Though some may continue to view the United States as the “Land of Opportunity,” many are now looking eastward to China in their never ending pursuit of higher bottom lines and salaries. In 2009 alone, China exported $1.2 trillion in goods and signed off on a plethora of lucrative business deals with countries around the world.
The East Asian country has modernized at a pace never before seen in history, while many corporations have turned sizeable profits in taking advantage of Chinese consumers’ newfound wealth. It seems, then, that the ascent of China is a win-win situation for not only the Chinese, but for all in our increasingly globalized world.
The reality is, however, it isn’t.
Many view the Chinese market as an untapped, limitless source of income for big business. In many cases it is, yet it is this insatiable demand that is the source of the problem itself. An indication of such can be found in the prices of commodities, which have increased exponentially as a direct result of China’s rapacious appetite. The price of iron ore, for instance, has skyrocketed from 29 cents per dry metric ton in 2000 to $2.05 per dry metric ton in July 2010; an exponential price increase that can largely be attributed to the boom of the manufacturing industry in China (which accounts for roughly half of China’s GDP).
To remedy the situation, China has invested billions, if not trillions, in securing their own iron ore resources around the globe. This has in turn placed a considerable amount of stress on other manufacturing and export – dependent countries such as Japan and South Korea, which have struggled to secure their own sources of iron ore in an increasingly resource stripped world. Such a monopoly exists not only in iron ore but in several other key commodities, under which China is benefiting at the expense of potential growth in other countries.
The threatening implications of China’s rise to prominence, however, are not only limited to economic repercussions, but also extend to include the negative environmental effects of China’s industrialization. Though China’s energy consumption per capita (1,484 kg of oil) falls far below American levels (7,766 kg of oil), its population of 1.3 billion has had an exponential effect on total energy consumption. China is now the world’s largest consumer of energy and as a resource poor nation, must import vast quantities of crude oil to supplement domestic production of coal and hydroelectricity.
What has ensued has been nothing short of an environmental disaster: 16 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are located in China. In the construction of massive river dams, swathes of rural residents have been displaced, while biodiversity and valuable farmland have been lost under gargantuan man-made lakes. Car ownership, once considered a luxury among the people, has been made accessible to a burgeoning middle class, which has led to uncontrolled urban sprawl and record levels of smog and congestion in metropolitan areas.
Though the above may simply be dismissed as local problems concerning solely the Chinese, the by-products of China’s industrialization may ultimately impede, perhaps even negate, any reductions in emission levels developed countries make in their attempts to curb severe climate change.
As important as the above issues may be, others view China itself as an immediate threat to regional peace and global stability. Take, for example, China’s growing assertiveness over disputed territories. Such can most recently be observed in its spat with Japan over the sovereignty of the oil and fish rich Senkaku islands, which has not only brought bilateral relations to its lowest level in years, but has prompted Japan to consider the stationing of troops in the area. Further south, China still has 350 short-range missiles aimed at the island country of Taiwan, which it still considers part of its sovereign territory. Both situations are exacerbated by the fact that China has the second biggest defense budget in the world, valued at approximately $78 billion in 2009.
In its climb up the economic ladder, China has bulldozed its way through every fiscal, environmental and political obstacle in its path. It is not a matter of if, but rather a question of when China will have to face the issues it has created in doing so.© Japan Today