China to “save the world”?

I got tired of posting stories on whether China would come out of the crisis faster and in relative better shape than America, but the mass media still find it an irresistible topic. I follow a lot of them and they can be summarized as follows:

China’s stimulus package is working better and faster, because its government can force projects to begin and the infrastructure development program was already well underway. China is definitely looking like it’s rebounding, with high confidence and continued spending and growth (in general). There is now no question that we are seeing a new economic order, with China’s influence growing while that of the US declines – but, that does not mean China can replace the US as the world’s superpower. It can’t and it won’t, simple because it is still too poor, has too may problems (environmental, social, economic, labor, population) and, besides, much of the current euphoria is based almost entirely on government largesse. But still, it’s become a G2 kind of world, even if China is lower down the rungs than the US, and the notion that intoxicated so many Americans during the late 1990s of a world led only by the US (who was thinking of China then?) is totally out the window. China may never be a true superpower due to its staggering challenges, but its influence and its greatness (no, not moral greatness, but its ability to move markets, attract financing and shape global policies) are undeniable.

And now, you don’t need to read any more articles on China and the US and the global economic crisis again, because they are all basically a rehash of the above, some more gloomy, some more buoyant, but all just about the same. It was this brand-new article in Time that caused me to realize just how similar and predictable all of these articles are, no matter which side they take. Here’s a taste:

China faces enormous challenges — a massive shift of population from rural areas to cities, cleaning up decades of environmental degradation, continuing to provide the increase in prosperity that has underpinned political stability. Given their scale, it should surprise nobody that it is still most concerned with saving itself economically — not anyone else. Beijing is most unnerved by the prospect of labor unrest of the sort that resulted in the death on July 24 of a steel-company executive in northeast China at the hands of a mob.

But the resilience of the Chinese economy is no mirage. If Beijing can come through the global crisis without an economic meltdown of its own, its leaders’ reputation and confidence will be boosted. An economic model that survives the worst downturn since the Great Depression will have undeniable appeal in the developing world, at a time when the Washington Consensus is thoroughly shot. Beijing, before the crisis, was already rising, its global reach and influence expanding. As the rest of the world falters, that is truer than ever. China is not yet the leader of the global economy. But it’s getting there.

And there it is. China’s not there yet, may never be No. 1, getting there, shaking the world, progress can’t be denied but neither can impossible challenges, world falters while China rises, not sure it can be maintained, so many people to feed, lots of hope and construction, can’t save the world but can’t be discounted as major player, economic miracle, lots of disturbing unrest, social fissures, Party’s engineers know what they’re doing, US has better fundamentals but.. quack quack quack. It’s actually a good article, but I kept thinking, with literally every paragraph, haven’t I seen this all before?

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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.

The Discussion: 5 Comments

Richard, all I can say after reading your last paragraph in this post is AMEN. We have seen all this before- I suspect there is a common template for China stories circulating around Western media offices.

Here is something I wrote in 2006:

http://tinyurl.com/nawexu

And somehow, three years later, nothing has changed! Oh, and welcome back to the fair American continent, by the way.

August 4, 2009 @ 8:58 pm | Comment

Ha, totally agree, you nailed it right on. So sick of the same old rehashing in the media nowadays…

August 4, 2009 @ 10:18 pm | Comment

China’s “recovery”, just like America’s, is built on air. Printing money and government investment in all the wrong places. Chinese banks gave out more than USD 1 billion of new loans during the first half of 2009. A big chunk of these loans found their way to the stock and property markets, driving the prices up. Does inflating the already inflated bubble means recovery? I think not. More on this here.

August 28, 2009 @ 4:41 pm | Comment

The problem is less about China but more about the nature of the media. Everyone’s just out to have the most attention grabbing headlines. Hyping things up so people have something to speculate on… I mean, China can go from dominating the world one day to collapsing the next, kinda dampen one’s faith in such China punditry.

August 29, 2009 @ 10:50 pm | Comment

In the past decade (1999-2008), China added US$3,318.3 billion to the world economy.

The US added $4,996.2 billion, or 50.6% more.

August 31, 2009 @ 3:07 pm | Comment

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