China’s Not a Superpower Chinese Translation

Image: Poeloq By: Minxin Pei

…and won’t be anytime soon, according to Minxin Pei, who says its political and economic situation is more precarious than it looks.

With the United States apparently in terminal decline as the world’s sole superpower, the fashionable question to ask is which country will be the new superpower? The near-unanimous answer, it seems, is China. Poised to overtake Japan as the world’s 2nd largest economy in 2010, the Middle Kingdom has all the requisite elements of power–an extensive industrial base, a strong state, a nuclear-armed military, a continental-sized territory, a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council and a large population base–to be considered as Uncle Sam’s most eligible and logical equal. Indeed, the perception that China has already become the world’s second superpower has grown so strong that some in the West have proposed a G2–the United States and China–as a new partnership to address the world’s most pressing problems.

To be sure, the perception of China as the next superpower is grounded, at least in part, in the country’s amazing rise over the last three decades. Powered by near-double digit economic growth since 1979, China has transformed itself from an isolated, impoverished and demoralized society into a confident, prospering global trading power. With a GDP of $4.4 trillion and total foreign trade of $2.6 trillion in 2008, China has firmly established itself as a premier world economic powerhouse.

Yet, despite such undeniable achievements, it may be too soon to regard China as the world’s next superpower. Without doubt, China has already become a great power, a status given to countries that not only effectively defend their sovereignty, but also wield significant influence worldwide on economic and security issues. But a great power is not necessarily a superpower. In world history, only one country–the United States–has truly acquired all the capabilities of a superpower: a technologically advanced economy, a hi-tech military, a fully integrated nation, insuperable military and economic advantages vis-à-vis potential competitors, capacity to provide global public goods and an appealing ideology. Even in its heydays, the former Soviet Union was, at best, a one-dimensional superpower–capable of competing against the United States militarily, but lacking all the other crucial instruments of national power.

Meanwhile, the challenges China faces in becoming the next superpower are truly daunting. Even as its economic output is expected to exceed $5 trillion in 2010, per capita income in China will remain under $4000, roughly one-tenth of the level of the United States and Japan. More than half of the Chinese population still live in villages, most without access to safe drinking water, basic healthcare, or decent education. With urbanization growing at about 1 percent a year, it will take another three decades for China to reduce the size of its peasantry to a quarter of the population. As long as China has an oversized peasantry, with hundreds of millions of low-income rural residents surviving on the margins of modernity, it is unlikely to become a real superpower.

To believe that China is the next superpower, it’s also necessary to assume that China’s super-charged economic growth will continue. Unfortunately, relying on any country’s past performance to predict its future prospects is a risky proposition. China’s stunning economic growth performance since 1979 notwithstanding, its ability to sustain the same level of growth is by no means assured. In fact, the likelihood that China’s growth will slow down significantly in the next two decades is real and even substantial. Several favourable structural factors, such as the demographic dividend (derived from a relatively younger population), virtually unlimited access to the global markets, high savings rates and discounted environmental costs, will gradually disappear. Like Japan, China is becoming an ageing society, due in no small part to the effectiveness of the government’s stringent one-child policy (which limits urban families to a single child). The share of the population 60 years and above will be 17 percent by 2020, and this ageing will increase healthcare and pension costs while reducing savings and investments. Although the exact magnitude of the reduction in the savings and the increase in healthcare and pension spending is uncertain, their combined negative effects on economic growth could be substantial.

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austin January 7, 2010

“To be sure, China can compensate for the loss of its external demand by increasing domestic consumption. But this process requires a complete overhaul of China’s growth strategy, a politically difficult and painful step the incumbent government has been unable to take.” This has already happened hasn’t it? and I think you’re understating the force of local demand… I heard on Al-Jazeera English that the Chinese market for cars is now the largest in the world….

austin January 7, 2010

“huge chunks of its territory (Tibet and Xinjiang) inhabited by secessionist-minded minority groups.” – It’s also my impression that these minorities are tiny… that more than 90% of the population is Han Chinese… and that even in these area’s (Tibet and Xinjiang)Han are quickly becoming the Majority.

That’s a much more homogeneous population than America’s!

Or are the regional divides within Han Chinese fault lines of concern as well?

Your points about a lack of global vision and the strength of China’s neighbours are very valid though.

xian lu January 7, 2010

“More than half of the Chinese population still live in villages, most without access to safe drinking water, basic healthcare, or decent education. With urbanization growing at about 1 percent a year, it will take another three decades for China to reduce the size of its peasantry to a quarter of the population. ”

Even though China reduces its peasantry to a quarter, their food production will decrease for their vast population, they will have to rely mainly in importation when China is the main source of food for other countries. This will cause an increase in food prices affecting directly to China due their low income. Other option will be to use technological tools to work the land and have the same production as having millions of people working on it but it will just benefit some of them, the future land owners (people who already are rich). Definitely China will need some tough reforms to maintain their growth without affecting the majority of the people who are still poor, causing social unrest.

