DOES THE FUTURE BELONG TO China?
December 28, 2006 3:23pm CST
By Fareed Zakaria Newsweek Americans admire beauty, but they are truly dazzled by bigness. Think of the Grand Canyon, the California redwoods, Grand Central Terminal, Disney World, SUVs, the American armed forces, General Electric, the Double Quarter Pounder (With Cheese) and the Venti Latte. Europeans prefer complexity and nuance, the Japanese revere minuteness and minimalism. But Americans like size, preferably supersize. That's why China hits the American imagination so hard. It is a country whose scale dwarfs the United States—1.3 billion people, four times America's population. For more than a hundred years it was dreams of this magnitude that fascinated small groups of American missionaries and businessmen—1 billion souls to save; 2 billion armpits to deodorize—but it never amounted to anything. China was very big, but very poor. All that is changing. But now the very size and scale that seemed so alluring is beginning to look ominous. And Americans are wondering whether the "China threat" is nightmarishly real. Every businessman these days has a dazzling statistic about China, meant to stun the listener into silence. And they are an impressive set of numbers. China is now the world's largest producer of coal, steel and cement, the second largest consumer of energy and the third largest importer of oil, which is why gas prices are soaring. China's exports to the United States have grown by 1,600 percent over the past 15 years, and U.S. exports to China have grown by 415 percent. The most astonishing example of growth is surely Shanghai. Fifteen years ago, Pudong, in east Shanghai, was undeveloped countryside. Today it is Shanghai's financial district, eight times the size of London's new financial district, Canary Wharf, in fact only slightly smaller than the city of Chicago. And speaking of Venti Lattes, last week Starbucks CEO Howard Shultz noted on CNBC that in three years the company would probably have more cafes in China than in the United States. At the height of the Industrial Revolution, Britain was called "the workshop of the world." That title surely belongs to China today. It manufactures two thirds of the world's copiers, microwave ovens, DVD players and shoes. (And toys, my 5-year-old son would surely want me to add. All the world's toys.)