Wednesday, August 04, 2004


Whither China? Whither the world?

I seem to be in a “French” mode lately.

Le monde diplomatique has just published a sobering review by Ignacio Ramonet of China’s development "Chine, megapuissance," which I’ve excerpted. It’s not available in English, but is available in Spanish.

China has become a Wonder of the World in exports:

In the euphoria of initial globalization, [China] was depicted as a veritable windfall for shrewd investors by the hundreds of companies that offshored their factories there (after having dismissed millions of wage-earners). Thanks to the system of “special economic zones” set up along its maritime front, it quickly became a phenomenal exporting power. And it took the lead among world exporters in clothing and textiles, shoes, electronics and toys. Its products invaded the world, particularly the U.S. market, bringing with it a huge imbalance: in 2003, the American commercial trade deficit with Peking reached $130 billion! [emphasis added]

The money pouring in from the U.S. has raised the standard of living for millions of Chinese and allowed the Chinese government to invest in the country’s infrastructure.

This exporting frenzy was to provoke a spectacular takeoff of growth which, for two decades, has surpassed 9% each year! This “democratic market communism” also brought with it, in millions of homes, an increase in buying power and standard of living, and has encouraged the rise of a genuine Chinese capitalism. The state, in the same spirit, launched into a forced-march modernization of the country, increasing the construction of its infrastructure: ports, airports, highways, railways, bridges, dams, skyscrapers, stadia for the Olympic Games in Peking in 2008, facilities for the World’s Fair in Shanghai in 2010, etc.

(The article fails to mention that this influx of cash is also allowing China to hasten its military development.)

The internal development has in turn made China a gargantuan consumer—

... Last year it was the top buyer in the world of cement (importing 55% of the world production), coal (40%), steel (25%), nickel (25%) and aluminum (14%), and the second largest importer of oil, after the United States.

The demand, of course, has affected world prices.

These purchases have caused a price explosion in the markets—particularly in the petroleum markets. Admitted to membership in the World Trade Organization in 2001, China is now one of the great economies of the world—the sixth, to be precise....
Where is China heading?
If China continues at this pace, by 2041 it will surpass the United States and become the top world economic power, which will have major geopolitical consequences. It also means that by 2030, its energy consumption will equal that of the United States and Japan today, and that—not having enough petroleum on hand—it will be forced between now and 2020 to double its nuclear capacity and to construct two nuclear power stations per year for 16 years.

And there will be environmental consequences.

... China—which ratified the Kyoto protocol—will leave the second tier of polluters of the planet, which it presently occupies, to move to the first tier. It will then release colossal quantities of greenhouse gasses that will aggravate the climatic change underway.

The article ends by raising perhaps the most important question facing all of us.

How to lift billions of people out of the distress of underdevelopment without plunging them into a model of production and “Western-style” consumption, disastrous for the planet and fatal for humanity as a whole?

This is a question for capitalism itself. Don’t expect any solutions from George Bush or this Congress.

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