An earlier article in this website “An Assessment of America’s Future” pointed out that there are fundamental problems facing the U.S. Unless the American government and citizens acknowledge the existence of these fundamental problems and are courageous to address seriously the root causes of these problems, the U.S. will no longer continue to be the richest and most powerful country in the world. This however does not necessarily mean, as some people concluded, that China will replace the U.S. as the richest and most powerful country in the world, because in many respects there are still large gaps between the U.S. and China, and more importantly, China also needs to solve its own problems. This article provides an assessment of China’s future.
First, I want to point out that there are two polarizing camps in assessing China. One camp thinks that China is a completely dictatorial country that internally treats its citizens with disdain and callousness, and externally treats its neighbors and other countries with aggression and unfairness. Another camp thinks that China’s various shortcomings are just minor transitional problems from a country transforming itself from a semi-feudal rural society to a modernized industrialized society. I first discuss the assessment of these two camps which I loosely called the “Essentially Totally Negative Camp” and the “Essentially Totally Positive Camp,” and then discuss the major problems that China must address and overcome if it wants to become a rich and powerful country.
“Essentially Totally Negative Camp”: This camp depicts China as a country with a government that ignores the needs and wishes of its citizens, with the welfare of its people far from the minds of the leaders making the decisions. The reality is that China before 1949 was even backward compared with other Asian countries and was known as the “Sick Man of Asia.” Since 1949 it has achieved not only national unity and independence, but during the last 60+ years it has achieved the highest rate of growth of any major economy in the world. Furthermore, this progress was not made in just the last 30 years. For example, the life expectancy of its people was already raised from 35 years in 1949 to 68 years in 1980 . In addition, in spite of major mistakes such as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, it was during the first 30 years that the essential foundation of China’s industrial revolution was laid. Land reform, introduced shortly after the 1949 revolution, eliminated the thousand-year gentry-landlord ruling class. This not only provided land to the poor rural population, it laid the foundation to channel the agrarian surplus (i.e., the fruits of labor of the rural population) to financing state-sponsored industrialization. 
This camp also depicts China to have invaded Tibet and destroyed the livelihood of a minority. The reality is that Tibet has been part of China since the Yuan Dynasty more than 700 years ago, and Tibet before 1949 was a theocratic, semi-feudal, and semi-slave society in which the very small ruling class of landlords and religious leaders (who were also the largest landlords) ruled over the very large class of serfs and slaves, with essentially little educational opportunity for the overwhelming majority of the people. Furthermore, it is a well-documented historical fact that many Dalai Lama’s or Dalai Lama candidates died at a very young age due to poisons or outright murders by other scheming, power-hungry, competing religious leaders. These were the types of religious leaders of the “Shangri-La” society often depicted as pre-1949 Tibet by Western movie stars, media, and government leaders. The reality is that Tibetans are no longer serfs or slaves to the landowners and religious leaders; their life expectancy has more than double; they have much better healthcare, educational, and job opportunities.  It is important to remind ourselves of the United Nations’ 1948 “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” that proclaimed that all people were entitled to enjoy a decent standard of living, have access to adequate medical care, and have an opportunity for a proper education.
Externally this camp depicts China as manipulative in its currency policy and blames the U.S.’s economic problems on the trade balance between the two countries. In reality, the U.S. is a capitalist society, and capitalism seeks to maximize its profits. If it can accomplish that by going oversea to manufacture due to lower cost, then that is the capitalist road. Furthermore, it is very misleading to conclude that because a lot of the American consumer products are made in China, it is therefore losing a lot of jobs to China. What one neglects to say is that many of the components that go into the products being assembled in China came from many other countries, including the U.S., and the profits from the large differences between the retail price and the wholesale import price create jobs for Americans and end up in the pockets of American companies.  Furthermore, for a product like Apple’s iPhone, it is selling like hotcakes to the Chinese in China even though its price in China is $625 US (as compared to $500 in the U.S.). However, because the iPhone is manufactured (i.e., assembled) in China, selling the iPhone to the Chinese in China is not considered as export from the U.S. to China. If doing the trade deficit calculation properly, then one could get a much different picture of the trade deficit issue, and in some cases the trade deficit could even become a trade surplus for the U.S. relative to China!  This camp also neglects to say that by constantly printing more money, the U.S. government is essentially reducing the debt that it owes China. Instead of trying to address the root causes of the U.S.’s economic problems, it uses China as a scapegoat.
