July 6, 2008


China is a rising star, but unusually weak and poor (Jacques deLisle, 7/06/08, Philadelphia Inquirer)

Yet China is unusual for a rising power. More than the United States or the Soviet Union or Great Britain during their periods of ascension, China is still weak. Despite a massive military modernization program, China's capabilities remain limited, especially its ability to project conventional force over distance.

Moreover, China is still poor. True, its economy is now the world's second-largest in "purchasing power parity" terms (a measure that adjusts for lower costs of many goods and services in less developed countries). And China's economy has been growing at more than 10 percent a year for much of the last three decades.

In the more common exchange-rate-based measure of economic size, however, China trails Germany. China's economy is vast, but then, so is its population. Great powers ordinarily do not rank below the world median in per-capita income. But China does. By World Bank measures, it is a lower-middle-income country. Average income does not much surpass $2,000 - or a still-modest $5,400 or so in purchasing power parity terms.

Challenges posed by this relative poverty are made worse by severe inequality and an aging population. By the most common measures, China's society has greater inequality than that of the United States (where inequality is much higher than in almost any other developed economy) and most other countries, especially in East Asia. Chinese urbanites have incomes more than three times those of rural residents. Average income in Shanghai is nearly tenfold that of China's poorest provinces. Policies to redress still-rising inequality are just beginning. If zealously pursued, such policies could threaten the growth that has underpinned China's rise and its rulers' legitimacy.

China also will grow old before it gets rich. Senior citizens are the fastest-growing age group in China. The proportion of Chinese above age 65 soon will approach that in the United States, and it is much higher than in other developing countries. The graying of China stems from harsh population-control policies adopted a quarter-century ago to avoid economically ruinous population growth. But the increasing ratio of retirees to workers imperils investment rates and productivity gains that have sustained China's growing economy and geopolitical clout.

...on the lingering racism of the "Yellow Menace" mentality. If the Han looked like Norwegians, even the fact there's a billion of them wouldn't be enough to scare anyone.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 6, 2008 8:04 AM

There is the small matter that they are ruled by nuclear-armed Communist totalitarians who murdered more people than Hitler. Some of us feel that's a cause for concern.

Posted by: PapayaSF at July 6, 2008 1:02 PM

If they looked like Norwegians we wouldn´t be scared? But so did these guys:


I got your Norwegians right here:


I think you are focusing too much on the race thing.

For my part, the "delusion" rests on the observation that they are a hard and capable people, unsentimental, cohesive, deliberate, unburdened by western guilt, with a talent for military and diplomatic strategy, a lot of nationalist fervor and a surplus of young men. China has achieved much starting from a very small base. I am not sure if an aging population will paralyse them as much as us because I don´t think they feel entitled to much. They are also natural capitalists, and that is the good part.

I am actually hopeful. I think it would be fatal to treat China as an enemy. But we should certainly behave as if they could become one at short notice. Yes, I remember the 1980s when my fellow students all wanted to learn Japanese (suckers). But I wouldn´t bet the farm on things happening always exactly in the same way.

Posted by: wf at July 6, 2008 1:50 PM

No one was afraid of the Germans, that's why no one did anything about them.

Posted by: oj at July 6, 2008 2:45 PM

Concern to the Han Chinese, not the quaking round-eyes--that's just a function of racial terror.

Posted by: oj at July 6, 2008 2:53 PM

It´s easy to say that now. The Germans had their apologists and their pacifists across Europe, but quite a few people were concerned. The Brits couldn´t up defense spending fast enough and the French poured a lot of resources in the Maginot line. They were so scared of another war that they couldn´t think clearly. Even the French suffered 100,000 killed in 1940. Probably more than we could stand today.

You may say that they would have fought to the last man had the Germans been brown or yellow, but that still doesn´t prove that all concern about Chinese ambitions is racist.

Your average Russian could pass for Norwegian and we worried enough about them.

Posted by: wf at July 7, 2008 2:49 AM

Mao's been dead a long time. The Chinese are intensely nationalistic but not stupid enough to imitate Japan, Germany or Russia.

Posted by: Ali Choudhury at July 7, 2008 5:26 AM

Everyone hates the Slavs--too Oriental.

Posted by: oj at July 7, 2008 6:33 AM
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