[Viewpoint] China’s dreamEpisode 1. The JoongAng Ilbo carried a special New Year’s series in January 2005 interviewing chiefs of missions in South Korea from four powers: the United States, China, Japan and Russia. The report drew special attention from the Chinese Embassy, which was exuberant for being included and interviewed second after the U.S. Then-Chinese ambassador Li Bin reportedly could not hide his glee over beating out his Japanese counterpart in series. The Chinese mission may have considered the honor a symbolic recognition of the influence it had regained in the southern part of the Korean Peninsula for the first time since its defeat in the First Sino-Japanese War.
Episode 2. Korean and Chinese journalists launched a friendly correspondents gathering last November. Various VIPs from each country attended the launch banquet. Deputy head of the Chinese mission in Seoul, Qian Hai, attended on behalf of Chinese ambassador Zhang Xinsen. Qian was presented as the deputy ambassador, as described by the Chinese Embassy.
But such a title does not exist in the diplomatic community. The term deputy chief had long been used by the U.S. Embassy. Mark Tokola, second-in-command in Seoul, is addressed as deputy chief of mission. The Chinese Embassy blindly emulated the U.S. style.
China’s clout in the country is growing along with its global ascent. It has long surpassed Japan and is quickly catching up with the U.S. Its ambition got bigger after the U.S. lost face during the financial meltdown of 2008. The embassy began to use the deputy chief epithet from 2008 and the Chinese started to compare themselves to Americans and to ask how South Koreans treated Americans when they had any complaints.
“The China Dream” by Liu Mingfu, a professor at Beijing’s National Defense University, expounded on several ways to replace the U.S. as the preeminent global power. It became a best seller in China last year. In an interview with a local paper, the professor explained there could be three methods to challenge the Americans.
The first could be in the form of a duel. But both could be hurt and lose from a head-on collision.
Second could be a boxing match. They could throw punches at one another in the ring and eventually determine a winner. But each would come down from the ring with bruises and blows.
What the professor recommended instead is a marathon type contest. He suggested the two contenders run toward their goals at their own pace.
He translated the typical length of a marathon to a time scope of 90 years. According to his math, 30 years of investment could place China ahead of the U.S. in gross domestic product. Another three decades later, China could be as powerful as the U.S. in overall national strength. If China keeps running 30 years further, it could outpace America in per capita income and become the world’s mightiest country before the end of the century. It is a typical Sino-centric philosophical vision.
Chinese leader Mao Zedong started the Great Leap Forward in 1958 to modernize and industrialize the agrarian society, saying China could leapfrog the British in 15 years and outdo America in 20 years. But Mao’s foolish zeal, and total ignorance of economics, produced a horrific famine. But Mao’s dream, thoroughly reinterpreted by Deng Xiaoping and his successors, may finally be coming true. In GDP terms, China outpaced Britain in 2006 and Japan in 2010 to now enjoy the crown of being the world’s second-largest economy. It only has the U.S. to beat.
In 2003, Goldman Sachs predicted China will outstrip the U.S. in 2041, but last year it revised that forecast to 2027. China’s galloping pace is that fast. The Economist says China will top America in 2019. The International Monetary Fund, using calculations based on purchasing power parity, which takes into account the relative cost of living and inflation in different countries, foresees China taking up 18 percent of the world’s GDP by 2016, edging out the U.S.’ 17.7 percent.
Whoever wins the presidential race in the U.S. could become the last American chief executive of the world’s supreme power. Not far in the future, our paper may carry an interview with the Chinese ambassador first on the New Year.
* The author is the director of the JoongAng Ilbo China Institute.
by You Sang-chul