Why do we fear a rising China?

Although China’s rise will bring tremendous benefits to the world economy, few people seem to see China that way, writes Michael Schuman, Time Magazine‘s Asia business correspondent, on his blog at Time.com on June 7.

According to Schuman, China’s new wealth not only provides its 1.3 billion population with more money to buy products from the rest of the world – thus creating news jobs – it also means stability, as “a global economy no longer solely dependent on the US consumer for growth is potentially more stable and prosperous.”

However, “many don’t acknowledge China’s positive role.” Even those who realize China’s contribution or “even directly benefit from” China, including Beijing’s neighbors, still feel “uneasy” about “China’s advance.” “Why do we fear a rising China in a way we don’t a rising India? Or why is an economically powerful China less acceptable than, for example, a stronger Europe?” Schuman asks.

First, China’s unique economic model – “state capitalism” – is challenging the Western economic orthodoxy, the author argues. Not only does China control its currency to favor its exports, “it grabs natural resources for itself wherever and whenever it can.” As state-controlled companies often do the bidding, it is not surprising China is usually seen as a “threatening monolithic juggernaut”.

More important and perhaps more fundamental, China also appears to be shaking the political and military framework as well, Schuman opines. While today’s China is frequently compared to Japan in the 1980s, competing with the US and Europe, Japan back then was never seen as a threat, politically or militarily. Indeed, “China isn’t content just to sell more TV sets to the world, like Japan. The Chinese want to have more control over the world. And they want to use their economic clout to get it.”

Ultimately, Schuman concludes, all the sense of threat and fear boils down to unfamiliarity and uncertainty. When the US replaced the British Empire as the leader, the world knew what to expect. But it’s not so clear what “the rise of the East” all means for the direction of global civilization. After all, Europeans and Americans have dominated the globe for so many centuries that they are uncomfortable with the notion that someone else is about to take the throne.

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