Kerry Brown: How China is Weaker than it Looks

Kerry Brown, a senior fellow with the Asia Programme at Chatham House in London, writes in the Diplomat:

These days, many looking at China from the outside see its towering economic statistics and assume that this growing wealth isn’t just about money—that it’s about power as well. After all, a country with growth rates in excess of 10 percent per annum that’s now the world’s second-largest economy, the largest holder of foreign reserves, the largest exporter and largest consumer of energy—surely it’s also a geopolitical powerhouse?

But take a look inside the gates, beyond the headline economic figures, and two points emerge that cast doubt on this notion of overwhelming strength.

One is the amount of money that’s being spent on internal security. According to its official budget, China spent about $80 billion on defence in 2009 (although the United States and others would argue that even this massive figure underestimates the true scale). But more remarkably, it spent almost as much—$75 billion—on internal security.

…The second indicator of trouble ahead is the way elite leaders themselves are speaking. Yes, it’s true that Politburo members and their local equivalents fill their public pronouncements with rosy statistics. Like their Maoist and Dengist forebears, they live in a world still infected with Utopianism—things will always get better, the harvests will get bigger, the heaven on earth promised under Marxism (albeit now called Socialism with Chinese characteristics) will be realised one day (even if that day has to be pushed further and further into the future).

October 12, 2010 11:08 PM
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