What, me rich? Far from being proud of the figures released Monday which suggest that China has overtaken Japan to become the second largest economy in the world, the authorities in Beijing are doing everything in their power to downplay the news.
“We are struck by the lack of self-satisfaction in the [Communist] party media, âsays Russell Leigh Moses, political analyst here. “I admire the government’s withdrawal from pride and its embrace of humility, and have no idea it’s fabricated.”
“China is a developing country,” Commerce Ministry spokesman Yao Jian said on Tuesday, anxious to stress that the Chinese economy may be massive, but so too is its population, and that most of it. ‘among them are poor.
Chinese officials are quick to assert that the sheer volume of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) is less important than the approximate value of goods produced per person, known as GDP per capita. Thus measured, according to the World Bank, China ranks 124th in the world, between Tunisia and Angola.
The World Bank estimates the annual GDP per capita in China at $ 3,620, less than a tenth of the Japanese figure and a thirteenth of the United States.
Dr Moses says the main reason Beijing is so timid about its new economic status is that “they understand that the problems ahead are huge.” Government economists are worried about all kinds of ways the Chinese economic miracle could implode, from a bursting real estate bubble (which has dragged Japan down for more than a decade) to soaring inflation to an explosion of social unrest in the face of growth inequality.
The government is also concerned that if the rest of the world thinks China is rich, it could increase the pressure for Beijing to take on the kind of international responsibilities that come with the territory when you have economic clout: to do more on climate change, for example. example, or stop favoring its exporters with an artificially weak currency.
Xinhua, the official news agency, explained it well the other day. “The implication of branding China as a developed state and exaggerating China’s strength is to demand that the country assume responsibilities beyond its capabilities, or to indirectly publicize the ill-intentioned theory of” Chinese threat “.”
Deng Xiaoping, the man who put China on the path to its current economic stature, had a famous maxim guiding Beijing’s approach to the world: “Hide your brightness, bide your time.” When you’re # 2 (even if you’re # 124 too) it’s hard to do.