China rising fast as a global superpower.
With over 1.3 billion people, nearly a fifth of the entire world's population of 6.7 billion, China has a lot of mouths to feed. But people do not live by bread (or rice) alone, and for a burgeoning Chinese middle class, there is now also a hunger for more modern conveniences and luxuries, such as cell phones and cars. So many are replacing their bicycles with cars that some Chinese cities cannot keep up with expanding their roads and highways to accommodate the rate of growth.
Although officially a communist nation, the People's Republic of China has been gradually adopting capitalism to compete in the world's markets, and even joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001.
China also holds almost 20% of the United States' foreign debt according to U.S. Treasury figures, accounting for $502 billion dollars of the total $2.6 trillion we currently owe foreign entities. That comes shortly behind Japan's $592.2 billion stake, and twice that of our third largest debtor, the United Kingdom, which holds $251.4 of our debt. Holding this much of the U.S. debt gives China leverage when dealing with America. However, since the U.S. is also China's largest customer for all their goods, it is in Beijing's interests not to alienate the west too much, and maintain at least a working relationship with the United States ... at least for now.
China has been of economic interest to the west ever since the Italian explorer Marco Polo brought back to Europe treasures and tales of great riches in the Far East. It is from China that the world gained such inventions as paper, porcelain, the magnetic compass, gunpowder, and printing with movable type.
China's history also includes turbulent times with changes in control of China often occurring violently. China's desire to defend itself from aggressive neighbors led it to build the Great Wall of China to keep out invaders from the north. Although it spanned approximately 4,000 miles long and was rebuilt and refortified many times over the centuries, it was never completely effective at keeping out invaders.
After defending against invasion from Japan during World War II, nationalism gained favor in China, leading to the rise of the Communist Party of China, which was led by Chairman Mao Zedong (also spelled as Mao Tse-tung). As a new communist nation, China briefly found the Soviet Union to be an ally, and with their financial and technological assistance, they were finally able to dominate in the twenty-three year old Chinese civil war, and drive Chiang Kai-shek and the Chinese Nationalist Party to retreat out of mainland China back to the island of Taiwan. To this day, mainland China views Taiwan as a breakaway province that still rightfully belongs as part of the larger country, and vows to reunify with the island, even if it takes force to do so.
In 1955, Chairman Mao decided that China needed nuclear weapons in order to defend itself, primarily from the United States, stating, "We not only need more aircrafts and pieces of artillery, we also need the Bomb. In today's world, if one doesn't want to be bullied, one must have it."
By 1964, China was one of five nations to develop nuclear weapons. However, they vowed not to use or threaten to use those weapons against any non-nuclear state, and not to be the first to use nuclear weapons in any conflict.
Instead, China has a massive army, estimated to number over two and a quarter million strong, with another 800,000 in reserve. Over the years, China has worked diligently to upgrade its weaponry and navy, and as of last year, demonstrated the ability to accurately shoot down a low orbiting satellite if they so desired. This capability is of deep concern to nations such as the United States, which heavily depend on such satellites for communications and intelligence.
China is now also one of only three countries to independently put people into space, with plans to go to the Moon and Mars in the works.
China's GDP has risen sharply in recent years as it adopts capitalism, quickly becoming one of the largest economies in the world. While it is rich in natural resources, China's rate of growth has strained their ability to keep up with new energy and infrastructure demands, which is part of why they implemented a one-child per family policy in 1979, imposing fines and withholding benefits to those with more. Their industrial growth is also blamed for high increases in air and water pollution, affecting China locally and the world globally.
While critics bemoan their policies, there can be no doubt that China is a rising world superpower.
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|Publication:||The Informed Constituent (Albany, NY)|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2008|
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