Stumbling Giant: Why China Will Not Be The Next Superpower

Many argue that China will soon overtake the United States and become the next superpower. Timothy Beardson, author of Stumbling Giant: The Threats to China’s Future, disagrees, asserting that confronted with myriad problems and the inadequacy of response to these problems, China will not become the next superpower. Beardson does not wish to undermine the emergence of China on the national stage; in fact he believes it is the most important world development since the birth of communism. Instead he proceeds to explain the vast problems facing China today and offers solutions to these problems while also stressing the dangers that could befall China if proper solutions are not carried out.

Ultimately, Beardson boils down China’s problems to four main ideas: stability, prosperity, identity, and honor. Stability is concerned with the level of social calm and the avoidance of large-scale dissidence and external threat. Prosperity entails good employment levels, stable social security, economic development and rising incomes. Identity refers to the kind of society and values China has, and finally honor pertains to how the Chinese feel they treat and are treated by the rest of the world. The number of problems facing China may surely seem daunting, but as Beardson points out, the country has a history of identifying issues and dealing with them. This time around, the solutions may require radical changes of policy, however.

Drawing on research and personal experience gathered from living and working in Asia over the last thirty-five years, Beardson presents China’s many problems, which include gender inequality, social instability, a devastated environment, a low-technology economy, no effective welfare safety net, a fixed governance structure, and much more. Beardson takes a close look at the educational, cultural, moral and political factors behind China’s economic problems, and examines the identity of the Chinese Communist Party and China’s current relationship not only with America, but with the rest of the world. Beardson also stresses the importance of looking back at the past to help understand China today. By investigating China’s history and the events that led to the creation of today’s China, Beardson is able to extract valuable lessons and identify themes relevant to understanding China’s future.

Take the great environmental harms currently facing China. As Beardson explains, China has the worst environment of any major country in the world. Fertilizers are poisoning rivers, children are dying from pollution, water is in short supply, and China is contributing significantly to global pollution and environmental distress that reaches far beyond its borders. How is a country to solve such vast problems? Beardson argues that while it will be difficult, improvement is possible with the right educational programs, pricing formulas, technology, and political will. Beardson offers solutions that fall into two categories: economic and governance. Economic solutions would include implementing more effective water and energy prices that would discourage ineffective use and waste, shifting the focus from manufacturing to the service sector, developing new environmental technologies, and building the knowledge economy. Changes in governance would need to encourage NGOs, bring greater attention to the rule of law, overhaul cadre management, and motivate officials to follow national policy on environment. As Beardson points out, these environmental issues can be solved, but if they are not, it could be the environment and not the economy that topples China.

China’s sphere of influence has always been limited to a very large regional power. The Chinese government and its people want to build a modern, prosperous, strong and respected country. Many believe that China will become the next superpower. An article from CNN asserts that China should be considered a superpower once it can rival the United States militarily and claims that China is already any economic superpower. The Daily Beast states that China’s lack of debt, expanding infrastructure, and thriving economy prove that we have already entered the season of Chinese supremacy. If they will become the next superpower, only time will tell, but Stumbling Giant offers a great counterpoint to arguments for China and deftly asserts that China will not be a threat to the United States’ superpower status.

Timothy Beardson founded and ran Crosby Financial Holdings, at the time the largest independent investment bank in the Far East. He is a permanent resident of Hong Kong.

Further Reading:

Stumbling Giant

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