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Rise of China: Global Implications -1

“China is a sleeping giant,

Let the giant sleep because, if awake, it will shake the whole world.”

Napoleon Bonaparte

Dinesh Dubey

How prophetic was the legendary French Emperor in predicting about China’s potential to emerge a powerful global player over two centuries back!  

At a time when the world, after recovering from the worst endemic of the century, is passing through economic recession, violence, hatred and twin wars — Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Hamas conflicts to be precise; China is smartly keeping itself largely unaffected.  This situation can be compared with what United States did between the two world wars.  As a matter of state policy, the United States then had adopted “isolationist” or “non-interventionist” approach by staying away from the European conflicts and economic problems.  About a century back, this immensely had helped the U.S. in consolidating its position in the Americas region, and focusing on its own problems including tiding over the Great Depression of 1928-30.

Broadly navigating through the same neutrality, China has not fought a war for about four decades.  It went into a battle with Vietnam in 1979, almost a year before it decided to adopt New Economic Policy under the leadership of Deng Xiao Ping.  China not only opened its doors for massive American and Western investment, it also unshackled its static, state-controlled economy  by making it more efficient and dynamic with the help of new policies of economic liberalisation at domestic level. Another big boost to Chinese economy came with the return of Hong Kong, a British-controlled territory showcasing western economic development during much of the Cold War period, back to China in 1997.  It may be argued that, unlike the American experience, China made the best use of all the global economic opportunities available in the post-Cold War era to bolster its own economic growth. 

Robust Economic Growth

Over the past decade, the Chinese economy has sustained rapid growth and cemented its global status as a major growth contributor.  In 2021, China’s gross domestic product reached dollar 17.7 trillion, accounting for 18.5 percent of the world’s total. From 2013 to 2021, it grew at an average annual rate of 6.6 percent, beating the global level of 2.6 percent.

With the exponential economic expansion, China has become a major driving force for global growth. During the 2013-2021 period, its contribution to global economic growth averaged 38.6 percent, higher than that of the Group of Seven (G7) countries combined.

With a vast global market of 1.4 billion people (almost the same as the population of China or India), solid economic growth, and an improving business environment, China has remained a favourite destination for foreign investment throughout the past decade. Since 2020, China has remained the second-biggest recipient country for foreign direct investment (FDI). FDI into China, in actual use, came in at dollar 173.5 billion in 2021, compared with dollar 113.3 billion in 2012, increasing by 4.8 percent on average each year.

Besides, the Agriculture, another key sector of Chinese economy, has registered stable growth. Since 2012, the output of grain, meat, peanuts, and tea ranked first in the world, while rapeseed output placed second.  On the industrial front, the country’s main industrial product output has risen steadily. The output of crude steel, coal, power, cement, fertilizer, automobiles, microcomputers, and mobile phones led the world.

Amid endeavors to open up wider to the world, China’s foreign trade has seen a robust expansion in the past decade. In 2020, the country surpassed the United States to become the world’s largest trading country for the first time, with a total foreign trade volume of dollar 5.3 trillion, up from dollar 4.4 trillion in 2012.  Last year, China’s foreign trade volume further expanded to dollar 6.9 trillion, continuing to take first place globally. Its foreign trade in goods rose from dollar 3.9 trillion in 2012 to dollar 6.1 trillion last year, accounting for 13.5 percent of the world’s total.  The country has also remained the largest trader in goods and second-largest trader in services in the world.

Chinese Military Build-Up

With China emerging as another super power, many Western observers now believe that a profound shift in the global balance of military power is under way.  Chinese President Xi Jinping has ordered China’s armed forces to modernise by 2035. They should, he says, become a “world-class” military power, capable of “fighting and winning wars” by 2049

The Fujian, a type 003 aircraft carrier, was launched in Shanghai in June, last year, and is the most advanced warship ever built in China.  The vessel is China’s third aircraft carrier and, unlike the other two, it was designed by Chinese engineers.

For now, the US maintains a strong lead in many naval capabilities, with 11 aircraft carriers to China’s three, and more nuclear-powered submarines, cruisers and destroyers – or larger warships.

But China is expected to expand its navy much further.

Experts predict that between 2020 and 2040, the total number of Chinese navy ships will increase by nearly 40%.

Chinese believe that its naval expansion is “critically important” in countering the sea-based threats which it faces. These predictions have shaken the American policy-makers in devising effective ways to stall, or at least countervail, the Chinese preparedness in the Asia-Pacific region.

Chinese are known for their lack of transparency over how much China spends  on defence.  Beijing does publish official spending data, but Western estimates of China’s financial support for its armed forces are often significantly higher.  It is widely believed that China currently spends more on its armed forces than any other country except the U.S. 

In November, the U.S. Department of Defense predicted that China was set to quadruple its nuclear stockpile by the end of the current decade. China, it said, “likely intends to have at least 1,000 warheads by 2030”.  Though Chinese state media called the claim a wild speculation, experts at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, who publish annual assessments of global stockpiles, say China has been rapidly increasing its nuclear capabilities over recent years.

China is still a long way short of the US stockpile of 5,550 warheads, but its nuclear build-up is being seen as one of the biggest threats to Western military supremacy.

There are reports that China has developed Hypersonic missiles that travel at more than five times the speed of sound.  They are not as fast as intercontinental ballistic missiles, but they are so difficult to detect in flight that they may render some air defences useless.

China is believed to be rapidly developing “intelligentised” warfare, or future military methods based on disruptive technologies – especially artificial intelligence (AI). according to the US Department of Defense. China has already conducted large-scale cyber-operations abroad.  

In July the U.S., UK, and EU accused China of carrying out a major cyber-attack targeting Microsoft Exchange servers.  It is believed that the attack affected at least 30,000 organisations globally and aimed to enable large-scale espionage, including the acquisition of personal information and intellectual property. Reports suggest that China may already be using  AI in military robotics and missile guidance systems, as well as unmanned aerial vehicles and unmanned naval vessels.

Experts point out that China’s Academy of Military Science has already been given a mandate to make sure that this happens, through “civil-military fusion”, in other words joining up Chinese private sector technology companies with the country’s defence industries. 

Through a decade of steady economic growth and military build-up, China has evolved into the world’s major economic powerhouse, with numerous milestone achievements made along the journey of high-quality development.  Powering ahead on a development path that is innovation-driven, sustainable, and more open to the world, China has kept injecting momentum into the global economy. 

…..to be continued

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