In argumentative logic, it’s known as a slippery slope fallacy: a particular event is offered up as being just one in a series of events inexorably leading to a specific outcome. Such a fallacy is currently underpinning one of the poorest arguments – and richest myths – of this young century.
China has become the world’s second largest economy, slated to be the largest by 2027. Therefore, just as it exports its goods, China will soon export its language, practices, values, politics, culture and worldview. The 21st century is going to be China’s. It’s on the verge of “ruling the world”.
Not only are such claims clinically illogical, they are being disseminated by Sinophiles: mythomaniacs keen to omit unflattering facts about China to ensure it gains respect, and they gain credibility. But not all the shallow and selective analysis in the universe can belie China’s lagging far behind.
Indeed, China lags far behind many of its Asian neighbors. The UN’s 2010 Human Development Index lists Japan in 11th spot, Korea in 12th, Hong Kong in 21st and Singapore in 27th. China comes in 91st.
It’s a similar story with GDP per capita, a statistic rarely paraded by the Look-at-China-go! lobby. According to the IMF, China is rated 94th in that department, with $7,519. Singapore is 15th ($43,117), Japan 16th ($42,820), Korea 33rd ($20,591) and Taiwan 37th ($18,548).
China is not a developed nation.
As a developing nation, China faces myriad impediments; not just obstacles preventing it from interacting with the world in a sincere and meaningful way (outside of economics), but issues which, if not acknowledged, will only continue to encumber its citizenry. Chief among these trouble-areas are education, corruption and pollution.
Chinese education is an antique. Exam-based and heavy on rote memorisation, traditional schooling stymies critical thinking and creativity. Out of the 976 Nobel laureates to date, only one has been a resident of China: Liu Xiaobo, a human rights activist and professor awarded the 2010 Peace Prize while serving a prison term for subversion. The latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings show only three universities from China in the top 100. Australia, a country with less than 22 million people, has five. A full 91 are located in the West, with 52 in America, where around 130,000 Chinese students are currently studying.
Corruption is a core component of Chinese society. Bribes are commonplace; kick-backs and extortion normal. In the higher echelons, venality is institutionalised. In a recent and rare glimpse into China’s profiteering crisis, the People’s Bank of China leaked a report concluding 17,000 cadres had smuggled out of the country $124 billion in illegally obtained funds between the mid-1990s and 2008. Dealing effectively with corruption requires transparency and rule of law, neither of which China has.
As for pollution, China burns more coal than the US, Europe and Japan combined. In fact, coal-burning, along with car fumes, has helped make that country the world leader in emissions. The World Bank, which judges China to be the most polluted country on earth, has calculated that 700,000 Chinese people die each year from breathing bad air. It’s believed half of all bottled water is tainted and that one third of the nation’s fresh water is unfit even for industrial use. Cancer is now the number one cause of death according to China’s Ministry of Health.
Apologists are fond of blaming China’s predicaments on its government, but the root of the problem lies in the tenets of traditional culture, not easily expressed in figures or graphs (or brief opinion pieces), but responsible nonetheless for psychologically shackling a vast populace to its past. Until Confucian values are replaced by Enlightenment values, and the authoritarian tradition is swapped for fundamental freedoms, China won’t possess the intelligence or means to deal with its dilemmas and evolve into a developed and truly great nation-state. DM
Troy Parfitt is the author of Why China Will Never Rule the World.