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Trends of Global Development and China’s International Environment
| 10-25-2013 | visitors:1511

Wang Jisi

Dean, School of International Politics, Peking University and

Visiting Fellow, China Center for Contemporary World Studies



As globalization develops rapidly today, it is necessary for policy-making departments in various countries to make a mid and long-term comprehensive assessment of trends of global development in making national development strategy and foreign policy. Against this background, China, the United States, the EU, Russia, India, the IMF and the World Bank in recent years have respectively come up with reports forecasting global trends, regional trends and pertinent industrial trends, that serve as basis for making decision on strategy.

Trends of global development for next 10 to 20 years can be summarized into “six phenomena of imbalances, three levels of governance problems, three kinds of uncertainties, and two basic stabilities”.



Six Phenomena of Imbalances


I. Imbalance in Growth of Population

Contrary to the concerns about “population explosion” of the 1970s and 1980s, the reproduction rate of global population is on the decline whereas aging population and new international immigration are on the rise, which have become intermingled global trends of population, giving rise to a whole range of social, economic and political problems.

By 2025, the world’s population will total 8 billion, only 16% of which live in developed countries (the figure was 24% in 1980). The growth of world’s population is very unbalanced between regions, producing two major global social problems, the first being population aging in most of the developed countries and Russia and China, and the second, developing countries with fast population increase are faced with high unemployment for the young people, liable to social turbulence and violence.


II. Imbalance in Social Development

The World’s population accelerates its movement from the South to the North, i.e., migrating from relatively backward countries with a fast growing population to countries whose population is aging. Across the globe, population living in “countries of non-birth” (resulting from international migration) will total 300 million by 2030. This, on the one hand, ameliorates the pressure of labor shortage, and, on the other, exacerbates problems like uneven distribution of wealth, lack of social security and unemployment, lieble to riots and terrorist activities. Technological emigration and investment emigration from developing countries to developed ones lead to drainage of talents and wealth, reducing innovation capacity and overall quality of employable population, and eventually impeding economic development.

The Iraq War, the War in Afghanistan and unrests in the Middle East and Africa underline the world’s refugee issues. Large scale cross-border migration exacerbates the spread of vicious contagious diseases, and by 2025, the number of HIV carriers will climb to 50 million.

Urbanization is necessary road for developing countries to take in promoting economic and social development and in advancing modernization. However, as it quickens its pace, urbanization aggravates problems of urban governance such as housing, energy, water supply, communication and transport, health care, food security, public security, ecological environment and garbage treatment. The less a region is developed, the faster its urbanization goes. In developed countries, urbanization tends to be diffused, with population moving from urban centers to suburban areas and middle and small towns.


III. Imbalance between demand and supply for water, food, energy and other bulk goods

Due to population growth, climate change and requirement of economic growth demand for agricultural water, industrial water and household water is on the increase. Water pollution threatens safety of drinkable water and supply of household water. Contradictions arising from development and utility of transnational rivers and underground water are on the rise, becoming a blasting fuse of international conflicts.

The increase of world’s food-grain output is markedly less than that of demand for food-grain. Water shortage, decrease of cropland, and increase of  biofuel constrain food-grain production. Over exploitation of resources of maritime life and increased sea pollution are giving rise to serious social problems and serious political consequences.

It is estimated that between 2012 and 2030 global energy demand will increase by 39%, and that of the developed countries is only 4%, the rest being all from the developing countries. It is projected that by 2030, fossil fuel will account for 81% of world energy supply, a decrease by 6% from current level. Renewable energy across the global will increase at an average annual rate of over 8%, far exceeding that for other energy sources.

In the long run, the finiteness of fossil fuel determines the necessity of its price hike. However, the significance of the shale gas revolution and the like in raising supply and structural readjustment by the developing countries in cutting back on demand should not be overlooked. Two thirds of global increase on demand for non-oil mineral products arising from the developing countries, the contradiction between drastic increase in demand and limited deposits and exaction will lead to more intensified competition among countries of the world for mineral resources.


VI. Imbalance in Earth Ecological Environment

The balance and function of entire eco-system on the planet have continued to be seriously impaired, which is a trend with little perceivable possibility to be reversed. The survival status of mankind has been degenerated by greenhouse effect, ozone depletion, land degradation and desertification, waste pollution and transfer, shrinkage of afforested areas, biodiversity loss, water shortage, sea pollution, nuclear pollution and noise pollution, and the developing countries suffer far more than the developed ones. Climate change has become a top issue of international political agenda of the day. Issues arising from climate change such as Arctic passage, Arctic water resources, and cross-border river resources may well intensify international disputes.


