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The Effects of China's Global Trajectory

A global leader recently characterized the Chinese economy as "unstable, unbalanced, uncoordinated and unsustainable." Such surprisingly transparent, yet blunt and forthright criticism came from China's Premier Wen Jiabao.[1] Contrasting this with the Islamic Shia state of Iran, could Mahmoud Ahmadinejad make such an admission having to toe the line with the country's mullahs; or try to imagine the former French President Jacques Chirac uttering such a sentence. China has arrived as a global player in a globalizing world. Consider the following:

  • The investment community called it "Black Tuesday"; the sell-off of equities in the first quarter of this year commenced in Shanghai and had global reverberations in Europe, South America and even the USA.
  • China's steelmaking capacity is expanding so rapidly that its production will rise from five percent of the worldwide total in 1995 to more than 30 percent by 2015. In the process, it will become a leading exporter.[2]
  • There are 132 million Internet users in China (representing 10 percent of the population). While the USA leads with 210 million users, the number of users in China exceeds the total combined users from Germany, India and the UK.[3]
  • Contrast China's 461 million cell-phone users with the USA's 219 million users.
  • The Saudi government's China visit was not for the building up of new customer relationships but for the security found in the new "protector" of oil assets.
  • China's investments in its telecommunications infrastructure have no rival. In this playground, companies like Nokia and Motorola are releasing their latest play gadgets, experimenting in the consumer sector, perfecting the design and then releasing it in the West.

Dèjá vu

However, China has been here before. Along with India, it was a global player. Back in AD1400, China and India accounted for 75 percent of the globe's gross domestic product. By the mid 1700s, China and India were the two most industrially advanced and richest countries in the world. Together, China and India made up 57 percent of world manufacturing output, and Asia's total share was about 70 percent. Adam Smith wrote in 1776: "China is a much richer country than any part of Europe."[4] China was weakened through the Opium Wars launched by the British; however, the economic and political ascent is coming full circle, and China is again on the global stage.

China's opening to the West, three decades ago, meant China has become the workshop for the world. Foreign direct investment has poured in and affected peoples' lives, and millions have been lifted out of the official poverty statistics (but many are living just above the poverty line). The demand for raw resources is creating a global shortage in commodities and oil.

Additionally, the World Trade Organization, 2008 Olympics and 2010 World Fair are now embedded into the fabric of Chinese history. Hosting world class events puts the spotlight on China, and there is an intense desire to show the world that China can be different from the past superpowers of the world, even as China has interpreted and dissected past world powers through her home grown video series China Rises. Hence, the stage is set with new and historical drivers in which new history will be written in this century.

Charming Abroad

China is parlaying its influence around the world. While remaining distrustful of Japan, China is keeping a positive diplomatic rhetoric flowing. She is tolerant up to the boiling point of Taiwan's psycho-babble towards independence and winking at Kazakhstan's overtures. China is playing in the Americas' backyard to secure its insatiable appetite for commodities and energy resources[5] from Latin America and has a good friend in Venezuela's Chavez to ascertain supplies and mandates.

China and Russia are vying for resources in Africa.[6] However, China's sophisticated approach to Africa is to be noted: trading with Nigeria, Sudan, Angola and Gabon for oil and commodities in return for UN assurances; tapping Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo for copper; eyeing the world's second largest yet undeveloped platinum riches in Zimbabwe; rescinding debts, granting aid (with strings attached) and arms to Zimbabwe, Sudan and Ethiopia.[7] China's Africa initiative included the China-Africa summit, a promise of US$3 billion in preferential loans and US$2 billion in preferential credit to the continent in the next three years. Beijing, being a pragmatic global businessman, has little qualms about dealing with dictators.

Perhaps the most interesting and ambitious plan is the establishment of 100 Confucius Institutes globally. The Chinese government notes that approximately 40 million people are learning the Chinese language and projects a figure that will hit 100 million by 2010. What better means to introduce language than through its cultural icon.

Tensions at Home

Globalization is having a large effect on the Chinese citizen who is witnessing a "two-wheels into four-wheels" societal transformation. China's transformation is a literal revolution, and it is one that Chairman Mao could not have contemplated.

China, in its second revolution within the last 40 years, is seeing two societies, two culturesrural and urbanthat is creating tensions. The rural people are either staying or migrating; the urbanites are exploring or touring both at home and abroad, and some are immigrating abroad. Families are divided into the older (Cultural Revolution relics) and younger (one child policyprinces and princesses). Furthermore, these families have to sort through two ideologies or religionsatheism or communism, and Buddhism or Christianity. Putting these combustible variables together, the lack of peace and harmony can be deeply sensed.

