The world moves into a new Chinese era

China is now the developing world's biggest lender, yet another sign of the country's rising power. Should we be worried?

The most powerful nation on earth? No longer the UK, by any measure. The USA, by many. But increasingly, the answer is China. And yesterday, China won yet another claim to global leadership.

According to the Financial Times, China has lent more money to other developing countries over the past two years than the World Bank. The giant World Bank itself loaned a record figure: over £62billion. China loaned £70billion.

Economists hailed the news as evidence that China is rapidly spreading its power and influence; moving into Russia, Venezuela, Brazil, Africa and India, and away from its dependence on making goods cheaply for consumers in Europe and America.

China wants to be at the centre of a new global power structure where the rules are Chinese, not American. China has said openly that it wants to end US financial dominance and replace the dollar with the Chinese currency, the renminbi.

Many say that the emergence of China as a world power is the most important event of our century. In fact, China has been the world’s largest economy for 18 of the past 20 centuries. Until the 15th century Chinese people also had the highest average income in the world. In 1820 China produced one third of the world’s entire goods and services. (The USA produced two per cent).

Today China’s population of 1.3 billion – 20% of humanity – is the largest in the world. It is the fastest growing economy. Within 20 years, it will again be the largest.

But there are obstacles. In Africa, where China has done deals with some of the weakest governments, there is a backlash by groups protesting at poor working conditions. Western companies look after their staff better.

And during a diplomatic dispute with Japan last year, China appeared to halt vital exports to Japan. This reminded the rest of Asia that their economic links with China could leave them badly exposed if they had a political falling-out.

Superpower
It is widely accepted that China will one day be the world’s new superpower. It won’t just be Chinese-made goods and Chinese food that we all see more of; it will be Chinese culture, design, ideas, technology, banks and even language – though English is spreading rapidly in China too.

Should we in the West worry about this? Should we resist, championing Western goods and ideas and putting limits on Chinese influence? Or should we embrace the inevitable and celebrate the influence of a great and ancient civilisation that is once more in the ascendant?

You Decide

  1. Why should it matter to us which country is the most powerful? How do you think it might affect our lives?
  2. Why do you think China went from being one of the richest countries to one of the poorest, and then back again?

Activities

  1. Imagine you were a Chinese school student. Write a letter to an American friend talking about how you feel now that China is becoming more powerful. What would you want to say?
  2. How much do you know about Chinese culture? Design a poster showing some of Chinese culture's most important characteristics and achievements.

Some People Say...

“I'd rather have China run the world than the USA.”

What do you think?

Q & A

So what does this phrase 'the West' mean?
You are right. It is confusing and has meant many different things over the years. Today it means the rich countries: USA, Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Israel and South Africa – even more confusing since some of them are not in the west but the east. Basically these are countries built upon Greek and Roman civilisation, with common roots to their culture.
‘Renminbi’? Funny name for a currency?
In Chinese it means 'people’s currency' and it was launched in 1949. £1 is worth about 10 renminbi today.
So what are some other Chinese inventions?
China invented some world-changing things including the compass, gunpowder and paper. More recently it added to the list the rudder, the paddle wheel and the blast furnace, among much else.

Subjects

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