V. Imbalance between Finance and Economic Growth

The U.S. and European countries are supported by fiscal deficits, financial derivatives, household debts and high social welfare, making huge deficits in current account, whereas major emerging economies and resource-exporting countries are led by investment and exports, lacking sufficient household consumption and accumulating too much external surplus. Together with risks of sovereign debt crisis and global economic slowdown, such global imbalance will last for a decade and more.

The focus of global economic growth is moving towards emerging economies such as the BRICS countries, and economic relations among emerging economies are fast expanding. It is an irreversible trend to transfer manufacturing, capital, technology and jobs from the developed countries to the developing ones, whose industrialization and urbanization will measurably increase middle class population, providing the world with huge market for services, stimulating input in education and health care by the developed countries. Owing to various reasons, economic recession, social decays and political dysfunction will linger on in some of the Asian and African countries, which will thus be marginalized further in the world economy.


VI. Imbalance in Distribution of Wealth

The Financial Crisis broke out in the West in 2008 brings to light profound contradictions of contemporary capitalism. The slowdown of world economy underscores conflicts and turbulence arising from unfair distribution of wealth. In major developing countries and Russia, gaping divide between the rich and the poor is quite remarkable. As illustrated by reports by many authoritative international institutions, polarization of wealth distribution is widening on global scale, to the detriment of social stability. In the developed countries, society is aging, with more and more retirees depending on state pension, but governments are heavily in debt and cannot make both ends meet. In the developing countries where population becomes younger in average age, prospects of young people are bleak with high unemployment. Global Risks 2012, a report of the World Economic Forum, observes that in the future decade, the greatest risks of global growth will be long-term financial imbalance and serious income divide, both may trigger off the rise of nationalism, populism and protectionism which, against the backdrop of financial turbulence facing the global and hidden crises of food and water, will pose a threat to global economic growth.


Three Levels of Governance Problems


The above six phenomena of global imbalances of intertwine with one another and interact as both cause and effect for one another, with gigantic impact on future development of mankind. A look at world trends beyond traditional national boundary reveals three levels of governance problems.


I. Individual Level and Governance Problems with Social Network

The trend of globalization cannot be stopped with resistance like the International Financial Crisis and economic nationalism. Based on internet technology, global circulation of information will be still easier and faster. New media, particularly social media not only changes profoundly people’s life-style but also produces an omnibearing revolutionary effect on the development of global society. With the development of internet and other communication technologies, individuals and small groupings are enabled to take a more active part in social political activities. More often than not, “opinion leaders” are more influential than authoritative government officials. The platform of social networking has become an important vehicle for people to have their voice heard and an amplifier of public opinion. A free flow of information can serve the purpose of propagating virtues and suppressing vices, popularizing knowledge, and promoting social progress. However, social media can also disclose confidential political, military and commercial information, disseminate inciting remarks and rumors, and intrude into personal privacy, becoming a vehicle for personality attacks, illegal trading and defraud. Emotional catharsis by irresponsible individuals who are discontent with society and appeals of religious extremism, populism and xenophobia can travel fast through social media, which also becomes a push hand for violent terrorist activities, conducts disturbing public security, and mutation of national politics and even international conflicts. However, the international community is yet to reach a consensus on how to effectively control and monitor the current prevalent social networking.


II. Governance Problems at Social Level

In the overwhelming majority of countries, the growth of civil society as represented by Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) is transcending traditional political logics and boundary of state power. Social identities beyond the national state such as ethnic identity, cultural identity, religious identity and conceptual identity and interest identity arising from concerns about ecological environment and health care are on the increase.

At present, ethnic, religious and sectarian conflicts happen frequently, which tend to increase in isolated pockets for 10 to 20 years into the future. Religious factors in connection with specific ethnic factors have become sources and catalyst of national separatism and sectarian conflicts. Religious organizations and national states take advantage of one another and also compete with one another, and there is no trend in sight for mutual fusion between different religions and different sects within major religions.