Dan Chen January 8, 2010

Minxin Pei’s argument seems very tempting at the first sight, but after a second thought, I always feel there lacks something that could persuade me to believe that China can not survive those challenges. On the contrary, China survived those challenges for quite a few years. Undoubtedly the potentiality of failing to face the difficulties exist, but it would be risky for us to overlook the real reason behind the scene that enables China to maintain a high rate of economic growth while surviving all those problems. Minxin Pei started his argument quite a while ago, but China still survives. What are the real reasons for this? While Minxin Pei laid out plenty statistics and facts that illustrate the severity of the problems, but does that mean the Communist regime could not solve or at least delay those problems for quite a while? Sheer statistics and facts do not mean anything, unless they are compared and analyzed. And when we compare, we should also pay careful attention to comparability. It may sounds reasonable to compare China to South Korean or Japan, but the differences between them should never be overlooked. And the successful or failure experiences can not be applied to China unconditionally, either. In a word, Minxin Pei’s argument needs further refinement to be persuasive enough.

Joey January 8, 2010

“For example, the United States has greatly expanded its strategic cooperation with India so that New Delhi will be able to stand up to Beijing. Japan has also increased its economic aid to India for the same strategic purpose.” – By the way, Japan has cut off ties with America, and is now fawning China.

Robert Ogden January 9, 2010

Minxin Pei’s arguments are an interesting study in the current defensiveness of the academic community generally in America. “Great Power” and “SuperPower” are not clearly defined except by America because they are still trying to defend their self-applied label. Even in this article the definition shifts noticeably.

Clearly, in my travels in various parts of the world, there is little respect or interest in the kind of American “democracy” that allows for the blatant public, proven, lies by their CEO’s and Presidents of recent years.

China will be China – and inspite of claims to the contrary, it will be very powerful for a number of reasons not cited and incorrectly cited above. It has, for example, a ten year supply of oil and gas energy booked at the lowest market point ($34 to $40 per bbl) of any nation. It is rapidly converting 10% of its energy sources to alternative forms much higher than the very small 1 to 2 % achieved by most of Western Europe thus far. It is now the largest domestic market in the world with a rapidly expanding middle class (America’s is shrinking just as rapidly) that now comsumes an average of 60 to 70% of domestic production to meet in country demand (Hence, the light effect of the economic downturn. Some consumer cutbacks in America did effect Chinese businesses — toys, Christmas and holiday decorations, some clothing and textiles and household appliances. The US Market represents about 12 to 20% of China’s total production. The expectation that China would be severely affected by the economic downturn in America and Europe will not happen because China quickly strengthened their alliances and exports with Latin and South America – Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Eduador; with South Africa, Nigeria, Australia and New Zealand; within the last five days, China completed a free trade agreement with ASEAN nations that creates a 1.9 Billion population base of young tigers like Indonesia, Vietnam, and Malaysia; new and stronger ties to Japan with their change of government; Philipines, and the Middle East where they were chosen by Iran to re open and advance the development of oil and gas exploration; long term deals for defence, energy and commodity cooperation with Russia and Central Asia; and continued expansion into Canada (on your doorstep — 5 to 6 Billion in the last year in energy, water, commodities, agricultural products, etc.).

Internally, China has more than 10 producing gold mines,five new and developing oil fields coming on stream in the next five to seven years, a total revamp of the rural poverty and remote areas participation in the domestic economy. It is no secret that China not only supplies its own food but exports staples such as edible oil, rice, meat, and a wide variety of products.

The recent free trade deal with ASEAN is expected to lower the cost of living for southern and south western China by as much as 19% through the importation of vegetables and fruit and foodstuff.

China has enough rare earths for military and domestic use for the next two decades; it has the largest car market in the world, the largest English speaking population in the world at an estimated 390 million who understand and can speak some English under the age of 35 years; and, it has recently introduced huge pension reforms so that rural, poor, elderly and disabled can receive a liveable pension. It has introduced universal medical care (with a user fee based upon income — a poor person pays about 2 Yuan per visit or about 20 to cents US)– and all agricultural, remote and rural areas are included in this universal program — in fact are given priority. Factories social benefits (medical, pension, etc) now comprise about 10 to 14% of earnings.

Stimulus programming will create 13,000 kms of new high speed rail across China in the next three years (they didn’t give to their banking friend like the US)which will mean that by high speed rail a person can reach anywhere inside China in 8 hours or less by rail. This will also, by the way, along with other stimulus measures related to needed infrastructure, create about 12,000,000 new jobs in an economic sector that has a 5:1 to 7:1 mulitplier (1 infrastructure job equals 5 other jobs created in the economy).

A comparison of the 50th Anniversary parade on October 1st National Day in 1999 with the same kind of military parade on October 1st 2009 indicates a very rapid switch from the old style military numbers game to a highly technologically based military complete with a demonstration of drone aircraft, supersonic aircraft, every kind of missile, special forces, ground mobility vehicle and equipment, army, navy and airforce. And, they have a huge standing army that exceeds that of America by at least 5:1. The qualifications for most entrants into the military these days is now a minimum of completion of high school and into special forces and highly technical areas a minimum of a 4 year university degree in engineering/ logistics/ IT/ computer science/ and related sciences. This year’s anniversary they celebrated the first time that all military equipment and support was made/ manufactured in China. Such companies as Volvo, Saab, Rolls Royce, Airbus, Boeing, (Russia), Siemens, Volksvagen, and a host of others have contributed greatly to the technology needed to create a world class army, navy and airforce.

