Stumbling Giant

Stumbling Giant: The Threats to China's Future

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Stumbling Giant
    Book Description:

    While dozens of recent books and articles have predicted the near-certainty of China's rise to global supremacy, this book boldly counters such widely-held assumptions. Timothy Beardson brings to light the daunting array of challenges that today confront China, as well as the inadequacy of the policy responses. Threats to China come on many fronts, Beardson shows, and by their number and sheer weight these problems will thwart any ambition to become the world's "Number One power."

    Drawing on extensive research and experience living and working in Asia over the last 35 years, the author spells out China's situation: an inexorable demographic future of a shrinking labor force, relentless aging, extreme gender disparity, and even a falling population. Also, the nation faces social instability, a devastated environment, a predominantly low-tech economy with inadequate innovation, the absence of an effective welfare safety net, an ossified governance structure, and radical Islam lurking at the borders. Beardson's nuanced, first-hand look at China acknowledges its historic achievements while tempering predictions of its imminent hegemony with a no-nonsense dose of reality.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16551-7
    Subjects: Political Science, History, Economics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vi-vii)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. viii-x)
  5. Introduction: Facing Multiple Challenges
    (pp. 1-6)

    The question of whether, and when, China might replace the United States as the superpower is one that occupies much time and attention.¹

    China has been, bar none, the country that has changed fastest over the last thirty years. To take a quarter of the world’s population from communism to an essentially market-based economy in such a short period – without a civil war – is the largest and most peaceful counter-revolution in human history.

    The Chinese government and its people share a common aspiration to build a modern, prosperous, strong and respected country. They also possess an age-old cultural...

  6. CHAPTER ONE The Making of Today’s China
    (pp. 7-49)

    China’s history offers several insights into why the country is the way it is today and how it might behave tomorrow. I briefly examine the last thousand years, and then look more closely at China’s two centuries of disastrous history – from around the 1770s until the 1970s. I would suggest that what has happened to China – and what the Chinese have done to themselves – has shaped and will shape their character and their future. This is a recurring theme in this book. As the contemporary writer Xiao Jiansheng has said:

    the most important thing is that we...

  7. CHAPTER TWO The Broken Economic Model
    (pp. 50-78)

    Internationally, the impression of the Chinese economy is of an unstoppable juggernaut rolling towards global domination. But this is not quite correct: China faces internal and external challenges and needs to make major changes in her economy.

    By 1978, China’s leaders knew they must introduce serious measures to restructure the country. However, reforms were politically sensitive; Mao had only been dead two years. Deng Xiaoping and his colleagues presided over some of the most radical reforms in modern history, but they displayed a curious reticence at this time. Reform was mentioned seldom, and the Maoist communes were actually praised. There...

  8. CHAPTER THREE The Elusive Knowledge Economy
    (pp. 79-114)

    If it is to avoid being trapped by its rising wage costs, China needs to make a clear break from its old model of low-cost, low-margin manufacturing and to build a high-technology, innovative economy. The government has planned for several years to make China an innovation-driven economy. But can China upgrade and compete – not on price, but on quality and innovation? Second, the status of global superpower normally implies being the technological and intellectual leader of the world. How successful is China in this drive? There are some bright pockets, but overall the results are quite disappointing.

    Beijing is...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Finance
    (pp. 115-136)

    China’s financial system contains many weaknesses and risks, and foreign exchange reserves, currency, government finance, the banking system and the stock market all present vulnerabilities.

    In 2012, Beijing had $3.2 trillion of foreign exchange reserves – more than any other country. This would appear, on the face of it, to place China in an enviable position. There is ample liquidity in the domestic currency and so there has been little need to borrow overseas, which also puts China in a favourable position vis-à- vis other major economies.

    These reserves are largely a result of the fact that, as Chinese enterprises...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE Social Welfare: Missing Umbrella
    (pp. 137-161)

    Karl Marx predicted that as communism developed the state would ‘wither away’. What happened in China in the 1980s was that the welfare state withered away. Since 1949, social services had been provided by the work unit, but this system broke down in the rush to market. The rolling redundancies since the early 1990s (which were exacerbated by the 2008–9 downturn) were just one of the stresses on an ailing system. Many other issues undermined welfare provision in a state as large and cumbersome as China, with its demography, differential regional economic performance, thehukousystem of household registration,...

  11. CHAPTER SIX The Environment
    (pp. 162-190)

    Public health and rising prosperity are seriously threatened by large-scale pollution. Agriculture and industry are poisoning the rivers; factories and mines are polluting the air. China has badly depleted its reserves: its water supply is a quarter of the world average per capita, and in terms of forests it has scarcely more than half the world’s average per capita.¹ The Blacksmith Institute in the US said in 2007 that six of the 30 most polluted places in the world are in China,² and according to the World Bank, so are 20 of the 30 most polluted cities.³ Not only are...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN Threats to Social Stability
    (pp. 191-211)

    Stability is a major theme in China and threats to it are very important. After many centuries of upheaval – both foreign invasion and domestic insurrection – since 1979 the country has placed a high value on stability. It features constantly in the speeches of senior leaders, and many people prize it more than other possible ‘goods’, such as open elections or greater freedom of expression. Threats to stability can be divided into two categories. First, there are activities that in most societies would be regarded as criminal (or anti-social at the very least). These issues – which range from...

