic of China on the mainland, with the Chinese Nationalist Party relegated to the island of Taiwan. Soviet influence was heavy, as it was in the conflict over the Korean peninsula in the early 1950s. Chinese leadership counted on Soviet aid for, even with a huge population they were in the midst of a serious economic decline. The Soviet political leadership had a vested interest in supporting the Maoist revolutionary group, not simply to export world communism, but to establish a communist state in Asia (Garver, 1988, 1-34).

What followed were a series of rather disruptive socioeconomic movements designed to rapidly industrialize, collectivize, and change the landscape of China – called The Great Leap Forward. Like the Soviet Union, peasant resistence and economic ineptitude resulted in an estimated 30-36 million deaths (Smil, 1999). Once the so-called “old guard” of the Communist Revolution died, though, it was time to rethink economic and political progress.

By 1978 there was some relaxation of control, but the PRC still had iron-clad control over politics and society. Economic reforms were politicized and put into effect by Den Xiaoping – decollectivization of the countryside, some political decentralization of control in the industrial sector and an amazing public pronouncement that the past few decades had been “an appalling catastrophe… the most severe setback to the socialist cause since 1949” (Poon, 2006). Politically, it was important to quickly develop the consumer and export sectors of the economy, and create and buttress an urban middle class, increase living standards, and deal with such issues as literacy, life expectancy, personal rights, and most especially, agricultural output.

Knowing that things move slow politically and socially in China, we can now trace an important step in opening up China to the West both politically and economically. In 1972, while Mao was still alive but Deng controlling most of the upper echelons of political power, U.S. President Richard Nixon visited China, The results of the week long visit, most of it orchestrated by Henry Kissinger, were vast: a political agreement that there was only one China and an agreement to settle the Taiwanese situation; to open trade and commerce between China and the West; and to reduce tensions between the two countries. Nixon himself commented, “This was the week that changed the world, as what we have said in that Communiqué is not nearly as important as what we will do in the years ahead to build a bridge across 16,000 miles and 22 years of hostilities which have divided us in the past. And what we have said today is that we shall build that bridge” (“1972 in Review,” 1973).

The Way of the Sleeping Giant- Unlike the West, which had 150-200 years to accomplish the technological and social revolution of transforming from rural to urbanized-industrial economies, China has had less than 50 years. However, a combination of traditional Chinese Values, the Maoist push, and post-Maoist political expertise has positioned the country to become the next global superpower.

Since 1949, there have been 3-4 major shifts in overall philosophy within the elite; as globalism continues to develop, China wishes to be part of the global economic push with import/export and fiscal rewards, so small concessions have been made over the past decade to allow greater autonomy in business ownership and purchasing decisions. There is high political, economic, societal, and military cohesion since all are central controlled and there is no evidence of a lapse in the power base. Most recently, China has been under international pressure for its continued censorship program (television, motion pictures, and the Internet) (World Bank, 2010).

This paradigm shift can best be understood by looking at a Chinese tradition dating back centuries. However, to understand modern China, we must also understand the basis for Chinese culture – Confucianism. It was Confucianism, though, that dominated ancient Chinese history as a socio-religious philosophy. The trend towards philosophical underpinnings, too, was part of Ancient China’s view of law, order, and state control. Confucianism is a Chinese ethical and philosophical system based on the teachings of Confucius. It is a system that focuses on social, moral, political, and philosophical through, and stresses the important of education and the actualization of the individual. In combination, individuals then are able to govern the state by morality and virtue, rather than extreme coercion or violence (Sprunger). Unlike many religions, Confucianism expects to be part of the political/legal process and governance is part of the expectations of service by the populace. A basic sense of duty, honor, and bureaucratic hierarchy is part of the philosophy, as was a general view that people were generally good, wanted to exist within an orderly society, and only needed structure to remind them of the way of being good:

This legalistic tradition is actually more of a political mindset that has been part of the way of Chinese politics for centuries. If we look at basic Maoism, we see that there are indeed some similarities, albeit with a Marxist bias. Maoism of course emphasizes the revolutionary struggle of the masses against exploiters, or a People’s War. However, Maoism departs from Marxism because it is based on reforming an agrarian economy as opposed to an urban, industrialized state. The new communist leaders abandoned most Maoist practices by 1978, calling the new China – which is a combination of ancient legalism, Maoism, and socialism, as “Socialism with Chinese characteristics” (Chung-Yueh Hsu, 1990, 168-72).

Thus, the character and flavor of Chinese politics is shaped by a number of rubrics, all of which now combine to produce a country that may appear contradictory, but is in fact completely within character. This is illuminated given an overview of China’s recent national goals and issues as they relate to both internal political stability and growth, and China’s emerging position within the overall geopolitical landscape of the 21st century. These goals are broken down into three major parts; political, social, and economic, all interrelated to a political culture based on the past and moving forward.

Political – Harness nationalism in moderate and appropriate ways to retain control over divergent and large population.

Political/Military – Increase military spending and size of military structure -eventual goal is to field the most sophisticated Army in the world

Political – Cannot provide enough of its own energy needs, must use geopolitics to ensure development continues

Political/Vulnerability – Avoid, at all costs, a hostile world in which China is boxed in by USA/Japan/India/South Korea and Australia. Ensure Russian neutrality or support.

Social – Continue to support large domestic market and rising foreign investment.

Social – Manage rapid aging issues (32 years median age in 2010 to 45 in 2040) – they will have the social burden of a rich country and the income of a poor country.

Economic – Manage China’s vulnerability in production of goods to West in line with current economic crisis (e.g. smaller than needed orders for Holidays, etc.)

Economic – Diversify industry and become more self-sufficient in high-tech and other needed technological and industrial segments

Economic/Political – Improve infrastructure to ensure safety of population (e.g. earthquake proof buildings, higher building standards, etc.)

Economic – China shows no sign of slowing, and it’s overall strategic objectives were clearly stated in the Three Step Development Strategy of 1978:

Step 1 -To double the 1980 SNP and ensure that the people had enough food and clothing to meet basic needs (attained prior to 1989).

Step 2 – To quadruple the 1980 GNP by the end of the 20th century (attained by 1995)

Step 3 – To increase per-capita GNP to the level of the medium developed countries by 2050, at which time modernization goals will be met (Mengin, 2002; Dahlman and Aubert, 2001).

The trend that emerges, then, is a new China with clear ties to the old. With the aggressive nature of China in the global environment, many scholars, in fact, believe it will be China that dominates the 21st century – the power base shifting from West to East. With 20 percent of all humanity, and a civilization with thousands of years of history and tradition, the new China is clearly poised to be the next global super-power (Jacques, 2009).

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