World defence — although you do not seem to be aware of it, Mr. Pei, is now provided by China to the United Nations for deployment in a number of countries where America is no longer trusted or accepted. China has been participating in UN Missions in Africa, SE Asia, South America, the Middle East, and several other hot spots since at least 2000.

The Han people — the majority population across China have been and will be for the foreseeable future the dominant racial group within China. However, China for the past two to three years has increasingly encouraged the celebration of the multicultural diversity of all 56 ethnic groups by encouraging local festivals, languages, art, music, dance, celebrations of local people, protection of heritage and natural sites (China has 17 World Heritage Sites and growing where both the natural and historical environment is protected.) This was evident at the Olympics in 2008 and this year at National Day celebrations across the country among others.

Financially, the government works with the Central Bank to balance and adjust the economy rather than the banks have a blank cheque as they do now in America.
There have been rumors of empty buildings in China — which is normal when there is an economic downturn and which will just as rapidly be filled as the economy picks up. There is not real estate bubble coming in China because fewer than 5 % of the real estate buying public for residential housing use mortgages. Instead they borrow from friend and family as they have always done because they don’t trust the banks as much as Americans do. Commercial property is financed by private equity and when filled with “quality” tenants to 80% then becomes mortgagable. So there will be some commercial real estate company failures in China but overall not too many.

Because of the watchfulness of the Central Bank, China was not exposed to most of the shady, high risk techniques used in the last decade in America and consequently only one or two China banks, through their overseas branches, ended up losing a relatively small amount of money. So it is no mystery as to why China is now leading the world as the NO 1 place for Foreign Direct Investment; the no 1 safe haven to buy gold; the no 1 producer of gold; the no 1 automaker, the no 1, etc etc.

As far as comments on the leadership and the political situation, I can say as an expatriate living in China and working here for the past 10 years that I am safer personally, have a good, modest home (fully furnished flat), a new car purchased because of the stimulus package reduction of 50 % in taxes (a saving of nearly 25,000 yuan at the time of purchase), a good job, excellent leaders, and, I am able to save about the same amount as most Chinese save which is to say about 40% of income. And, yes, as of this past year and the new, fairer tax laws introduced to no longer give expats preference so as a expatriate I pay income tax at the same rate as a Chinese employee. I am happy to do so because I see constant improvements in local infrastructure — new high speed trains, new roadways, new more modern buses, hybrid vehicles used by local government, a large environmental mitigation project to restore and rebuild local waterways and lakes. So I know where my taxes are going because I see improvements in this city every day. AS well there is a new Science and Technology Museum, a New Performing Arts Center, A New Trade Show Center, a New Olympic sized pool and diving facility, and new Gymnasium with Tennis, Badmington, Volleyball, Basketball, Soccer, Table Tennis, Weight Center, etc all less than five years old and all in full use. Last night my wife and I enjoyed a presentation at the Arts Center by a group of first class musicians and dancers from Ireland. Cost: 30 Yuan each for a two hour international show or about $4.50 USD per ticket in a state of the art (acoustically and aesthetically) performing Arts Center in the heart of this city of 4 million plus people.

My home is in the green belt, very close to the university, within 15 minutes of the CBD and all the choices anyone would ever need — WalMart, McDonald’s, KFC,Starbucks, Pizza Hut and Pappa John’s Pizzas from America to which you can add at least as many places from Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Russia, Dubai, Turkey, Italy, Spain, Germany, France, UK, Mexico, etc.

To this rich melange of overseas goods and services is added all the local fare and all the domestic, ethnic fare from Mongolia, Sichuan, Shanghai, ‘Manchuria’, Hainan, Tibet, Xinghuan, and many others. The cultural life of the city is vibrant and interesting. My home is safe and secure with full security on a full time basis. My rent is 550 Yuan a month (which my employer pays along with telephone, high speed internet, power, water, administration, garbage and fire insurance and taxes). I have a local transportion allowance which we use to buy gas. Out of pocket expenses are minimal; we have a garden each for fresh vegetables and a market within one block for fruit and vegetables. Groceries, household supplies cost about 250 Yuan/ week (about $38 USD).

So while you compare US earnings with China earnings please note that I can save easily 40% of my earnings at your 4000 Yuan a month salary and have a very good life as a middle class professor working the same teaching load as a US professor. My wife has no need to work outside the home so she gardens, shops, looks after her mother, and looks after our son who is graduating from high school this year and will go to a good Chinese University — one of the top ten in China (top fifty in the world rankings this last year) — for a four year joint program with an American or Canadian university delivering their degrees in China (where the market is).

Last but not least, if you really want to see Chinese leading edge technology in space (while NASA has been starved for funds) China has announced their own space station and deep space program, in transportation, in agriculture, in clothing/ textiles, biotechnology, environmental science, and a host of others come to one of the 242 national and international exhibits at the Shanghai World Expo in Shanghai and see the future as China does. You will be amazed at how far ahead China has gotten in the last one to two decades !!

I hope that this helps you to understand why so many people are coming to believe that China really is ready for Superpower status by one of your definitions Mr. Pei.

I am very proud, but very concerned about the future of my own country. I am equally pleased to have the honour of watching the growth and transformation of China from what I was led to believe in my country was the case to what is actually happening — I would urge you to spend some longer term, quality time in China just living and observing — it will do wonders for your perspective and your outlook.

China is rapidly approaching world dominance in many, many fields and economic, political, social, technological, military, political and cultural sectors.

