Will China Rule the World?

Americans and Europeans blithely assume that China will become more like them as its economy develops and its population gets richer. But a world order centered on China will reflect Chinese values rather than Western ones - that is, if China can continue its rapid economic growth and maintain its social cohesion and political unity.

CAMBRIDGE – Thirty years ago, China had a tiny footprint on the global economy and little influence outside its borders, save for a few countries with which it had close political and military relationships. Today, the country is a remarkable economic power: the world’s manufacturing workshop, its foremost financier, a leading investor across the globe from Africa to Latin America, and, increasingly, a major source of research and development.

The Chinese government sits atop an astonishing level of foreign reserves – greater than $2 trillion. There is not a single business anywhere in the world that has not felt China’s impact, either as a low-cost supplier, or more threateningly, as a formidable competitor.

China is still a poor country. Although average incomes have risen very rapidly in recent decades, they still stand at between one-seventh and one-eighth the levels in the United States – lower than in Turkey or Colombia and not much higher than in El Salvador or Egypt. While coastal China and its major metropolises evince tremendous wealth, large swaths of Western China remain mired in poverty. Nevertheless, China’s economy is projected to surpass that of the US in size sometime in the next two decades.

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