Religious extremism and terrorism pose a threat to world stability. But after all, the shock caused by violent terrorist incidents to the world economy and global politics is limited, and the international financial market and foreign policies of major countries have gradually adapted to the impact of local incidence of violence. The global anti-terrorist situation remains serious, but not as bad as “terror grows as you hit it” as portrayed by some of the media.


III. Governance Problems at Global Level

The global governance system of the day bears the imprint of the international order established right after the Second World War, and, as such, in meeting challenges of the future world, its weakness in insufficient function, incessant disputes, slow action and discussion without decision will be highlighted. Reform on the United Nations has encountered piling difficulties, and a decisive progress on the issues of expansion of permanent membership of the UN Security Council and the veto power of the major countries is not likely to happen.

G20 has played an important role in meeting the International Financial Crisis. However, vitality of the mechanism of G20 is subject to test. It may continue to function as a forum emphasizing on financial and economic issues, but it will be difficult for it to grow into a permanent body with a degree of authority whose agenda includes political topics.

The international security mechanisms are in face of huge pressure. Owing to its legitimacy and authority, the UN peace-keeping mechanism remains irreplaceable. Proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear technology, nuclear material, nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles (or missile technology) to some of the countries and to non-state players may be stepped up in the future. Arms race between major countries may intensify further. Various countries will pay more attention to new areas such as the outer space, the Polar Regions and the internet, and rivalry for “new strategic frontier” will intensify. New revolutionary weapon systems are likely to arrive and to be deployed.


Three Kinds of Uncertainties


I. Uncertainties in Technological Innovations and New Growth Points

For the last round of rapid growth of world economy, credits go largely to computer, information technology and popularization of the internet. At present, the world is once again at the eve of a new round of technological and industrial revolution and various countries are busy probing for new, sustainable economic growth points in order to promote industrial upgrading. However, there are uncertainties as to where new technological breakthrough will be made and where new economic growth points will arrive. More noticeable are breakthroughs and commercial applications of clean energy, low carbon technology, smart power-grid, super-high speed internet, biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry. New economic growth points have a lot to do with government support and input. Developed countries such as the United States, Europe and Japan boast of good scientific-technological and educational foundation, intensity of scientists and technological talents and big input in research and development, and their potential to attain technological innovation and dissemination is far greater than that of the developing countries.


II. Uncertainties in Process of Political Development and Political Model in Various Countries

After the Cold War, an overwhelming majority of countries of the world have adopted multiparty general election system. The pursuit of liberty and democracy has continued to enjoy worldwide approbation. Strong resentment is widespread against phenomena of globalization such as moral degradation, lack of social equity and fairness, severe shortage of resources and deterioration of ecological environment. Democracy is in various development stages in various countries, with varying demands and in varying forms. It is not necessary for the developing countries that have adopted a multiparty general election system to be able to promote economic growth, social progress and justice, and in the political process of such countries it is likely to have continued political chaos of fraud like vote-buying, corruption, violent clashes and political antagonism. It is a long political process to build the rule of law and representative government. In the short run, some of the countries may return to more familiar strong-man politics from Western democracy, and others may move from authoritarianism to plural system. Various social systems, values, belief systems and development models contest and penetrate one another, making efforts of “trial and error”.


III. Uncertainties in Balance of Power between Major Countries

The above two kinds of uncertainties determine the plasticity of future power pattern of major countries. It is habitual for people to deduce the future by inertias of rise and decline in national strength of major countries of today, and this habit often leads to mal-predictions.

In regard to rise and fall in national strength of major countries, what is relatively certain is that in five to 10 years, Japan and major EU countries at best can only attain slow economic growth, resulting in reduced proportion of total economic size of the world taken by developed countries as a whole. It is thus difficult for Europe and Japan to enlarge their influence on international politics and international relations.

However, it is less than well-grounded to conclude that the U.S. is already on the fall or going to be so. With natural endowment, population structure, economic foundation and level of scientific and technological attainment like the U.S., it is hopeful for the country to recover its national strength, as far as it makes no more strategic mistakes like the Vietnam War and the Iraq War, and finds new growth points at the same time. Due to rapid growth of the emerging economies, the share of the U.S. in total economic size of the world will be slowly on the decline.

Most of the emerging economies are at the same time developing countries or so-call “transitional countries”. The piling of such triple capacities makes it more complex and difficult for them to transform their development models. Although the BRICS countries have come to the front of the arena of world economy, they are not capable of playing the principal role yet. Without transforming economic growth models, it will be very difficult for the emerging economies to gain greater say on global governance.