China is not perfect and as you rightly pointed out, its leadership I am sure are well aware of challenges ahead. Just don’t underestimate China, it is bound to be a world class, superpower in the not too distant future.


Robert Ogden


So, the next thing that many Western Countries say is What about human rights? To which I would respond, that no country is without challenges and concerns in this area. To challenge China on Human Rights is to misunderstand China and its culture and its history. For over 5000 years of history, Chinese people have believed in the paramount worth of family and community (however it was defined at the time) — in other words, the collective good and have made life decisions as individuals and community members on the basis of what is good for family and community.

Human rights are a Christian/ Jewish/ Muslim construct that puts individual rights and responsiblities above community and family. For example — any of the holy books of these three religions promote individualism and personal responsibility and effort. Long before communism, socialism and other isms, China accepted the collectivism that still prevails in many aspects of Chinese life — law, politics, marriage, children, career choice, education, home and family matters.

University students still regularly consult parents and family on career choices, educational choices, when to have a family, when to buy a home or car.
Why? because their family is their major source of support — loans, advice, care for parents (by family law), care for children (by family law) and so on.

There is little or no protection for individual human rights in Chinese law [Refer to many Chinese writers ancient and modern -- eg. Liu Yutang, China Famly Law, etc.] so to talk to Chinese leaders of human rights violations is meaningless because us Westerners are not on the same page !! They look through their laws, politics, military, social, family, work, leisure at what is good for the family and the community/ country NOT for the individual; Westerners look at what is good for individuals.

The other point made in the media is that Chinese leaders, understandably, say please don’t come and talk to us about an internal matter like this until your own backyard is cleaned up. And, if you look at most Western countries, they have significant human rights problems in their own backyard eg aboriginal people in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Canada, immigrants and prisoners in UK, France, Italy, Germany,Spain and prisoners of war in the US as well as increasingly intrusive security schemes in America.

China is making efforts to deal with human rights as they see human rights; our mistake is using our cultural measures to try to enforce Western beliefs. It won’t work. All it does is generate distrust, disgust and heartache on all sides. And, in their own way and in their own culture, they will solve the problem. We just have to wait to see it unfold not according to our culture and heritage but theirs. Again, I say, don’t underestimate the power of China to change in a postive manner.

China and France have the largest number of ships in the Indian Ocean to control piracy and in the Malacca Straits to control piracy as well. The US Seventh Fleet has been diminshed in the Asia=Pacific-Indian Ocean because of the needless “war efforts” in Iraq and Afghanistan fought to line the pockets of ex-Haliburton employees led by W and Cheney until recently.

Chinese leaders are leading from the front; campaigning more and more vigorously against corruption, waste, environmental degradation, poverty, and
In sum, your selection of data indicates to me one of two things: a lack of up to date data and only superficial in country knowledge of what is happening now in China; and/or, a selective use of data in a possible desire to diminish China’s “power” to continue to try to help America claim greatness when it is rapidly losing its international credibility.

Wangchuk January 9, 2010

Minxin Pei’s has taken a deep & critical look at the modern Chinese Empire & pointed out that the emperor has no clothes. Many people assume China will be the next superpower to rival & even surpass the U.S. Many nationalistic Chinese talk about 21st century as the China Century. However, they ignore, at their own peril, the many social, economic & political problems that plague China today & will continue to plague China in the future. Pei hit the nail on the head & when he said the PRC today is not a nation-state but an empire but with large areas who don’t want to be part of the PRC Empire. Tibetans & Uighurs are treated as 2nd class citizens & their rights are routinely trampled. Tibet & Xinjiang today are police states where paramilitary police & troops patrol, set up road blocks, and conduct house to house searches. Tibetans & Uighurs don’t have freedom of movement, freedom to assemble, freedom to speak, or freedom of religion. And Tibetans & Uighurs certainly don’t have any real control over their own govt or land which is actually governed by Han Chinese colonial governors & their Party apparatchiks. So long as China maintains colonialism in Tibet & Xinjiang, there will always be tensions & problems in these regions that yearn for freedom & independence.

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sangell January 10, 2010

The substantial rural population Minxin Pei and Xian Lu lament is, to my estimation, a strength were China to ever come under attack. Technological society and infrastructure can unravel or be rendered useless quite easily with modern precision weaponry but how does one go about neutralizing vast numbers of family farms, villages and their less sophisticated economy. Shanghai and Beijing could become moribund but the countryside would go on. A collapse in American urban centers would have a far more profound effect on the ability of the United States to survive.

Joe January 10, 2010

The author’s stated elements of a superpower sound reasonable, but the stated reasons that China does not and will not qualify are largely unrelated to them. For example: why does it matter if half the population remains peasant? Since the population is roughly 8 times that of the USA, China still has 4 times the number of urban citizenry (and all that goes along with that: education, technical skill, etc.). I think China can manage superpower status in short order. It is certainly ambitious to do so.

[...] China is not a super-power [...]

Dennis January 11, 2010


China’s economic growth has accelerated tremendously during the consumption binge in the United States. Now that that era is over, where will China export? The mythical domestic consumption? Unfortunately, as a percentage of GDP, consumption in China has declined over the last five years. And as more and mower power accumulates in the hands of large export oriented enterprises, reforms that would benefit China but would hurt these enterprises is less and less likely.

