China’s Century

Written by Randeep Singh

The United States is the world’s largest economy, no more.

China has assumed that distinction. Last month, China’s GDP[1] measured $17.632 trillion, overtaking the United States’ at $17.416 trillion. China’s economy now makes up 16.48% of the world’s economy. And though China is still poor in per capita terms  and facing its own social problems, it has reclaimed a historic distinction which it enjoyed until the late-19th century.

With that distinction should come an end to an illusion: that China is a threat to the United States or the West. Like any country, China is its own confusion of history, modernity, politics and identity. Flaubert once stated “there is no truth, only perception.” There is nothing objectively threatening about China. The American perception of China as a threat is a projection of America’s own assumptions about China based on America’s own historical experiences as a great power.[2]

The rise of China is best understood against China’s history. In the late 19th century, Chinese reformist statesmen proposed that to survive in the modern world, China must unite, strengthen itself and become prosperous. Since that time, China has experienced revolution, invasion, civil war, the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution; yet it has never veered far from the goal of self-strengthening.

Since 1978, China has emerged become the world’s largest trading nation, reduced poverty, built world-class infrastructure, and become the world’s largest creditor nation. The Chinese Communist Party’s legitimacy rests on maintaining such growth and prestige. To risk doing anything to the contrary – such as alienating its largest trading partner and investors – would jeopardize its legitimacy.

Like any country, China is not to be feared – only to be understood. The rise of China is best understood in terms of China’s own historical experiences, not through our perceptions of it.

[1]  According to the International Monetary Fund’s, World Economic Outlook (2014), calculated at purchasing power parity.

[2] Many such threats have not materialized, including the American fear of China recalling $3 trillion in U.S. debt which failed to occur during America’s debt-default crisis in 2013.


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Filed under China, Politics

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