Fri, Mar 17, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Combined threats may be China's undoing

By Lee Yung-ming 李永明

Taiwan's per capita GDP reached US$1,000 in 1976. Three years later, a clash between police and pro-democracy demonstrators -- the Kaohsiung Incident -- took place in Kaohsiung City. Taiwan's Gini coefficient (an internationally accepted measurement of income inequality) was at the time much lower than 0.4, a warning level.

In 2003, China's per capita GDP exceeded US$1,000. This year, China's Gini coefficient has exceeded 0.45. Some academics even believe the number could be as high as 0.5, which is very close to Latin America's 0.522, a continent that has often experienced social unrest.

Will China disintegrate as a result of environmental problems? Jared Diamond, professor of geography at the University of California, Los Angeles, identifies a host of environmental issues plaguing China in his book entitled Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. These problems include air pollution, loss of biodiversity, disappearing cropland, desertification, disappearing wetlands, grassland degradation, invasive species, overgrazing, salinization, soil erosion and trash accumulation, among others. Diamond adds that "Since China's environmental problems are so shocking, aren't Chinese worried about them?

Will China disintegrate owing to economic problems? Glen Hubbard, the most influential economic adviser to the US government, pointed out in a recent edition of BusinessWeek magazine that "China still lacks an effective financial system. China's banking system is particularly vulnerable. I fear that its vulnerable financial system cannot sustain its continued economic growth."

Will China disintegrate as a result of social problems? Chinese political commentator Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波) points out in his book entitled Bleeding GDP that the high growth of China's GDP is produced by its "sweat shops," where powerless cheap labor is being exploited to the full. He also says that China will have to pay for its increased GDP by an unbearable future burden. One could even say that the high GDP growth directed by the Chinese Communist Party is drenched in the blood and tears of China's disadvantaged groups.

The Chinese government recorded 87,000 public protests last year, a massive increase from the 76,000 recorded the previous year. The number of government officials arrested on corruption charges reached 8,400 last year.

Will China disintegrate as a result of democracy, freedom or human rights issues? According to World Freedom 2005 published by Freedom House, China is one of the 49 nations among the world's 192 countries that is "not free." The Worldwide Press Freedom Index 2005 published by Reporters Without Borders ranked China 159th among the 167 countries listed for press freedom. In Hong Kong, media reports also suggest that protests to protect the rights of local residents are spreading rapidly in China.

Will China disintegrate as a result of its military issues? Last month, Dan Blumenthal, a renowned US official proficient in Asian issues, said, "I am more worried about a conflagration in the East China Sea than in the Taiwan Strait." The question is whether or not China will be able to sustain the huge price if it decides to wage war.

On the economic front, China has seemingly fared well in recent years. However, the aforementioned environmental and other issues are going from bad to worse. It remains to be seen how these phenomena play out and when China is going to reach the critical point that causes it to disintegrate.

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