5
Nov

It is unclear whether a system that is geared to growth can also provide clean air and water

By Gideon Rachman

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Foreign commentators and local bloggers regularly predict that China is heading for an economic and political crisis. But the country’s leaders are in strikingly confident mood. They believe that China can keep growing at more than 7 per cent a year for at least another decade. That would mean the country’s economy – already the second-largest in the world – would double in size. And, depending on the assumptions you make about US growth and exchange rates, it would probably mean that China becomes the world’s largest economy by 2020.

Nobody embodies the leadership’s confidence better than the burly, imposing figure of Xi Jinping, China’s president. Last week, I was part of a group of foreign visitors – brought together by the 21st century Council, a think-tank – who met the Chinese leader in Beijing. Mr Xi’s manner is warmer and less formal than that of Hu Jintao, his slightly robotic predecessor. Yet the staging of the meeting had faint echoes of Chinese history, in which foreign barbarians paid tribute to the leader of the Middle Kingdom.

The president sat in an armchair in a cavernous meeting room in the Great Hall of the People, with a vast mural of the Great Wall of China behind him. Arranged in a semi-circle in front of him was a group of former presidents and prime ministers from other nations, including Gordon Brown of Britain and Mario Monti from Italy. In the semi-circle behind them were some western business leaders, and a smattering of “thinkers”. President Xi started his remarks by pronouncing himself “deeply moved by the sincerity you have shown”. He then proceeded to give a confident presentation of his vision for the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”.

In remarks that were widely picked up by the Chinese media, Mr Xi dismissed the idea that China risks falling into a “middle-income trap” that stalls its development and said he was confident that rapid growth could continue, without the need for further stimulus measures.

Exactly how China will sustain its growth and strengthen its global position is, however, the subject of intense discussion among the country’s leadership – as became clear in a series of other meetings arranged for our group with top military, diplomatic and economic policy makers. Read more…

As published in www.ft.com on November 4, 2013.

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