Given the level of unrest[8] called mass incidents, the government is trying to put forth the positive spin of a "harmonious society." From their own survey and its resulting conclusion, the government understands the critical state they are in, as defined by the globally accepted measurethe "gini coefficient." A healthy society would show a gini coefficient of between 0.3 and 0.4. Anything over 0.4 is a warning sign of instability, and 0.6 is "dangerous" as a society might undergo a massive disturbance. China's latest admissible figure is 0.496;[9] clearly, it is well into the warning zone.

What can the government do? Having already studied the 1989 revolutions, especially what took place in Timisoara (Romania), the thoughts of Christianity do not bring comfort. Christians are too active. The Chinese government also studied Islam. The actions of 9/11 also brought ill-comfort, especially when they had witnessed truck loads of armor that were smuggled across the Western border of Xinjiang province; the fundamentalist script is not comforting either. With two monotheistic religions which claim "the Truth" and are anxious to share it with their neighbors, the authorities live in a phobic tension. With both Christianity and Islam out of the question, and with a need to relieve this tension and to weave history into reasoning, they have decided to turn to Buddhism to promote a "harmonious society."

The Communist government seems to subscribe to the Buddhist's belief that everyone has self-consciousness, everyone has the character of a Buddha and everyone has self-worth. It is also interesting to note that by "allowing" Buddhism to renew itself, with a new-China face, this is now being used as the poster child for religious freedom with 100 million adherents (as acclaimed by the government). How long will it be before Buddhism takes on the same character as Hinduism has in India: "To be Indian is to be Hindu." How long before we see the adaptation of the script that, "To be Chinese is to be Buddhist?"

Moving from the self to the environment, the Chinese government is also sensing the pressures of industrialization in a globalizing world. It is abundantly clear that China has a water problem, both in usage and with the creeping drought that has hit various provinces. To put this in perspective, Canada has about the same amount of water as China, but only 2.3 percent of its population. As China consumes, the level of water required for production also becomes a factor: it takes about 3,000 liters of water to grow one kilogram of rice, 11,000 liters to grow the feed for enough of a cow for a quarter-pound hamburger, 50 cups of water for a teaspoon of sugar and 140 liters of water to produce just one cup of coffee. When one thinks of Starbucks and McDonald's in the context of China, one can imagine the diminishing levels of water and aquifers.

In a consuming society there are also other indulgences. The government has put together roughly 1.4 million kilometers of highway[10] in anticipation of automobiles. The transformation of a society from "two-wheels to four-wheels" is well underway with the present ownership of cars about 10 per 1,000 people and a projected tenfold growth in ownership anticipated.[11] China already holds the dubious distinction of having 20 out of 30 of the world's most polluted cities, and with growing mobility in travel (both by road and by plane) China's CO2 emission is projected to grow 2.5 fold by 2020.[12] Water, air, and the environment are massive "creation care" matters where Christians have roles and responsibilities.

In the latest figures available, patent filings in China increased sharply in the decade from 1995 to 2004, which pushed the country into fifth place for patent applications in the world.[13] The UN Agency for Intellectual Properties indicated that more than 130,000 applications were filed with China's patent office in 2004.

Of even greater interest is the recently passed Property Law in China[14] which guarantees equal rules and rights for property owners of the State, collectives and individuals. Globalization has come to China. The admittance of private property law in a communist state surely would cause Marx to turn in his sepulcher (as if he is on a merry-go-round), and enshrine both Premier Wen and President Ho as the new foresighted 21st century communist doctrinaires.

Of practical interest to the church is the concept "all things belong to God." A unique twist to this is that God promised Israel certain property, which was not to belong to others, and this was further divided between the Israelite tribes. Israel is His chosen people (and by adoption Christians are also). The root of property, the concepts of intellectual property and rights are actually rooted in Judeo-Christian teachings and not Western (European) thinking. Could it be that we have yet another opportunity to take China back to the creation narrative and be a part of the renaissance of China?

Voice of the Church

The "Mediterranean Sea era" lasted for twenty centuries, and "The Atlantic Ocean era" lasted for five centuries. Now is the start of "The Pacific Ocean era." Mission has moved similarly. The church in China is undergoing a massive change composed of fast-graying rural house churches, growing Three-Self Churches, migrant churches, and emerging business and professional churches. The church is not only peering into the global arena but also learning to sense her role in redemption. Could it be that the church has a response to the "unstable, unbalanced, uncoordinated and unsustainable" remark? Could it be that the church has a response to God-centered stewardship in a society that has a nascent financial sector? Could it be that the church has a response to God's command for creation care for the environment and for the transformation of society?

Image credit: Chinese Culture Experience by Pioneer Library System, on Flickr


Samuel Chiang

Rev. Samuel Chiang was born in Taiwan, grew up and worked in Canada, and graduated from Dallas Seminary. He has started several businesses including a foreign joint venture with a local government in China and also served as the Chief Operating Officer of TWR, an international media organization. He has... View Full Bio