Everything gives the impression that we must go to China; and not a single head of state, from a developed or emerging country, thinks that he or she should go there at the beginning of his or her term of office, just as we went, and still go, to the United States. The fact that China has become the world’s second most powerful country is thus internalised, and that it is necessary to pay tribute to it, to be seen there, to be adored there.
In fact, there are many reasons for this: it has developed very rapidly, its army is becoming one of the two largest in the world; some of its firms are already world leaders; it registers more patents than any other country in the world; it is present in countless countries, and largely finances the public debt of many countries, both developing and developed. It now has a say in the biggest conflicts, from the Ukraine to the Middle East, and in particular, it largely ensures the end of the month of Russia, which would collapse, economically, financially and militarily, without the support (for the moment still limited to cash and goods, not arms) of its powerful neighbour. Moreover, it boasts that it has given itself the means to have the largest army in the world by 2050 and is already positioning itself as the leader of what it calls “the global South”, which includes all the emerging countries, i.e. more or less the same countries as in the old days when we spoke of “non-aligned”; and sometimes also, more closely, as the head of the “CIA”, this well-known acronym which now designates the group formed by China, India and the ten ASEAN countries.
However, the West is making a serious mistake in playing into the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.
First, China is not a very big power and probably never will be. The income of each of its inhabitants is, and will remain, much lower than that of the United States and even of some of its neighbours such as South Korea and Japan. On the other hand, it is suffering from a considerable demographic crisis, which means that its population is set to halve by the end of the century; this makes it very difficult to finance its social system: it is becoming old before it becomes rich. Moreover, even though it has a large number of raw materials, it suffers from growing food dependence, which it makes up for by frantically buying agricultural goods in Europe, Russia, Africa and Latin America. In fact, its growth has been so disordered that its environment and soils are largely degraded and clogged with an unprecedented amount of waste, which further reduces its agricultural production and worsens its climatic situation.
Moreover, the Communist Party’s concern to maintain pre-eminence over the market economy and the law is causing tremendous corruption at all levels, making public and private decisions totally irrational and inefficient, and driving entrepreneurs and innovators further away. Very soon, the choice for the Chinese government will be particularly clear: either to keep companies and entrepreneurs in check, at the risk of breaking growth and devaluing the middle class; or to give more power to the entrepreneurial class, the rule of law and freedom of speech, to the detriment of the privileges of the party; or else, if neither economic growth nor individual freedom are forthcoming, to embark on a military adventure in order to sustainably weld the country around the Communist Party, which is now installed as the defender of the nation’s roots. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realise that none of this will work. And, unless it loses itself in a dangerous conflict, China will have much better things to do to save itself than to wage war or rule the South.
Consequently, the representatives of the democracies, and in particular those who will soon be meeting in Japan for a G7 meeting, are making a serious mistake by recognising Communist China as the leader of the “Global South”, when it is no more than the bodyguard of a few cornered dictators in Latin America, Africa and Russia.
On the contrary, it would be essential to give a major role to emerging nations trying to make democracy live, with difficulty. It is therefore not in China that we should rush to, but in India, and in a few other countries such as Brazil, South Africa and Nigeria.
What is happening in Ukraine should be enough to understand this: the battle to come is not between the North and the South, but between self-confident but desperate dictatorships and democracies that doubt everything but have a future.
Image: China, 17th century. Wu Yue Si Du Shiji (“Legends of the Five Mountains and Four Rivers”) horizontal scroll, nine ink paintings on silk