China: The Stirring Dragon

By Atkeson, Edward B. | Army, January 2008 | Go to article overview

China: The Stirring Dragon


Atkeson, Edward B., Army


In preparation for this article, the author made a two-week visit to China, interviewing American military attachés, political analysts and officers in training. He also interviewed the director of the Chinese Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation Studies, a branch of the Chinese Academy of Social Studies, and business officials and figures connected with U.S. and other national consulates and commercial enterprises.

China is the world's fastest growing country measured in most economic terms, and likely in military enhancements as well. The September 25, 2007, Asian edition of the Wall Street Journal reported a gain of more than 154 percent in the "China 88" stock average for the first nine months of the year. second on the world market was Hong Kong at just under 152 percent. Hong Kong is a possession of China, although the markets are separately tracked.

The economic growth is most apparent in high-rise construction. Wherever one looks in mainland China, the course of building and accommodation is apparent. While some construction may be ascribed to preparations for the 2008 Olympic Games, the effort is so extensive and fulsome that it seems to greatly exceed such simple explanation. Dozens upon dozens of new apartment houses appear to be awaiting a major rearrangement of the populace.

In the larger cities the height of structures is maximized, typically 60 or 70 floors or more, and the street traffic is being canalized onto newly constructed, multitiered highways. Beneath the buildings and the streets are extensive shopping facilities with virtually all of the names associated with big retail business in New York, Paris and Rome in evidence.

But that is just the most apparent aspect of China's exploding economy. Last year, Will Hutton gave us a broader vision of the process in his book, The Writing on the Wall: China and the West in the 21st Century. According to Hutton, "China has become a $2 trillion economy because, for a generation, the state has channeled freakishly huge savings into investment and because, over the past decade, the country has made itself the world's greatest assembler and manufacturing subcontractor by giving Hong Kong, Taiwanese and-increasingly-Western multinationals privileges for which no Chinese company could hope. This has created the world's most sustained and most enormous export boom, based on cheap labor and a first-world infrastructure. But the primacy of politics and party over state, economy and society puts Chinese indigenous enterprise, and thus the long-term efficiency of the domestic economy, in a cage."

In its official online literature for visitors, the Chinese government admits that its "economic boom has come at the expense of controls on air pollution, land clearing, deforestation, endangered species, and rural and industrial waste. China's huge population combines with geographic factors to make its environmental problems infinitely more massive than that of other nations." Further, it states that "China has [also] been combating the spread of its deserts for more than 40 years. ... They have met with mixed success, as they are continually hampered by the ongoing stress placed on the land by overgrazing and irrigation. Every year vast, choking dust storms blow across Beijing, Korea and Japan from China's loess plateau."

Hutton is no less critical of China's environmental policies. In the same volume, he argues that all of China's problems stem from an inability of the state to allow private enterprise greater self-control with an "institutional network that would permit more creative pluralism and endogenous accountability. The lack of such a network," he argues, "is the chief cause of China's environmental crisis." Hutton points out that "the pace of desertification has doubled over twenty years, in a country where 25 percent of the land area is already desert. Air pollution kills four hundred thousand people a year prematurely.

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