A Chinese Perspective on a Changing World
How is Asia's economic rise different from the rise of the West?
November 16, 2009
As the world undergoes tremendous changes at an unprecedented pace, I have examined three major global changes from my perspective as a Chinese scholar.
First, the center of gravity of international relations is shifting from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
Though we are still at the initial stage of this shift, it is the most important change in the last four centuries — which were dominated by the West. Now this situation is gradually coming to an end.
Asia was the most important continent in the world economy for many centuries. Until 1820, Asia's GDP accounted for 60% of that of the world. However, after that, for the reasons we all know, Asia experienced a rapid decline.
After the Second World War, things started to change. Japan was the first to rise in Asia. We Asians are grateful to Japan for inventing this export-oriented development model, which helped initiate the process of Asia's rise.
In the 1960s, the "four tigers" — namely Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea — joined Japan, following the same development model. By the early 1970s, some ASEAN countries, such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines, followed suit.
In 1978, China started the policy of reform and opening up to the outside world, a policy that led to some stunning achievements. In the past 30 years, China's annual average GDP growth was 9.8%. And in 1991, India decided to implement economic reform. As a result, India joined other economically rising Asian countries.
After China and India embarked on the path of reform, Asia's rise gathered powerful momentum. Asia's population represents 60% of the world today — and its rise is bound to change the world landscape. Asia's GDP accounts for about 24% of the global GDP and many economists predict that by 2030 Asia's GDP will rise to more than 40% of world GDP.
Asia's rise differs from that of Europe and America. When Europe and America rose, they did it at the expense of others — there were many conflicts and wars. But today, Asia is rising with the rest of the world rather than against it.
Let me cite China as an example. China succeeded by sharing our growth with others. We didn't keep the benefit of economic growth for ourselves only. All countries and continents which have cooperation with China benefit from China's growth. The peaceful rise of Asia is by no means accidental. Peace, globalization and Asian countries' policy made it possible.
Second, mankind has never been bound together so closely by common interests and common challenges. It is true that the world is still facing many problems, conflicts and contradictions. But the interdependence between different countries has never been as deep as today.
Let me give you an example: China and the United States established diplomatic ties on January 1 1979. The trade volume between our two counties in 1979 amounted to only $2.4 billion. At that time, what happened in the U.S. economy had little impact on China, and vice versa.
But last year, China-U.S. trade volume amounted to more than $333 billion. China has also become the largest creditor of the United States. That was absolutely inconceivable 30 years ago
The challenges facing the world have never been as daunting as today. We must contend with climate change, environmental degradation, terrorism, drug trafficking, pandemics, etc. No country — no matter how powerful it is — is able to meet these challenges alone. The interdependence and common challenges call for united action of people around the world for a better future.
Today's world is still influenced by the legacies of the past. WWII was followed by forty-year Cold War. The mentality of some people often lags behind the current reality. That is why we are seeing two major trends in the international relations competing with each other.
The first trend stands for peace, development and cooperation. The second trend stands for a continued Cold War, confrontation and conflict. The first trend represents the future — the second, the past. To a large extent, the destiny of mankind will be determined by the competition between these two trends in the 21st century.
Five or six years ago, America was at the height of unilateralism. The Chinese Minister of Culture went to United States for a cultural event. To an American audience, the Minister said, "The Chinese and Americans have different cultures. You Americans are always looking for an enemy. When you don't have an enemy, you are worried. We Chinese don't need an enemy, we need friends. When we don't have friends, we are worried."
Looking for an enemy is a typical manifestation of the Cold War mentality. When the Soviet Union disintegrated, the U.S. neo-cons were looking for someone to replace it. That kind of mentality got the United States in big trouble. We are happy to see president Obama moving away from unilateralism.
Now I come to the third change. The world is on the eve of an energy revolution, a new industrial revolution and a revolution in our way of life. Two powerful factors are behind these three revolutions.
The first factor is the rise of many developing countries. In addition to rising Asia, South Africa, and Nigeria in Africa are also moving forward. In Latin America, Brazil and Mexico are rising. If you add up the population of all the rising developing countries, there are 3.3 billion people — half of the world population.
Never in the history of mankind has the world witnessed the half of the global population rising. In the past, when Europe and America started their rise, their population was small — but they had at their disposal the whole world's resources. But today, half of the world's population is rising.
If they follow the development model created by industrialized countries, the world's resources simply cannot support their development.
The second factor is climate change. Green house gas is increasing rapidly in our atmosphere. The survival of human beings requires that the amount of CO2 should not exceed 550 parts per million (ppms). Today, it is already more than 380 ppm.
Climate change is the consequence accumulated greenhouse gas emitted mostly by the industrialized countries in the past centuries. Today, emerging countries are also emitting greenhouse gas. China is the largest emitter. For development purposes, the developing countries need to consume energy, otherwise, their economic growth would be impossible.
No one can ask the developing countries to stop development. That would be insane.
The above two mentioned factors are leading the world to an energy revolution. This revolution has two facets. The first is to greatly reduce energy intensity. The industrialized world has to rebuild its infrastructure and transform its building facilities and transportation system in order to decrease energy consumption.
On the other hand, developing countries have to switch to a more sustainable development model. There is huge room for energy savings and energy efficiency. The second facet is to develop renewable energy, such as solar, wind, hydro and bio-mass. The world is bound to turn to renewable energy.
We are at a crossroads. It is up to sensible men and women around the world to work together to strengthen peace, development and cooperation. We Chinese are ready to do our part to make the world a better place to live.
We must contend with climate change, environmental degradation, terrorism, drug trafficking, pandemics, etc. No country — no matter how powerful it is — is able to meet these challenges alone.
The center of gravity of international relations is shifting from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Though we are still at the initial stage of this shift, it is the most important change in the last four centuries.
Asia's population represents 60% of the world today — and its rise is bound to change the world landscape.
Last year, China-U.S. trade volume amounted to more than $333 billion. China has also become the largest creditor of the United States. That was absolutely inconceivable 30 years ago.
Looking for an enemy is a typical manifestation of the Cold War mentality.
Former Chinese Ambassador, Professor, China Foreign Affairs University Wu Jianmin is a senior diplomat with 42 years experience, 25 of which he spent serving at overseas posts. From 1991-1994, he was spokesman and Director-General of the Information Department of the Foreign Ministry. From 1994 to 2003, he served as China’s Ambassador to the Netherlands, Permanent […]