Lucifer January 11, 2010

They can become a superpower by waiting for your fall or demise. Mammals became the dominant group only after dinosaurs and other marine reptiles died off.

Sid Hubert January 11, 2010

Robert Ogden: I remember the 60s and 70s and hearing exactly the same endless rhetoric on campus, about how great everything was in the Soviet Union; how noble and wise their leaders were and the inevitability of Soviet triumph.


The Brau January 11, 2010

Minxin Pei gets a point, but I must agree with Lucifer. The US is on a headlong plunge towards extinction and oblivion !

The Brau January 11, 2010

Ogden is a clear case of sinophilia, beyond any hope of treatment. I lived and taught in China as well, earning 20,000 yuan per month and that’s A LOT, for 6 years, and I say; life was macabre !

peter rawlins January 11, 2010

China is a very large country but not overpopulated. Would it be true to suggest that the population of India is almost that of China while China is almost three times the size of India ? Looking at a pocket atlas with its statistics the density of population in China is on a level with France.Urban myths persist against the odds and the West’s view if China is still 20 years outdated

Stelios Theoharidis January 11, 2010

With all due respect, Mr. Odgen has been watching way too much PRC state run television, no one cares that there is a KFC down the street or a new cultural center, what you like to eat, where your son is going to school, or any other anecdotal evidence you want to present. What does your cushy and sheltered life as an expat have anything to do with large present and emerging problems in China that there is statistical evidence for. If you are making arguments against the validity of an article please just present the facts not anecdotal evidence. None of your points actually addressed the looming demographics problem, environmental collapse, or rising inequality in the PRC.

Things that Mr. Pei should have mentioned but didn’t Demographics and environment are probably the biggest looming issue. But, non performing state loans, real estate bubble, and industrial overcapacity are current and will present serious issues in the near term. The large support from the government to state owned enterprises and their relative in-efficiency in comparison to export oriented private firms. This has in the past resulted in a large non-performing loans issue in state owned banks, which were taken off the books after the damning ernst and young report. I would suggest looking into a repeat, but likely on a much larger scale, particularly with the real estate bubble, drop in export performance, and industrial overcapacity.

Quite a number of Chinese party officials have children or relatives that are millionaires, the figure I had read was 80% of the wealthiest people in the country are relatives of high ranking party officials. This presents a oligarchy situation when combined with inequality will feed instability issues. As the GINI in PRC reaches levels present in large countries like Brazil and South Africa we may expect a repeat of the low level warfare that goes on in the urban regions of those countries.

As the west has developed relationships with many of the more stable producers of natural resources the PRC has been left to obtain a large amount of resources from particularly unstable countries, they are much more vulnerable as issues arise in those states.

There was a recent foreign policy article in regard to cooking the unemployment numbers in PRC, workers were offered a one time severance to leave employment and return to the rural areas as an alternative to reporting them on the roles of unemployed in the urban ones, to make local party officials look better.

The fact is we don’t know the statistics very well, as the Chinese government has a tendency to cook their books, something I have heard from particularly prestigious academics. As far as we know inequality could be worse, more people could be unemployed or living on less than 2 dollars a day. I would suggest more because party officials have no incentive to make their numbers look worse.

yapchongyee January 13, 2010

I say HELLO MR ROBERT OGDEN ! It is rare that an American can be so plain and outright truthful and fair in your comment. I enjoyed reading your very interesting comment and I will only be repeating your breath of fresh air on matters related to China’s rise. However, I will be less than sincere if I deny that I enjoy a little bit of gloating from the responses of those westerners who try to whittle down your gushings of positives about the great things that China has achieved over a period of a mere 20 years. Consider this proposition, that China has taken only 20 years to accumulate the tremendous political and economic power in a land of 1.3 billion people ! How is it possible for China to lift 400 million people from the very depth of poverty in a matter of a mere 20 years ? I remember a ‘Documentary’ programme that was aired on CCTV 9 that said that China PAID FOR THE COSTS OF THE ZAMBIAN RAILWAY BY SALES OF CHINA’S EXPORTS OF VEGETABLES ABROAD. All materials and food to feed the Chinese workers of rice and wheat flour were shipped to Zambia.

On the issue of human rights, Mr Ogden ! You have correctly defined the correct perspective, China’s human rights are 5,000 years old and running; while the human rights record of the West and the USA in particular are abysmal. You have rightly pointed out that the West’s Human Rights are defined by values that relate to Roman Christian values that the West have tried to foist on China and the East. Thankfully, China is today sufficiently strong to say “NO THANKS” you can keep your own human rights and we keep ours.

President Hu has said many times over that China only wants to make the average Chinese “MODERATELY WELL OFF”. We do not seek obscene wealth because to be RICH YOU NEED ONE MILLION MEN POORER THAN ONESELF (our self). Can 1.3 billion people in China have as much wealth as those in the USA ? How many Bill Gates can China have ? Conversely how many American poor are there in the USA ? Can Mr Pei argue logically that from this perspective, USA IS BETTER OFF THAN PRC ? Of course Mr Pei and most Americans will say that there are no poor people in the USA.

I will state my last question that says it all ! USD ($) 30,000 in the USA will buy much less than Yuan 30,000 spent in China by at least a factor of 30 times !

