Inspired by a tweet sent in from a reader, we’ve recently started discussing the rise of China on Debating Europe. We’ve had two posts so far on the topic (here and here), and we’ve had a lot of comments and ideas sent in which we’ve been taking to academics, experts and politicians to find out their reactions.
André, for example, left a comment suggesting that the EU should indeed be wary of the rise of China:
In my view, the EU has a lot of reason to feel threatened. China is not only underpricing it in manufacturing goods, investing its money in several European countries and threatening its development objectives in Africa, it is also encroaching upon the sectors in which Europeans believed to have a competitive advantage – research, technology and sustainable development.
We took this comment to Ha-Joon Chang, a Cambridge scholar, leading economist and author of several influential policy books (including 2002′s Kicking Away the Ladder: Development Strategy in Historical Perspective). Did he agree with André?
Of course, there always two sides. On the one hand: yes, China is taking away some of the things Europe thought only they could do. But on the other hand: China’s growth is opening up a lot of opportunities for European firms. First of all, don’t forget that a lot of what China produces is sold by Europeans; Volkswagen has a huge manufacturing operation in China, for example. And when China becomes bigger and richer, you create a bigger market, so Europe will have greater economic opportunities.
I’m not trying to deny that there are some acute adjustment problems. When my native South Korea rose from the economic ashes, they managed to wipe out the ship-building industry in Europe. If little Korea can do this, imagine the impact of a nation as big as China.
Is there a risk this economic competition could lead to conflict? Should we be concerned that China, for example, does not have a democratic government?
I wouldn’t be too worried. In the last 60 years, we’ve had some horrible wars on an international scale – but we’ve developed international mechanisms to manage global conflict. As for democracy: in the history of capitalist development, very few countries that rise above a certain level of development remain autocracies. Singapore is probably an exception. Korea and Thailand, for example, were ruled by military dictatorships in the past.
You may have an autocratic system at the beginning of your development, but as soon as people do not feel like they live a fulfilling life they will want to have a say. My guess is that there’s a high chance that China will move towards democracy. Already, unbenkownst to outsiders, the country experiences tens of thousands of industrial strikes each year.
We also spoke with Nicholas Westcott, managing director for Africa in the European External Action Service (EAS). Should Europe be concerned by Chinese investment in Africa? Especially where that investment is seen not to be “conditional” on democracy and good governance?
From my point of view, China’s engagement in Africa is natural and it’s a logical progression of China’s development. Insofar as it provides additional resources to African countries, it’s to be welcomed.
I think Chinese investment should ascribe to the same criteria as all others. We are trying to discourage investments that fuel civil conflicts, for example. People are saying China takes a more politically neutral approach – but I think China has as much interest in the future prosperity and stability of Africa as the rest of the world, and the stability of these countries rests on democracy. So, I think there is actually a growing convergence of interests between China and other partners and investors in Africa.
What do YOU think? Is China’s rise an opportunity for Europe? As China’s market grows, could European firms benefit from more customers for their products? Does China have an interest in promoting democracy in Africa, and could China’s development see it move towards democracy itself? Let us know your thoughts in the form below, and we’ll take your comments to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.
Ha-Joon Chang is a leading economist specialising in development economics. He is currently a Reader in the Political Economy of Development at the University of Cambridge.
Nicholas Westcott is managing director for Africa in the European External Action Service (EEAS). Previously, he was British High Commissioner to Ghana.