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:: By Richard Mertens
:: Photography provided by Corbis
China on the Rise
s success story has reached a pivotal chapter. What
does it mean for the rest of the world?
Wang Guangya, China
s representative to the United Nations, is a small, dignified man, his mild,
inoffensive manner perfectly pitched to the reassuring message that China tries to communicate to a
world jittery over its growing economic power.
Of all things, nothing is more desirable than harmony
Wang told a Chicago audience this April, invoking Confucian principles to explain why his
country posed a threat to no one. In case anyone doubted his meaning, he went further, predicting an
harmony between man and nature and among mankind.
A Chinese official in America these days finds
himself inevitably on the defensive. China
remarkable growth, now in its third decade, has
lifted millions out of poverty, transformed the world
economy, and restored pride to a people who just a
few decades ago were entrenched in backwardness
and poverty. But that rise has also raised hard
questions about the country
s future. Can China
sustain its growth? Or will internal contradictions,
such as a growing gap between rich and poor, cause
it to stumble? How will democracy fare in an
authoritarian state that has embraced the free
market but still crushes political dissent? Most of all,
what does China
s growing economic muscle
portend for its future on the world stage? In the
United States, China
s rise has caused deep anxiety not only about the costs for American jobs and
industry but also about the political and military consequences. Will its rise be peaceful or violent? Will
it produce closer ties with the United States
or confrontation? Despite Ambassador Wang
assurances, U.S. officials are not so sure.
Many Americans, and even many people in Washington, have not made up their minds about what
Christopher Hill, U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, told
the same Chicago audience.
What is China going to be? People are very curious. China is a bit of a
mystery to many Americans, just as Americans are a bit of a mystery for China.
Wang and Hill were among a score of scholars and government officials who gathered at International
House for a two-day conference, organized by the student-run Chicago Society, to help demystify
China. If the conference
s title, China and the Future of the World, seemed ambitious, it may not have
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