Mark January 13, 2010

Superpower is by definition the US, UK (was) and Russia (was); half a century later this terminology actually underestimates the complexity of the current social-political climate.

China probably does not want to be “framed” as a superpower due to the backlashes associated with such dominance (left over from the cold war era)- hence they are likely to take a route which “caused” them to be classified as something else; something that’s more “friendly” and superior in their view.

This article concerns itself with terminological issues that have little practical relevance in modern politics- China and other newcomers need a special term to describe the unique social-political landscape they created. Stereotyping can only lead to misunderstanding.

Henry the Navigator January 13, 2010

It seems that Robert Ogden has drank the CCP kool-aid. Many of his remarks are anecdotal, a number are untrue, and the sophistry justifying human rights abuses is unconvincing and slightly nauseating. Please read about Gao Zhisheng’s 50 days of torture at the hands of regime-hired thugs. Just Google “Gao Zhisheng torture” and spend 30 minutes on it–it will be time well spent.

Those engaging in this debate, especially when making the leap from being an enthusiast of Chinese economic development to a defender of the CCP’s human rights abuses, need to at least make themselves aware of the consequences that ordinary Chinese face when they try to use the law to defend their rights. There are numerous examples. It’s the hellish underside to Ogden’s paradise.

I would recommend Yasheng Huang’s “Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics” which discusses economic development in China from another angle. I can be contacted at 12jjyz at gmail dot com.

Orlando Suarez January 14, 2010

Those predicting the future of China may enjoy no more accuracy as that achieved by their failure to predict her “economic miracle” reached in only two decades. Did Pei predictits growth? His mindset maybe still be in the old and not the new China?

yapchongyee January 14, 2010

Henry the Navigator! Dear Sir, you are speaking from the era of your ancestors! We are discussing developments that are ongoing today. Mr Chris Patten, no true admirer of China, has admitted (not often for a Westerner) that China had been the greatest economic power on earth for the last 18 of the past 20 centuries, and that being the case why should anyone doubt that it is only natural that China take its place as the world’s greatest economic power? Not that China wants to be but it is only natural. The USA on the other hand has been dominant since the WW2 war, a mere 60 years.

Some comments on this issue makes it sound as if “Western Human Rights” was ordained by GOD and that all of mankind must obey these western human rights as international law! However, the West themselves do not hold sacred whatever is today deemed as international law; as eg. the illegal invasion of Iraq in open defiance of UN resolutions, the flagrant and often flouting by Israel of countless UN resolutions with the arrogant complicity of the USA, Britain, Germany & France. Where is the sanctity of international law? Is this a case that the West are immune from the enforcement of International law and only us in the 3rd world have to observe international law? Even today in the face of the exposure of criminal conduct of the USA as in Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and the practice of Rendition, the USA has the gall to point fingers at China.

Mao Tse Dung said it all when he said that power grows out of the barrel of a gun. In spite of the insane size of the USA military machine, the Americans have not won one single war anywhere in the world except for their victory over Panama. It is no exaggeration to say that the USA military mindset is still stuck in the trenches of 1945 Europe! The USA thinks in terms of superior weapons and to kill from drones, but that is not what war making is all about in this century. Wars are fought by brave men who martyr themselves and that is why the West will definitely lose the war in Afghanistan. War is today about finding who will blow himself up. This strategy whether the Taliban or Al-Qaeda knows it or not, will keep the war in Afghanistan going for ages until the USA gives up!

I pay my respect to Prof. Ogden who lives in China and he writes as one would who knows what is going on because he lives the conditions on the ground. It is just too bad that Prof. Ogden finds the condescension of westerners towards China shameful, and sets out to put right all the wishful thinking about China that is so common these days. I will in Australia, the best country in the world, but as an overseas Chinese I have been back to my motherland twice and found tectonic changes taking right before my eyes. I need to mention just one consideration, in this period of world crisis, China is galloping along at a steady clip of 9%, while the USA is gripped by a shrinking of her economy by -2%. Let us assume that the USA is 4 times the size of China’s economy, and that said, year on year, China is gaining on the USA by a steady 10%. At this pace, unless the USA comes out of their morass in 3 years China would have overtaken the US by 2015! Sounds improbable. Who says?

Mark January 14, 2010

Henry: Human rights has got next to no bearing on the classification of superpower (take the old USSR for example).

CJRF January 14, 2010

The assumption that superpower status is only possible or valid with the correct mix of military power and ideological attractiveness is naïve. In the case of the USA this status is a cape that has been thrust upon the country after the 2nd World War. This was a direct result of its superior strength in the military arena. There is no doubt that the Soviet Union was also a superpower in the post war world. The fact that its ideology was at odds with that of the ‘West’ is beside the point; it had the ability to influence events on a global scale as a direct result of its military strength alone. Essentially all this debate is nothing more than semantics; what’s in a name? Call the USA a superpower or not? So what? Having a high moral purpose is superfluous to requirements. What can they do now in the face of the economic potential of emerging China anyway? The so called higher moral ground they occupy (as claimed by this writer) is all too easily compromised when push comes to shove; as they have frequently demonstrated in the case of championing moral causes elsewhere in the world that are not in the national interest, and this has been the case and mantra with the USA since they were forced to wake up by events in Pearl Harbor back in December 1941. And the overriding justification since then has become ‘the national interest.’

