The world must hope that China won’t run the world economy in the same way as the westby Kishore Mahbubani / May 14, 2018 / Leave a comment
Published in June 2018 issue of Prospect Magazine
Napoleon was only half-right when he warned more than two centuries ago that, “China is a sleeping lion. Let her sleep, for when she wakes she will shake the world.” China has woken up and is indeed shaking the world. But it is shaking the world gently. Why?
Chinese history has mirrored that of Europe. Until the Industrial Revolution, the European elites lived well while the masses suffered brutish conditions. The Chinese masses, by contrast, suffered the same plight until as recently as 1978. After that year, when Deng Xiaoping launched the Four Modernisations Programme, China experienced the greatest uplift of the human condition in history: 800m people were rescued from absolute poverty. Infant mortality plummeted. Virtually every child in China goes to school today.
How did China accomplish this? It made a massive U-turn. In the past, China built great walls and shut itself in. In 1978, China’s economy opened up and integrated itself with the world. An even more momentous decision was to join the WTO in 2001. The subsequent explosion of the Chinese economy was phenomenal. In 2000, America’s economy was 8.5 times that of China. By 2015, it was only 1.6 times larger. Within a decade, China is likely to have the world’s largest economy.
So China will indeed shake the world, but it will do so gently. For it has succeeded by integrating itself into the global and multilateral rules-based order that the west, especially America, gifted to the world at the end of the Second World War. The ecosystem of global multilateral institutions has facilitated China’s rise. China is now the number one trading nation of the world and over 100 countries list China as their number one trading partner. China will therefore work hard to preserve the global rules-based order. Xi Jinping declared this loudly and clearly when he spoke at Davos in January 2017.
A resurgent China that plays by western-designed rules should, in theory, be welcomed by America. Sadly, America is shooting itself in the foot by becoming more aggressively unilateral when it should become more multilateral. To put it bluntly, every shackle of multilateral rules that the world’s current number one power, America, accepts for itself is a shackle that will be passed on to the next number one power: China. The reverse is also true. Every loophole that America creates for itself today is a loophole that China will use tomorrow.