Fourth, there is no serious forecast of a Chinese downturn, despite the repeated warnings of China’s many critics. However, there are some very negative imperatives piling up — deteriorating urban environments and harsh working conditions; a shortage of labor meaning more migrant workers from inland China and a host of welfare and political problems; major pollution of rural areas and large rivers; a slowdown in the applicability of foreign technologies and thus a need for more advanced home-grown technology; an ageing population and the need to secure safe energy supplies. Each one of these issues is a serious problem for China and solutions can only be found in a safe alliance with external economies, including those of the US, Europe and Japan, as well as high-tech, small-population economies such as Canada and Australia.
For these reasons, China cannot isolate itself or ignore the need for political change. However, these are also the forces that increase China’s sense of vulnerability. This must lead to confusion and frustration. China is not stupid. When the inherent problems of China’s internal economy begin to assert themselves more strongly over the next 10 years, then the short-term political disarray should hopefully resolve itself into a more liberal, outward-looking political system. If it does not, then China is stupid.
Ian Inkster is a professor of international history at Nottingham Trent University and professor of global history at Wenzao Ursuline College.