Clearly having worn the cape of superpower for the remainder of the 20th century has allowed the USA to exploit the economic and political dividends that have arrived as a consequence. This has been due (in a large part) to its success in maintaining this military strength and supported by the ability to remain politically cohesive relative to the Soviet Union. But to claim that its status as a superpower derives from its high moral purpose or more attractive vision of the future is misleading. The fact is that whether countries become superpowers at all, is a consequence of their military strength and that needs no extra ‘add-on’ or visions of the future where all men are created equal etc. etc.. History reveals this to us in the examples of Rome, Mongolia, Spain, France England etc. and even Nazi Germany if they hadn’t been stopped.

China today, is no less capable of attaining superpower status on the basis of growing its military strength; but this seems to be a target or ambition placed on it by the paranoid western media rather than a goal pursued for its own sake by the present government. Furthermore, the claim that the country is ideologically bankrupt is also naïve. Most countries or political ideologies struggle to attain the principles upon which they are founded. Without exception, they all fail and either fall or morph into something different in order to adapt to the world rather than shape it; this has already happened in the case of China. The country of Mao Zedong is unrecognisable from that of Deng Xiaoping and that of Deng from today’s under Hu Jintao; this process is underway and has acquired some momentum which is still building rather than diminishing. It hasn’t peaked yet but it will. In the meantime China is not a superpower because its military ambitions are suppressed by its desire to grow its wealth rather than its power; as opposed to what seems to be the bankrupt pursuit (aka ideology) of the western allies over the last 10 years who have wanted to pursue power in the vain hope that wealth can be ceased rather than earned….

Dev Kumar Dutta January 14, 2010

I agree with Mr. Pei that it would be difficult to replicate the kind of superpower status the United States had acquired over much of the last century. It would also have been correct to presume about half a century ago that there won’t ever be an empire like the British empire or for that matter, any of the thuggish European colonial empires that spread so much pain across the world. Therefore, his conclusion about China attaining great power status rather than super power status appears more likely. As an Indian, I can’t speak for China’s other neighbours or comment on what they think of her terrific rise but let me tell you that it has become a cause of great concern for us here in India.

We are still trying to deal with the “bolt from the blue” that suddenly made China our northern neighbour when it invaded and occupied Tibet through naked aggression. As this made China a part of the South Asian equation it chose to play a particularly negative role in the region by aligning with Pakistan, an entity that is essentially a tragic accident of history much like the third reich was. This brazen shortsightedness might have taken care of China’s short term goals in the region but in the longer term, it is not going to take her anywhere and in the worst case scenario, could boomerang on her. China’s South Asia policy is almost entirely designed to contain India although our leaders have completely agreed to Chinese suzerainty over Tibet. But China was not satisfied and like any bully, kept on harassing a passive India with overtly aggressive border posturing. In course of time, it was emboldened to “teach a lesson” to India and attacked her in 1962 and in the short war that followed, occupied vast tracts of Indian territory which she now claims as her own. As the spineless Indian leadership continued encouraging an overtly aggressive China with a disgraceful pusillanimity, the latter now has begun demanding more Indian territory and is causing a lot of trouble to Indian villages in the border regions. China’s role in the clandestine build-up of Pakistan’s illegal nuclear infrastructure and acquisition of Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles is well known. But since “power flows from the barrel of a gun” the world chose to ignore it. Heaven forbid, no loose nukes should find their way to either New York or Shanghai. We’ll all know whence it would have rolled out from but a little late in the day.

The present Indian leadership, after substantial public outcry over its lacklustre attitude toward Chinese aggression has been forced to change its approach and this hopefully marks a new beginning. Unlike in China, where the Communist party is an end in itself, in India it is the people who eventually have their way. It’s a democracy after all, howsoever imperfect, with institutions like an independent judiciary, one of the world’s best election monitoring authorities, a federal structure with its typical power pulls apart from a free and often “activist” media. These and many other institutions that safeguard the paramount position of the people of India, will ensure in the long run, that India understand her priorities better than her leaders are willing to do. Indian leaders are steadily falling in line as democracy in the country matures and this will also change the dynamics on India’s border with China. This is a straightforward matter of priority which the entire country appreciates and this isn’t good news for China. As for Mr. Pei’s view that the US and Japan are “providing aid” to India to stand up to China, I can only say that much as he has understood China, he still has a long way to go before he understands India. Well, India is too huge a nation to be given “aid” to manage security challenges from an adversary of which the US itself is quite wary let alone Japan. On the other hand, India might not be raking in as much cash as China is doing but she still has enough to buy military hardware from wherever she wants with cash upfront. For Mr. Pei’s information, India’s biggest armaments supplier is tiny Israel followed by mammoth Russia. The US doesn’t figure anywhere as of yet. Talking of arms selling, countries’ unwillingness to sell arms to China, it is but natural that nobody likes to be cheated and taken for a ride as the Russians realized with regard to one of their advanced fighters and others with less expensive wares. The bottom-line is, China has had a good run thus far but if she doesn’t change her style there’s going to trouble ahead.

yapchongyee January 15, 2010

CJRF has written an excellent comment and is very realistic in his assessment of what it is to be seen as a superpower. China does not seek to be a superpower nor be seen as a superpower, and for that accolade please invest India with that honour, the Chinese do not need it nor seek it; however, China has seen what wanton destructiveness that Western imperialism can wreak on people and what revolting arrogance that western powers can bring down on people, and hence now that China has again been able to re-claim our place in history as a great power, we know that it is time to guarantee our capability to stand and defend our independence. It is true that the USA is stronger than the next 10 strongest nations on earth including China, but on the issue of defence, the USA is the mere equal of China.

