Or so claims a former head of the World Bank, whose credentials are rather impressive. It’s coming sooner than any of us imagine, and it will shake our world at its very foundations.
Western nations must prepare for a future dominated by China and India, whose rapid economic rise will soon fundamentally alter the balance of power, former World Bank chief James Wolfensohn has warned.
Wealthy countries were failing to understand the impact of the invevitable growth of the two Asian powerhouses, Wolfensohn said in the 2006 Wallace Wurth Memorial Lecture at the University of New South Wales at the weekend.
“It’s a world that is going to be in the hands of these countries which we now call developing,” said Australian-born Wolfensohn, who held the top job at the global development bank for a decade until last year.
Rich nations needed to try to capitalise on the inevitable emergence of what would become the engine of the world’s economic activity before it was too late, he said.
“Most people in the rich countries don’t really look at what’s happening in these large developing countries,” said Wolfensohn, who is now chairman of Citigroup International Advisory Board and his own investment and advisory firm.
Within 25 years, the combined gross domestic products of China and India would exceed those of the Group of Seven wealthy nations, he said.
“This is not a trivial advance, this is a monumental advance.”
So many conflicting opinions. Can countries of such immense poverty and seemingly insurmountable environmental woes really make it to the top in a mere 20 years or so? I’ve had my doubts, but recently I am more inclined to think that yes, they can, thanks to the savvy foreign policiy deals being brokered by their leaders, ensuring they’ll have the energy and resources required to keep the cylinders humming. Yes, a lot of people will be left behind and the inequalities will be unconscionable. But the New World Order (and not the one prophesied by Bush I) looms imminent, and those who aren’t taking steps now to prepare for it can’t say they weren’t warned.
And now, let me get back to studying my Chinese.
Update: I want to urge everyone to take a look at that old story I linked to in this post in light of Wolfensohn’s claims. It raises an extremely important question: How can two gentlemen with such rich experience come to such vastly different conclusions about China’s future? One of them actually lived and worked in China for decades and speaks fluent Mandarin. (Maybe Wolfensohn does too, I don’t know.) But the difference in the conclusions they reach is nothing short of astounding, and begs the question, will one of them be proven “right,” or will reality ultimately show that the situation wasn’t nearly as black and white as either suggested? (Whoever answers correctly gets a free Peking Duck tote bag as soon as we know the answer, probably in about a quarter of a century from now.)
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.