  13. CHAPTER EIGHT Threats to Civil Stability
    (pp. 212-242)

    This chapter seeks to address the issues which can have an impact on regime stability. It will certainly be the view of many that the present government has been competent and has presided over extraordinary growth in social and economic well-being; thus threats to the government are threats to China’s rise. Furthermore, they will note the absence of a formal opposition and claim that the alternative is a descent into chaos. This convenient analysis anathematises dissidence. One point to make at the outset, however, is that even under an authoritarian regime like China’s, leaders have to consider their domestic political...

  14. CHAPTER NINE Identity: Future of State and Party
    (pp. 243-268)

    So what is China and what is its guiding ideology? At first sight, the answers appear obvious. China is what we see on the map. The governing party is the Chinese Communist Party. The leadership school, the Central Party School, teaches Marxism–Leninism. The place it is most hostile towards is Taiwan, which is capitalist and democratic. The hammer and sickle is on the nation’s flag and Mao is on the banknotes. Official rhetoric frequently contains Marxist references.

    However, I suggest that both China and its ideology have changed much and will change more. Here I look at different options...

  15. CHAPTER TEN America and China: Common Interests, Mutual Antagonisms
    (pp. 269-283)

    In order for China to ascend to superpower status, America must relinquish it. That is thesine qua non. It could be argued that the world does not at present have a superpower at all; if so, that would make China’s ascent easier, but still not assured. To explore America’s position in the world today, I draw some lessons from its recent wars, particularly in Afghanistan. For, after all, a great power at peace is somewhat like a racehorse in a stable. China will also be examining its behaviour, and what China sees will influence its policies and actions. The...

  16. CHAPTER ELEVEN Great Power Relationships
    (pp. 284-320)

    This chapter examines the extent to which the major powers surrounding China – India, Japan and Russia – present a threat to its rise. This requires some analysis of their domestic situation. I will argue that, although there is friction between China and each of these three countries, conflict is in the interests of none of the latter and would ensue only if China decides to prosecute aggressive policies.

    India and China are populous, Asian-based, powers, with contiguous territory and ambiguous relationships with the West, and both feel their day is dawning. They invite further comparison: India has a ‘blue...

  17. CHAPTER TWELVE Central Asia
    (pp. 321-338)

    Sometimes the less remarked regions and trends have the potential for dramatic upheaval. What is happening in Central Asia poses two serious problems for China’s future. First, Western military departure from Afghanistan will probably lead either to a coalition of the present government with the Taliban or to collapse of the regime, to be succeeded by a Taliban government. Survival of the Karzai regime in the teeth of Taliban opposition seems implausible. As Afghanistan borders China’s Muslim Xinjiang province, this brings the real possibility of radicalism reaching restive Xinjiang.

    Second, Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is the world’s fastest growing, but its...

  18. CHAPTER THIRTEEN Undeclared War in the Fourth Dimension?
    (pp. 339-353)

    Among other attributes, a superpower needs a high level of technology and the ability to project itself militarily worldwide. These have recently only been the preserve of the United States; and not even of the USSR. In the relatively new, rather opaque but dramatic area of cyber power, China has developed as a world leader. It is difficult to see direct threats to China through this technology. What is interesting, however, is what it shows us about China’s use of its increasing powers. This leads to a consideration of how the world may react to China’s actions and what adverse...

  19. CHAPTER FOURTEEN Nervous Neighbours
    (pp. 354-372)

    This chapter discusses the territories bordering mainland China, excluding India, Russia, Central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The emphasis is on those that could become a focus of conflict. An element of uncertainty about Beijing’s future policy in the area is injected by Chinese policy analysts’ suggestions that ‘destabilising factors’ in the ‘near abroad’ might call for ‘pre-emptive measures to promote regional stability’.¹ This is precisely the language that India has used about South Asia and that has accompanied its active intervention in Nepal and Afghanistan and its occupation of independent territories such as Hyderabad and Sikkim. Such actions by China...

  20. CHAPTER FIFTEEN China in the World
    (pp. 373-397)

    Overseas, China faces critical threats to its rise. I have mentioned the risk of regime collapse in neighbouring Afghanistan and Pakistan, the threats arising from Beijing’s massive investment in volatile regions of the developing world and also the risks from antagonising a large number of neighbouring countries over either territorial disputes or the threat of water diversion. Another area of risk is how the world views China’s rhetoric and actions as it becomes more powerful. I have examined this so far principally through Beijing’s belligerence in the cyber world, but I will argue that China is not paying enough attention...

  21. CHAPTER SIXTEEN Outcomes
    (pp. 398-435)

    Many of the challenges which China confronts appear to an international audience to have clear solutions. However, they must be viewed in the context of a government which is driven by the desire to stay in power and yet has a sense of fragility. Many obvious policy solutions are avoided as they carry political costs or risk. This creates a sense of impotence or stasis amongst policy-makers. Will the threats to growth and stability be sufficient to damage China’s rise? The answer is yes. China can continue to rise but the threats are so serious and so widespread, and the...

  22. Notes
    (pp. 436-476)
  23. Bibliography
    (pp. 477-493)
  24. Index
    (pp. 494-518)