That said China has no ambition to dominate other nations; so the question whether US is stronger has no relevance. Simply said in terms of independence the might of the USA that is 10 times that of China has no relevance because China is not there to give USA contest nor are they competitors, because China has no intention to conquer others’ land; China leaves that to the Americans. China will stick to its world view that China will not interfere in the internal affairs of another’s ! Great power kudos is an illusion and nations that seek imperialism will invariably spiral into spreading their resources too thinly, this has always been the case with all past Imperial powers without exception; and in any case what is the worth of dominating another. All said and done, the USA Empire has lasted for only 50 years; and although there are libraries written that argue that the USA will remain the world’s dominant power, all the signs are that the USA has already lost their shine; the USA will not collapse but it will lose their influence like a leaking balloon. In the meantime China has already built up their capital of soft power. The areas of silent contest are in Latin America, Africa, South East Asia and the Middle East; and in all of these areas in hearts and minds, the USA is now seen as the global bully and China is seen as the good neighbor.

yapchongyee January 16, 2010

“As this made China a part of the South Asian equation it chose to play a particularly negative role in the region by aligning with Pakistan, an entity that is essentially a tragic accident of history much like the third reich was. This brazen shortsightedness might have taken care of China’s short term goals in the region but in the longer term, it is not going to take her anywhere and in the worst case scenario, could boomerang on her. China’s South Asia policy is almost entirely designed to contain India although our leaders have completely agreed to Chinese suzerainty over Tibet. But China was not satisfied and like any bully, kept on harassing …..INDIA

A quote from comment by Dev Dutta above.

The comment of Mr Dev Dutta is so typical and so very self-serving; wishful thinking rather than analytical. Like most Westerners, Mr Dutta too indulges in “hope and prayer”. There are already enough doomsday sayers that wish China ill, but for years the wishlist of evils that will befall on China has remained just that, mere wishful thinking; like the saying goes, “Stick and stones may break my bones but words can never harm me.’

I perceive in the comments of Mr Dutta, his utter frustration that India is so helpless in the face of China’s growing strength; but that ought not to frustrate him because China is benign and will not interfere in another’s internal affairs!

Just read Mr. Dutta’s comments and you will observe that what he is griping about in India’s lesser stature in geo-politics. He is all about India wanting to be world No, 1; as a matter I had correctly anticipated. Well Mr Dutta, if China concedes to India and says “INDIA IS NO.1″. Does that make you happy?

9899989 January 17, 2010

China is not putting itself at the same level of the US. The Chinese gov’t truly understands that there is lots of work to be done to develop the country. Considering all the stages and reforms going through, I do believe that it is on its right way to bring better life to common people. The gov’t provides good platforms for business, and thus it creates jobs and sustainability. Isn’t it that the interest of a country’s government is to elevate the people from poverty and bring better life? Even though people earn small wages, they are still able to slowly improve their life year after year and able to buy basic necessities. With the changes taking place, I think the gov’t has represented well enough. It is SO wrong to think that China is NOW assuming a role of superpower.

Each gov’t’s work is to make best for their country, for it’s people. So no matter which country is siding with which country, there is always self-interest. There will always be distorted views circulating.

Lastly, for the currency issue. I do think some gov’t controls the flow of their money in its market thus, risking the value of its money. Its a risky thing but I think that’s the only easy solution they can think of.

Currently, China is also improving its environmental issues. though it might be costly, but it generates a new market to make businesses. There might be big costs to change the technology and removing old plants, vehicles & etc. but it will be shouldered all by the people during this transformation. It’s just the right time for everyone to act.

Dev Kumar Dutta January 18, 2010

The common belief in India is that the Chinese are a very smart peoples and always assess things in the right proportion. Yes, Mr. Yapchongyee is right when he says that I’m frustrated because “India is so helpless in the face of China’s growing strength.” Am I “all about India wanting to be world No. 1?” Well, I may be frustrated but that doesn’t mean I’ve become naïve. No Sir, I don’t waste my time fantasizing about such illogical things and I have to say thanks but no thanks to your backhanded compliment saying “India is No.1”. Honestly, we don’t give a damn. Are we Indians happy? Well, despite all our difficulties, we manage to be so happy that we’re considered to be among the happiest people on planet earth. Not quite No.1 though but we’re happy that many others are as happy as we are or are happier than us. China need not concede any fantastic No.1 position to India to make us happy. She just has to return us our land, stop behaving like cowboys on the border and stop filling up entities like Pakistan with deadly ordinance. We’ll be more than happy if China “concedes” this little bit. Of course, only if China cares one bit about what could possibly make us happy. Thankfully, unlike our first Prime Minister, Mr. Nehru, today we have a better sense about what to expect from China and what not to expect.

Malaysian January 19, 2010

Minxin Pei,
You say that China is not a super power, you are right. But if you think China will not become a super power, then you are wrong. You will see, whether China will become a super power or not. I bet that China will certainly become a super power, economic wise and military wise, and this will happen in this century.

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