…There is a yawning gap between this perception of China as an active, assertive nation, and the view of the Chinese themselves, who still see China as a developing country. Our economy may lead Britain’s in terms of size, but our GDP per capita is only one 15th that of the UK. For example, the land area and population of Britain are roughly the same as those of Hunan province, but its economy is 17 times smaller. Britain is in its prosperous, “post-industrial” stage, with 90 per cent of the population living in towns and cities; in China, 60 per cent still live in the countryside. Even the number of disabled people exceeds the total population of Britain.
That means that there is a puzzling duality to China’s character: we often say that it is both big and small, strong and weak. In terms of size and quantity, it ranks high in the world, but it falls behind in per capita terms. So there is a long way to go for China to reach the level of world power. It maybe destined to contribute more to world peace and development – as many in the West are calling for – but this will be an incremental process, and China can’t play a role in the world beyond its capacity.
This, of course, isn’t always properly understood. Certainly, comments about China in the Western media are not always balanced. There is an invisible wall separating us: the result of differences in political systems and values, the legacy of the Cold War, and a lag in responding to China’s rapid development.