May 9, 2005
Written by C.N.
The May 9 issue of Newsweek magazine has a feature story entitled “Does the Future Belong to China?” We’ve heard these sorts of proclamations before — that the 21st century will eventually be dominated by Asian countries and economies, most notably in the “Megatrends” series of books back in the early 1990s. But the recent emergence of China has put this question front and center on the international political and cultural stage:
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. . .
China’s rise is no longer a prediction. It is a fact. It is already the world’s fastest-growing large economy, and the second largest holder of foreign-exchange reserves, mainly dollars. It has the world’s largest army (2.5 million men) and the fourth largest defense budget, which is rising by more than 10 percent annually. Whether or not it overtakes the United States economically . . . it is the powerful new force on the global scene.
The rest of article talks about China’s economic and industrial emergence, its emphasis on results rather than ideology, some of the problems it still faces, and how China is poised to eventually (i.e., not immediately) challenge the U.S. for cultural and political dominance around the world. For the most part, it’s a balanced article and an interesting summary of how China has been able to achieve its recent success.
As an American, I also have to admire China’s recent successes and emergence as a global superpower. As an Asian American, however, I am a little worried about where this will lead. I do not fear China’s power per se. Rather, I am worried about the consequences of China’s emerging power — how the U.S. and Americans will perceive and react to it.
In other words, as China becomes more powerful and presuming that it eventually challenges the U.S.’s political and cultural dominance around the world, more and more Americans are likely to perceive China not just as a rival, but as a threat. And as sociologists will quickly tell you and has history has consistently shown, when a group of people feel threatened, economic competition can turn into racial/ethnic hostility very quickly.
In this context, I can easily see Asian Americans being “caught in the middle,” not necessarily because many of us might cheer for China’s emergence and support its challenge to the U.S., but instead, many Asian Americans would be perceived by other Americans as being “disloyal” or even worse, “treasonous.” That is, our identity as “real” and “authentic” Americans would once again be called into question and as a result, an anti-Asian backlash is sure to erupt.
Where will all of this lead? We may have an entire century to find out but at the rate we’re going (and the rate China’s power is increasing), we might see signs of American uneasiness sooner rather than later.
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Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Does the Future Belong to China?" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2005/05/does-the-future-belong-to-china/> ().
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