Two Basic Stabilities


I. Basic Stability of global Political and Economic Order

The current global order and pattern of relations among major countries were formed after the end of the Cold War. Although a series of important changes have happened since such as the rise of emerging economies, the establishment of the European Union and the Financial Crisis in the West, the world has not undergone sea changes in the course of history to the equivalent of October Revolution in Russia, the rise of international communist movement, the two world wars, the wave of national independence, the confrontation between the two camps headed by the former Soviet Union and the United States respectively. In other word, the basic international political and economic order and its rules established after the Cold War have not changed qualitatively.

Although the international political and economic order since the end of the Cold War has been disrupted from time to time, the trend of global order in general being at a state of stability and international rules continuing to be made and improving is not subject to reversal in the foreseeable future.


II. Basic Stability with Pattern of Relations among Major Countries

The major challenges to various major countries and bloc of major countries arise not from contradictions or conflicts between them but from within them and from the impact of globalization. Since the end of the Cold War, there has never been a real danger of war between major countries.

In regard to major country relations of today, relations among the developed countries are relatively stable. There are two couples of relations that are relatively unstable, namely Sino-US relations and Sino-Japanese relations. To get into strategic antagonism with China would cause huge damage to long-term interests of the U.S. and Japan, and also arouse concerns of other major countries and China’s neighboring countries. Therefore, it will be the basic trend of future Sino-US relations and Sino-Japanese relations to maintain overall stability amongst frictions and competitions. The economy of China has already been deeply integrated into the global economy, and the developed countries have gained great economic interests from China’s rapid development, where they have seen an irreplaceable opportunity that if lost cannot be regained. Besides, should countries like the U.S. and Japan desire to contain China, they could not be capable of constructing “encirclement” like the anti-Soviet alliance during the Cold War. Their capability to affect China’s internal stability is also rather low.


China’s International Opportunities and Challenges


As the Report to the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China pointed out, “An examination of both the current international and domestic environments shows that China remains in an important period of strategic opportunities for its development, a period in which much can be achieved”, and called for “a correct understanding of the changing nature and conditions of this period”. It is our view that the most important opportunity in China’s international environment resides in the long-term basic stability of the post-Cold War global political and economic order as well as that of the pattern of relations among major countries, without which, a period of strategic opportunities would be out of the question.

The strategic preventives and checks against China by countries like the U.S. and Japan, and economic frictions and competition, and political and military pressures, and interference into China’s internal affairs by them are challenges China must meet. However, momentum of the rise of China’s national strength cannot be resisted. In China’s relations with other major countries, a situation where cooperation is more than competition, and opportunities are greater than challenges can be expected.

In 5 to 10 years into the future, the world economy can be expected to grow slowly. Rapid development of the emerging economies and economic recovery and technological innovation of the developed countries shall provide China with excellent opportunities. But less than sufficient international control on financial services industry and protectionist tendencies of many countries constitute challenges to China.

Among global trends under review in this paper, attention should be paid to guarding against the following risks. First, owing to intensified domestic social contradictions and intervention from the outside, the political and economic order of some of the countries is less than stable, and regional turbulences occur frequently, to the detriment of China’s overseas interest and personal safety of the Chinese citizens. Second, ethnic and religious contradictions are on the rise in some of the areas, with terrorist activities and extremist forces going rampant, leading to separation of nations, bringing on “demonstration effect”. Third, China’s foreign economic relations and supply of energy and other resources are affected by water shortage, short supply of food, price-hike for bulk goods and unstable energy pricing. Fourth, degradation of ecological environment of the whole planet makes it more difficult for China to promote ecological progress and contribute to international agenda on climate change. Fifth, International media and growing sophistication of transnational social networking constitute a challenge to China’s governance of society. Sixth, political turbulence may happen in some of the neighboring countries, giving rise to growing illegal immigrants and cross-border crimes.

The general purpose of China’s foreign strategy is to safeguard core interests of sovereignty, security and development, to work for a long-term stable international environment, a relatively harmonious environment of international community, and a global economic environment for China to continue to be benefited. Only by persevering in reform and open-up, keeping to the road of peaceful development, and developing friendly cooperation with various countries on all fronts, can China build an even more favorable international environment.



NOTE: This article has much to do with the Contemporary World Multilateral Dialogue 2013. For more information about the Dialogue, please click