More than anything else, the China story of the last couple of decades is one of scary growth. This fear is caused by the sheer size of the country as much as it is by China's enormous population or ignorance of what drives up its GDP.
Beyond that, China has a huge stash of foreign exchange reserves; its multinationals have barely a handful of global brands; state-owned enterprises invest around the world. And on a political level, the Chinese government is playing a role in world affairs, even if it is to block other governments from imposing their values on others.
China is not going out into the world, it is already there.
The leaders in Beijing may not be democratically elected but they are among the world's top decision makers. They are controllers of the world's most populous country, generals of its largest standing army and now managers of its fourth-largest economy – all this has happened in a few decades.
Despite the fear it generates around the world, China is still in a precarious position. As Will Hutton argues in his book The Writing On The Wall, the country has to walk several tightropes at once and walk them for many years to come.
To maintain growth, China has to make the transition into a modern, knowledge based economy. It has to continue creating millions of jobs every year. It also has to build a system that allows the population to express dissatisfaction with the government, an exhaust valve that will take the steam out of social unrest.
Most of all, China has to keep competing with more developed Western economies where standards of living and depth of production are significantly further ahead.
All this Hutton explains with the clarity of a well-informed outsider. He is a British newspaper columnist and scholar. He has written at length about Western relationships and economics.
He is not a China expert and The Writing On The Wall lacks the fluency with China of some of the past masters who regularly pontificate on the subject. It is nevertheless an authoritative discussion of the role China plays in the world today.
More significantly, Hutton outlines the myriad challenges facing China in the years ahead and lays out a case for why it is in the world's best interest for the country to balance growth and the the challenges in its path.
Building on this platform, he lays out a case for why China's path cannot mirror that of other countries, even if its economic growth story has been much more traditional than many believe.
Another interesting book, although not necessarily for its narrative, is a recently released publication from Fuming Jiang and Bruce W. Stening, The Chinese Business Environment.
The book is an annotated bibliography and a useful source of information for those who make a living out of China watching. Although somewhat narrow in its scope, it includes a wide ranging list of sources.
However, despite being a convenient one-stop shop, this bibliography is not as accessible as it might be because the 1,000-plus articles referenced are listed by author or by a short list of 16 subjects. Small criticisms aside, it remains an interesting overview of China focused business writings.
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