Sorry Mao: China, not the US, is a paper tiger
by Cao Chang-qing
Taipei Times - 31 Dec. 2005 - In 1956, then Chinese Communist Party chairman Mao Zedong made a bold statement about the US by saying that: "In appearance it is very powerful but in reality it is nothing to be afraid of, it is a paper tiger."
Next year will mark the 30th anniversary of Mao's death. History has contradicted his famous statement, for the US is the leader of the democratic world and its only great power, while the dictatorial communist nation of China is experiencing a decline in power.
Freedom House, an independent non-governmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world, published its annual report last week, in which it said that 28 nations have made democratic improvements this year, while only nine nations have regressed. The findings are the most positive since Freedom House began its annual assessment of democracy around the world in 1972.
According to the report, a total of 122 nations currently hold democratic elections, an increase of three nations from last year's statistics. However, there are still 2.3 billion people living in societies that are completely without freedom, and China (with a population of 1.3 billion) is home to more than half this number.
The 122 democratic nations together lay claim to about 90 percent of the world's wealth, while the remaining 10 percent is in the hands of China and other dictatorial nations.
Although the US has only five percent of the world's population, it is responsible for about 40 percent of the world's technological advances, 50 percent of the world's research and development efforts, and 28 percent of the world's income. Although China continues to see economic growth, as of today, it only contributes four percent of the world's economy -- about one-seventh that of the US, or the same as the economy of the state of New York.
The economic figures published by Chinese authorities are regarded with suspicion by most Western economists. Some believe that real growth in China is only a third of what it is claimed to be. Sun Dawu, a Chinese entrepreneur, said in his speech at Beijing University that even if you cut the figure published by the Chinese government in half, it is still likely to be an exaggeration.
Unemployment in China stands at 20 percent. According to the statistics compiled by the UN, 60 million Chinese people subsist on an annual income of US$75, while 47 percent of people living in China, or 615 million people, earn less than US$2 a day. Last year, a total of 70,000 protests took place in China, or 200 (reported) cases of rural unrest per day.
China's economy depends on foreign trade, with the sum of its total exports amounting to 75 percent of its GDP. (By comparison, US exports account for 16 percent of GDP while Japan's exports account for 25 percent of GDP.) This year, China's trade surplus with the US will reach US$200 billion, a record high indicating its growing reliance on the US market. According to the IMF, China's banks are hamstrung by between 35 percent to 50 percent bad debt, accounting for 40 percent of China's GDP.
In recent years, China has attempted to strengthen its military. However, China cannot rival the US on this front, much less the combined might of the democratic nations. The US' annual military expenditure is US$400 billion -- equal to the amount spent by the 15 nations ranked after it.
Although China's economy is booming, its development remains at risk as long as Beijing declines to promote democracy. Ironically, it is China, and not the US, that is the paper tiger.