8 May 2012

A Chinese World

Since World War II, only three world powers have been referred to as a global ‘superpower’: the Soviet Union, the British Empire and the United States. Only America remains of these; the other two now severely reduced in power and influence.

Being a superpower requires certain things: being a world leader in economics, culture and education; having a strong military presence; and being influential on an international basis.

China is now generally seen as the next candidate for the superpower distinction. It is in a two-way fight with the United States for the most foreign interests. These interests serve a purpose, but what they all add up to is control of foreign resources and commodities, as well as in a militaristic sense. There is currently a sense of competition between the two states, in terms of military, trade partners and rights to natural resources: all factors in contributing to the title of superpower.

The difference between the two countries is that America has debts of over $15trillion, and China is the world’s largest exporter with a growth rate averaging 10% over the last 30 years.

China has many problems: China's population of more than 1.3 billion people does not have the resources to adequately care for itself. Furthermore, China is recognised internationally as having an appalling Human Rights record. Freedom of speech is limited, and many liberties we in the West take for granted are not shared with China’s booming population. The Chinese government often uses the subversion of state power and the protection of state secret clause in its Constitution to imprison those who are critical of the government: a topic that has been in the news only this week regarding the human rights activist Chen Guangcheng.

This has resulted in massive waves of emigration from China. For example, a recent trend shows that during the last decade, over 750,000 Chinese have moved to Africa.  Air and sea routes are increasing between China and developing African nations as massive deals are made for commodities, trade, labour and military cooperation. Chinese private schools, embassies and cultural centres are popping up in places like Rwanda, Nairobi and Angola. Angola even has its own ‘Chinatown’ district, like many Western cities. Similarly, China has reached out to Latin America as well, bypassing the United States as Brazil's Number One trading partner, with rising influence in the surrounding countries.  

With this amount of political influence in the developing world, twinned with a population of over one billion people, as well as an economy that is seen by many as almost single-handedly driving the global economy, it is no wonder that many people are saying that China is ready to jump into America’s seat as the next global superpower.

To achieve wide UN support, the ruling Communist Party of China, may have to adapt its absolute control over the country, showing improvements for freedom, liberty and other fundamental human rights. But it is becoming more fashionable to prefer stability to democracy. Many Western countries hope that globalisation, development and international integration will increase Chinese liberalism. But time is not making China more Western: it is making the world more Chinese. There is little Western leaders can do to put political pressure on a country that is, in part, sustaining them through the mires of debt. With more and more people learning Mandarin around the world, there seems very little that can stop the spread of global Chinese influence. 

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