The rise of an economic superpower: What does China want?
As an economic superpower, what does China want on the global stage?
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Where some critics of Chinese foreign investment "perceive state motives, or some kind of geopolitical motivation ... I see a commercial motive and profit-oriented behavior," says Dan Rosen, a visiting fellow at the Peterson Institute in Washington.Skip to next paragraph
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But very few Chinese companies feel ready to go abroad, despite government encouragement.
"They often feel insecure. They know they don't know how things work, and they are cautious about messing up existing operations," says Loesskrug-Pietri.
Some of them also have good reason to be nervous about the reaction they might provoke. "As Chinese companies go global they encounter so many suspicions," complains Wu. "This is not a good sign."
The private company Huawei, for example, in the past three years, has been blocked three times on national security grounds from doing deals in America, after critics claimed the company has links with the Chinese military. Huawei has always denied that, but only after the third setback did the firm disclose its ownership structure and board membership in a bid to be more transparent.
Even when that kind of secrecy is not a problem, Chinese investors abroad are running into increasingly open anti-Chinese sentiment. In Brazil, where local manufacturers claim that cheap Chinese imports of everything from toys to cars to industrial machinery have cost the Brazilian economy 70,000 jobs, the government recently slapped a protectionist tax on foreign vehicles aimed at the Chinese-made Chery, the cheapest fully accessorized car on the market at $13,600.
And as Chinese investors express interest in Brazilian farmland, parliament is debating a law that would allow Americans and Europeans to buy land, but not Chinese.
In Zambia, where Chinese investments in copper mines top $2 billion but where Chinese employers have made a bad name for themselves, the presidential election this month was won by Michael Sata, who has made his career out of China-bashing. Even in Burma, one of China's closest friends in Asia, the government last month suspended a controversial Chinese dam project amid a rising wave of popular resentment against an overwhelming Chinese business presence in the country.
A SHALLOW – NOT SUPER – POWER
"China really has to know how to navigate these stormy waters," warns Zhu. "The West overreacts a bit to our rise, but we have to pay more attention to the fact that we are the ones causing the disturbance."
"We are newcomers, and people are usually suspicious of newcomers," says Wu. "They also have a lot of suspicions about the Communist Party, which creates an ideological barrier. But if our actions match our words, over time we can build trust."
China is a "shallow power" for the time being, argues Shambaugh. "China is strong in the economic realm but very weak in the security realm, and without much soft power" such as cultural influence, or the ability to persuade other countries to imitate it.
"As long as the Western democracies remain reasonably strong and prosperous," adds Mr. Swaine at the Carnegie Endowment, "China will not drive the world economy sufficiently to make other countries align themselves with it. In any foreseeable time frame I do not see China becoming the sort of global superpower that the US became after the war."
And anyway, he points out, such questions will be moot for many decades. "The generation of Chinese leaders that will decide whether they want to be that kind of superpower," Swaine believes, "has not been born yet."
• Contributors to this article include: Issam Ahmed in Aliabad, Pakistan; Taylor Barnes in Rio de Janeiro; Whitney Eulich in Boston; Scott Harris in Hanoi, Vietnam; and Jonny Hogg in Kinshasa and Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of Congo.