China: threat or opportunity?
The rise of China could be good for the West, if only it would rise to the challenge.
by Sheila Lewis
China has come a very long way in the past 25 years. The land of the Giant Panda is also the land of giant numbers and achievements:
China's population represents more than one fifth of the world's population: 1.3 billion people.
Between 1978 and 2001 China's average growth rate of GDP per capita was at the top of the world's growth performance in this period (1).
China's exports grew in value terms by almost 15 times between 1978 and 2001 (2).
In 2002 and 2003, China was, second only to the USA, the world's largest recipient of Foreign Direct Investment (3).
In 1978 almost one in three Chinese people were 'absolutely poor', according to the World Bank. This fell to under one in 20 people by 1998 (4).
In 1982 one fifth of China's population lived in urban areas, and almost one in four people were illiterate. By 2000, over one third lived in urban areas and illiteracy levels had fallen to one in 15 people (5). Add to this China's industrial accomplishments: the Three Gorges Dam is the world's largest hydroelectric dam project; China has the world's longest steel-arch bridge; and Beijing Airport will be the biggest in the world by 2008. In 2001 China produced 96 million electric fans, 41 million colour TV sets, and 25 million mobile phones (6).
Yet despite these phenomenal advances, Western commentators interpret trends and events with great pessimism. An acknowledgement of the incredible achievements of China in the past two-and-a-half decades is generally accompanied with a statement of the dangers that the transformation brings.
On UK Radio Four's flagship current affairs programme Today in late 2004, Tim Luard, former Beijing correspondent for the BBC, echoed the view that the achievements are actually a source of anxiety: 'The sheer scale of China's economic transformation is matched only by the size...