We have no reason to believe that China, in the midst of its already existing success, will not continue to grow economically along with its world influence. In our research and experiences in China, we have found that the country currently faces great challenges in terms of political leadership, yet the Chinese business world continues to emulate western practices while still adhering to the laws of the State. Economically, China is on par and quickly surpassing western countries already. For example, China owns much of the U.S.’s debt, which makes our eastern trading partner’s political influence more significant on a global basis. However, to be able to be a world superpower or global leader takes more than just money. Yes, it’s true that the US and other western nations rely heavily on the economic success of China. However, other major factors prohibit China from gaining further political influence on a global scale.
The world knows that China has many issues such as human rights, government corruption separation of rich and poor, as well as intellectual property protection. While these issues are not solely unique to China, they do, in fact, influence the perception that foreign investors and governments have of doing business and carrying out political affairs with China. While in China, we often asked ourselves why is China this way? Can’t the government see that these issues are actually largely affecting the world opinion of the country and reversely harming their economy? Why does the government, or the people, choose to do very little to alleviate such issues? However, China is this way because of a deep-rooted culture and history where the government is an all-power governing body. They have a hand in every affair, to the point where they even try to control the people’s religion (as noted on Easter Sunday people were arrested for going to church, and the priest is still currently in captivity). China’s agenda is centered on maintaining stability. Yet, the way they handle these issues is of sheer force, rather than trying the sustain stability by improving the issues. They sensor sensitive subjects, so that no one talks about the proverbial white elephant of the room, when the rest of the world is pointing to it and looking to the Chinese government to address it. The Chinese government is so afraid of any revolution or disruptions that will cause unrest, they squash it before it begins.
While the country is on the road to success, the government must address the voices of the people in order to prosper and to maintain harmony. Sirna, of Citibank, stressed the importance of the “little man”, stating that even when there were no protests the government was still listening. “Julia”, a friend that we met in Qingdao, explained to us that revolts were something that people just didn’t do. She said she loved her country, but the government was the main reason why she wanted to move away to the US. With the values of the younger generations shifting towards more individualistic views, the likelihood of protests may increase, just as the amount of people who decide to live elsewhere. While it may signify unrest for people to speak out against the government, it may be enough to cause the Chinese government to realize that change is necessary. There are others, like Darren, who believes that things are already moving in the right direction and many Chinese people want to have a part in developing their country and in ensuring its success.
In thinking about China from their perspective, they carry a great deal of weigh and burden for the rest of the world. Because so much consumer goods are produced in China, the rest of the importing world would stop if political instability caused China to shut down their factories. However, by stifling little revolts here and there, I’m afraid that there will be a large coup d’etat and revolution will blow up like a pressure cooker. If China is actually taking steps towards creating a better country by addressing and slowly alleviating some of these important issues as they occur, perhaps China will be able to better achieve sustainable stability rather than just maintaining it by stopping revolts and taking on a sense of paranoia.
Despite these social challenges China is facing, we are able to see how China’s economy has changed such that they are morphing into a mega consumer market, a clear sign that China’s power is on the raise. China is slowly changing from an export country—that was primarily used as a manufacturing platform for multinational companies—to more of a consumer-driven economy. With the minimum wage rising, China is no longer the go-to country for cheap labor, and with their population growing exponentially they will need their own resources and products to further develop. After speaking with several of the companies that we visited in China like Citibank, Continuum Innovation, and even Ford, a growing need is evident for customized products and specialized services in the Chinese market. Citibank and Continuum spoke specifically to the developing and emerging markets of the “individual”, the younger generations that have started to adopt more historically Western values and that are growing in affluence. With the government’s emphasis on developing domestic companies, they can also promote increased consumption of both domestic and foreign goods and services. The size of the Chinese market is apparent to the Chinese government and to foreign countries and their companies; foreign investment into China benefits the country as well as those investing in it. Economically, China is already gaining ground in the global environment and will likely continue to do so—as long as the government continues to support domestic business and does not hinder foreign companies from competing or entering the market.
China’s government may receive much criticism from the West, but there are some strong favorable aspects to consider. The fast paced decision process is one of the main competitive advantages of China. A clear example was seen at the Shanghai Urban Planning Museum. Our guide, Eric, was standing in front of the model of the city and was describing the Shanghai Expo 2010. He proudly told us that the government commanded over one million people to leave their homes and clear the land for the site. Eric said that people were happy to leave, were not angry that they had to abandon their homes, and they saw this as an opportunity for China to present itself in front of the world. From our Western viewpoint, few can fully agree with his opinion, but his respect for the Chinese government echoes the high opinion shared by many. The lack of resistance, coupled with high respect of the populace, to government decisions provides China with the ability to quickly adjust and soar to an influential economic power.
On the other side, some find this practice controversial. If a government is able to execute such power without any opposition, where is the respect for the people, the respect for the individual? During our visit to Peking University, we had the opportunity to meet and spend one on one time with several MBA students. My counterpart, Andrew, was eager to start his studies and strongly stressed that he was most excited for the opportunity to travel and study abroad, mainly the US. He saw his studies as a way to see the world—something he had wanted to do but had not been able to so far.
Andrew’s statements resonated when we met with another student, Shawn, on our last night in Beijing. Sitting at a traditional hot pot restaurant, Shawn used his PDA to translate the names of the foods in front of us and the conversation quickly drifted to his business and his future plans. As a small business owner—manufacturer of the same PDA/scanner/RFID reader device he used to translate for us—he considered himself successful and ahead of many of his classmates. But when speaking about the future, a clear desire to leave China and come to the US was presented. He told us he saw many more opportunities for himself, his business, and his family outside of China. A sadness was present in his voice when discussing how because of government policies, he was not able to easily travel outside of China and how a Chinese national needs a visa to even visit Hong Kong.
The government is currently able to limit and restrict the exposure of Chinese nationals to the outside world, but this is something that will soon change. With the support of education, specifically emphasized on international business, more individuals will be able to be exposed to the Western world and will eventually demand more from their government. So, will China become a world leader? In economic terms, China already is a world power and is at the head of the pack. But socially, China faces a long windy path. And while currently it is headed in the right direction, inter-China problems must be faced directly and resolved before outsiders will view it with respect and admiration.
No one can doubt the raise of China’s power, yet major social changes are occurring within the country and the Chinese people that the government needs to be aware of and capitalize on. The fact that the Chinese government is an all-powerful body shows that they have the power to control some the challenging situations occurring. The fact that the government strives to maintain social peace instead of striving to sustain the peace by addressing certain issues as human rights, shows that perhaps despite all their success, perhaps China isn’t’ ready to be a Global Leader. Especially with the shift from collectivism to individualism as well as the westernization of education and business, the need for sustainable changes is more prevalent now than ever. China continues to be a leader in the field of technology, science, math and engineering. However leaders need to be able to think “outside the box” with creative thinking, which is not always encouraged in China. China, we believe, will get there in the future, but they have a long way to go before they can set the international standard instead of following international standards.