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Following the US election, pay attention to China! - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Whilst the eyes of the world remained firmly on the US, monitoring the US presidential election results and analyzing its possible repercussions on the next four years, China is witnessing an event that is no less important, even if it has failed to garner the same degree of attention and monitoring. This is despite the fact that the latter event will also haven international repercussions in more than one direction. It is a coincidence that the leadership of the two largest economies in the world are being decided in the same week, at a time when the rivalry between these two countries to lead the world economy has reached peak levels. There are many expectations that the courses of these two countries will intersect in many positions to the extent that this may result in friction, particularly as each side is seeking to consolidate its international standing and position. It is enough to note that the China issue prevailed over other issues during the US electoral campaign, amidst fears that Beijing will strengthen its standing at the expense of the US and that it may succeed in dislodging America and becoming the world’s largest economy within the next six years. This was after China successfully supplanted Japan as the world’s second largest economy, a position it has officially occupied since last year.

With this expansion in its economic influence, China has emerged as a worrying factor for Western powers that feel that the balance of power is changing as the Chinese dragon flexes its muscles, seeking to consolidate its military strength and expand its influence. Confirming this, the last few months witnessed high states of tension between China and Japan to the point that this reached threats of force. Simultaneously, the large-scale “Keen Sword” military manoeuvres between the US and Japan are currently underway, something that China has criticized. The US has kept a wary eye on China since the Obama administration amended the US’s military doctrine, turning its attention towards Asia in the forthcoming years.

If it is true that the Americans are feeling concerned – in the post-election period – due to the economic situation and their sense that their standing in the international economy is receding, the Chinese are feeling confident and are preparing to welcome a new generation of leaders who will hold power over the next decade or so. This leadership will be selected during the Chinese Communist Party meetings scheduled to take place on Thursday. For both the US and China, the real challenge for the forthcoming period is the endeavour to enhance their economic superiority, with everything that this implies in terms of determining centers of power and influence in the international arena. The US is seeking to maintain its standing as the largest economic and military power, and it is keen to overcome the current economic crisis that threatens its domestic situation as well as its international stature. The US is well aware that the major competition will come from China, which is also attempting to penetrate the American market. China has also become the main buyer of US Treasury Bonds, something that allows it to seize the US by the neck, whilst also holding it hostage to its bonds and debts. Furthermore, the US sees China expanding in different directions and into different markets, strengthening its influence and stature from Europe to Africa.

For its part, China has been subject to the greatest ever economic boom, witnessing growth rates exceeding 10 percent over the past thirty years. However it is now concerned that this growth rate has receded to less than 8 percent as a result of the financial crisis in the US and EU, particularly in light of the fact that Chinese factories rely heavily on these two markets. Although this growth rate is considered one of the world’s highest and arouses intense envy amongst numerous Western economies where growth rates do not exceed 3 percent – and today this stands closer to 1 percent in a number of EU states – many analysts believe that the real challenge for the new Chinese leadership is to maintain previous growth rates and sustain this economic boom that began in the late 1970s during the era of President Deng Xiaoping.

Even if China is a Communist state, its economy is not. China’s economy is a blend of capitalism and communism, albeit closer to a Free Market model. For example, Chinese private companies’ contribution to the Chinese economy far more than publicly owned companies, whilst the number of wealthy people in China is on the rise. Signs of wealth and extravagance are increasing in China, and the wages of those who work in cities and urban areas are also on the increase. According to published statistics, there are over 1.4 million millionaires in China today, placing it in third position in this regard after the US and Japan. Despite this, poverty continues to prevail amongst the people of the most populous country in the world, whose infrastructure still requires extensive expenditure in order for development to reach rural areas. The majority of Chinese people seem to be satisfied with the performance of their leaderships, according to Western reports. In fact, the Chinese believe that their leadership has successfully transformed the country into an economic giant that has won international respect and admiration, after the West underestimated China for long decades during which time the Soviet Union was their sole political and military rival on the international arena.

The Chinese did not follow in the footsteps of the Russians in focusing on the military or ideological theory in their endeavour to penetrate the international arena. Instead, the Chinese focused on economic growth as the objective until they ultimately became the “world’s factory”, with most major international companies producing and manufacturing their goods in Chinese factories in order to reap the benefits of cheap labour and available production tools. As a result, China acquired tremendous economic and technological knowledge from Western companies, ultimately being able to produce its own products, from cars to PCs and from trains to spaceships. China is now acting to change its stereotypical image of being a source of cheap products by focusing on new high quality industries, hoping to acquire a good reputation in this regard that will allow it to compete with Western products.

If it is true that China is now choosing its new leadership and is full of hope to proceed with the journey it began in the past years, the US has emerged from its presidential elections more concerned about China than ever before. This will ensure that the forthcoming years are full of challenges and fears on an international level, fearing the moment that the Chinese dragon will come to blows with the American eagle in a seemingly inevitable struggle for influence and domination.

Osman Mirghani

Osman Mirghani

Osman Mirghani is Asharq Al-Awsat's former deputy editor and senior editor-at-large.

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