In the post-World War II model Japan, under the economic and political influence of the United States, began repairing its economy and was a clear strategic ally for the U.S. In relation to the Soviet Union. As Japan became more and more sophisticated and built up wealth, its reputation as a financial and technological leader grew until, but the 1980s, it surpassed most of the world in numerous business niches. China, on the other hand, opted for a "sleeping giant" template, slowly and carefully building up its internal structure until the past decade or so, in which many capitalistic opportunities abound and a rising wealthy/educated population promises to change China into a dominant, global economic power.
China's first 33 years after WWII were a period of relative isolation from the rest of the world, certainly acting with the U.S.S.R. As part of the World Communist Bloc, but concentrating on retention of internal control and the building up of infrastructure and modernization. After 1978, there has been much more openness with the West, increased trade, increased openness to its citizenry, and the adoption of many more capitalistic paradigms internally (ownership of business, development of modern facilities, etc.). In the contemporary world, China's ascendance to superpower status makes the world a far more stable place. When China was nervous about having enemies on all sides, it geared up its own military might, and had the population to out-last most other nations. Now that there is a thawing of tension between China and the West, the idea of a nuclear exchange is minimized -- trade relations are important to both countries, and indeed, China is acting to put restraint on one of its own allies, North Korea. China and America are probably economic and globalization allies, with the Chinese system slowly, as is their way, moving much closer to the West than ever in its last 50 years of history.
From a security perspective, what do we see as a microcosm of Asia? Asia is an area of dramatic dichotomy economically and socially. Japan and South Korean, for instance, are both relatively wealthy nations, with the bulk of their population enjoying a high standard of living, life expectancy, and ability to pursue education and equal rights for men and women. Other countries show a very real schism between the haves and the have-nots; China has many millionaires within the bigger cities, but then extreme poor in some rural areas; same with most of S.E. Asia -- there are families who sell their children just to support the family for another year, yet there are owners of clubs, shipping lines, tourist areas, and manufacturing in these same countries who have amassed vast wealth. Most countries seem on the path towards development, globalism has strengthened this, but many are still in the throes of feudalism: lack of roads and other infrastructure for transportation; minimally existent mass education system, lack of potable water, and overpopulation and underdevelopment of their own resources.
China has emerged in the 21st century as truly the "sleeping giant awakened." For the past fifty years, the country has spent considerable resource modernizing, coalescing power, investing in other countries, and changing the way it utilizes its greatest resource -- its population. However, this does not mean that China is invulnerable to internal and external difficulties. Quite the contrary, China is poised to become of the most influential nations on the globe, but it will need to contend with several internal issues in order to manifest this. For instance, China has taken steps to bolster nationalistic views -- improve the state, improve the population to serve the state, and improve our land to become part of the global village. This nationalism has a dual effect. On one hand, it has tempered the resources and allowed a dramatic jump from a peasant rural economy to a modern, market-based economy in just a few decades. However, the intensity of Chinese nationalism has the potential to cause conflict within Asia as well as its own borders. For instance, there are problems with ethnic minorities in many of the Central Asian regions; certainly in Tibet, and Chinese nationalism often threatens Korea and Japan (See Shrik, 2007).
Internally, while the leadership has certainly changed and moderated since Mao, there is still a paranoia and playground mentality that could, under the right circumstances, drive a wedge between growth and hegemony. Additionally, China is so vast that its antiquated transportation and utility systems are straining to supply needed materials to the urban areas, which are growing exponentially. Already China is vulnerable due to its dependence upon Mid-Eastern oil, and despite the great river systems and vast deposits of natural resources, China is still not working at capacity to develop and exploit these resources. Too, its rapid development has costs -- China is less concerned about environmental issues than rapid development, leaving some areas so polluted they remain unusable, therefore wasted (Dahlman, 2001).
China has trained its population that given hard work they can succeed and gain consumer luxuries. Younger Chinese, unfamiliar with the lengthy process to get to the modern level of tolerance, are impatient for more westernization. This, coupled with the inability to regularly move consumer products and foodstuffs rapidly and reliably from the major food producing areas to the population in need also brews resentment. This is especially true when the population sees exported products treated differently (China's Economy, 2009).
China is a fragile superpower in that its status as part of the global decision makers has only been a relatively recent part of its history. It was placed on the U.N. Security Council due to pressure from the Soviet Union, but it is only in the past 20 years or so that it has had the maturity of leadership and participation in global events to truly act as a superpower. Thus, China does not have a long tradition of international relations in the way of the Western Democracies.
Many scholars also see a great conundrum with China in the way it manages fiscal policy -- huge external financial strength, but domestic (internal) financial weakness. China has chosen to invest heavily externally -- its current account surplus continues to rise, and its reserves far exceed its short-term external debt. However, internally, monetary policy is still mired in bureaucracy, and funding is not as available as it is for external projects. This causes not only a fiscal imbalance, but one of a sociological nature as well.
Too, China is so desirous of rapid growth that it has extended itself in so many ways, if there were a global financial meltdown, China would be hurt. The main vulnerability is its dependence on Middle Eastern oil -- importing up to 8 million barrels a day, or the same amount of the total Saudi daily export. Even with the rhetoric about South American and African oil fields, this dependence on the Middle East shows no sign of waning. In effect, this means that China, like the United States and other oil-dependent nations, is a part of the complex map of geopolitics. China wishes to bypass the stages by which the maturity and expertise was built by many western nations, and move into the same level of influence and economic security. This results in a strategic misfire and potential destabilization -- the old adage, do not do everything mediocre; do one thing well, fits with China's view at present.
The vulnerability also extends past an oil dependence into fears of an energy insecurity peak. The emerging trends in China are that its energy needs are going to continue to exponentially increase, while if something is not done, there will not be the rate worker base to handle this segment of the market. And, to top it off, such rapid development coupled with global warming and pollution issues threatens to damage China's agricultural markets -- some areas must pollinate their trees and fields by hand.
China is also under fiscal siege to support a huge military complex, and now even more a modern maritime fleet, as well as modern, 4th generation, ports of call along its seacoast. China is rich with resources, human and otherwise, and appears to be on a path to greatness. Again, like most countries, there are vulnerabilities that must be overcome. It would be a mistake to underestimate China because of its backwardness in certain areas. With the largest population on earth, such a burgeoning economy, and a viable military industrial and aerospace technological group the 21st century will likely be the time in which the Sino-Pacific area dominates, the rest of the world, follows.
Dahlman, C. And J. Aubert. (2001). "China and the Knowledge Economy: Seizing
The 21st Century." World Bank Publications. Cited in: