THE BLOG

How Far Will China Rise?

Yes, the predictions are in. By 2016 (or 2030?), China will have economically outpaced the U.S. So say the economic soothsayers. And behind them lie all those, in the Pentagon and elsewhere in Washington, who secretly fear that, if nothing is done to contain it, China will within decades be dominant in the Pacific, the overlord of Asia, and perhaps later in the century the -- to steal a phrase -- "sole superpower" of planet Earth.

The first signs of things to come, it's believed, are already there, including the way China has been building up its military and has started nudging its neighbors about a set of largely uninhabited islands in energy-rich areas of the Pacific, not to speak of recent more informal claims to a large, heavily inhabited, very militarized island in the region -- Okinawa. Like the previous global superpower, China, it is believed, has designs on turning the Pacific into its own "lake" and possibly even setting up military and other bases ("a string of pearls") through the Indian Ocean all the way to Africa.

It's a great story, but hold your horses! As that peripatetic reporter for Asia Times, Pepe Escobar, indicates in a vivid plunge into China's roiled waters, "The Chimerica Dream," that country faces potentially staggering problems. After all, contradictions -- to use a classic Marxist word -- abound: a Communist Party leading a capitalist revolution with its own stability as a ruling elite dependent, above all, upon ever greater economic growth. And yet this isn't the nineteenth century. China is on an imperiled planet. Every economic move it makes has potentially long-term negative consequences. For all we know, there may be no twenty-second-century superpower on planet Earth and if there is, don't necessarily count on China.

As Escobar explains, to spur the staggering levels of growth that keep the country and the Party afloat, the Chinese leadership is embarking on a kind of forced urbanization program that may have no historical precedent. It is guaranteed to destabilize the countryside, while yet more peasants flood into the cities. It's seldom acknowledged here (though the Chinese leadership is well aware of it) but China has a unique, almost two-thousand-year-long record of massive peasant uprisings (often religiously tinged) sweeping out of the countryside and upsetting established rule. The last of them was Mao Zedong's peasant revolution that established the present People's Republic.

Mass protest in China has been on the rise. Environmental conditions are disastrous. Let the Chinese economy falter and who knows what you'll see. This is not a formula for an expansive imperial power, no less the next master of planet Earth, whatever Washington's fears and militarized fantasies may be.

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