This camp also depicts China as a super aggressive country who wants to dominate and seize territories from its neighboring countries. The reality is that China has not shown any actions in any way similar to the imperialistic aggressions that many, many foreign powers have inflicted on China for the past 170 years ever since the First Opium War in 1840. With respect to disputes over territorial sovereignty on various islands in the Pacific Ocean and Southeast Asia, invariably China has good arguments to support its claims that historically these have been Chinese territories, but often due to China being weak for so long and due to interference from foreign imperialistic powers, it has left some of these territorial disputes unsettled. 
It is unfortunate not only for China, but for the long-term welfare of the U.S. and for world peace, that the U.S. mass media and government leaders have consistently, and more so recently, been firmly in this Essentially Totally Negative Camp, and have adopted a very antagonistic and confrontational attitude toward China. There is no reason to believe that the U.S. mass media and government leaders do not know better, they purposely adopt this political expediancy to deflect the public’s attention from their failed policies to using China as a scapegoat.
“Essentially Totally Positive Camp”: This camp is just the opposite of the Essentially Totally Negative Camp. When people point out about some of the bad things that have happened or are happening now in China, this camp’s advocates would invariably say that that is just a growing pain or transitional problem from China transforming itself from a semi-feudal, rural society to a modernized, industrialized society, and these problems will go away with time. For example:
- If you point out the growing gaps between the rich and the poor, this camp’s supporters would say that because China is at the initial stages of industrialization, so the pace setters are bound to reap more profits, and as industrialization becomes more widespread, then more and more people will share in the profits and the rich-poor gap will diminish.
- If you point out the poor customer service attitude of the workers in various government agencies and the enormous bureaucratic red tape and corruption that people have to endure, this camp’s supporters would say that with more education and when the older workers are replaced by future generations of workers, then these problems will improve.
- If you point out that it is essentially impossible to fight the governing structure dominated by the Communist Part at all levels even when the people or office in power is wrong, this camp’s supporters would say that with the proliferation of the web, people can gather mass support to apply pressure to the people or office in power.
- If you point out that often the laws are not clearly stated or they are not strictly enforced so that the decisions are often at the discretion of the people in power, then this camp’s supporters would say that the move to a more legalistic society takes time and it will come.
- If you point out that there is no freedom to choose where you want to live or work, this camp’s supporters would say that an individual’s welfare must be secondary to the welfare of the society as a whole.
- If you point out the inefficiency of a governing unit and there is no mechanism for you to try to change that without suffering a severe backlash for your criticism and action, this camp’s supporters would say that the system will evolve and improve with time.
- If you point out the large environmental pollutions emanating from factories, towns, and industries, this camp’s supporters would say that as industrialization matures and as people’s environmental awareness increases, then the environmental pollution problems will be reduced.
No matter what you say, even if the problems are many and large, this camp’s supporters would always have excuses to minimize the problems, and claim that the problems are just growing pain or transitional problems, and the problems will diminish with time. Although often there is some validity to their explanations, they would not admit that some of the problems may be fundamental, and these problems will not go away until some significant and fundamental changes are made.
Major Problems That China Must Address: Personally I think both the Essentially Totally Negative Camp and the Essentially Totally Positive Camp are wrong. The supporters of the Essentially Totally Negative Camp are either being blindly led, or are purposely distorting the facts due to an ulterior motive to deflect people’s attention from our current failed policies to a policy of using China as a scapegoat. The supporters of the Essentially Totally Positive Camp are too simplistic and idealistic so they have a tendency to just dismiss the problems. Although people usually can not be identified to be associated purely with one camp or another, the above categorization does have a lot of truth and can help to understand the issue at hand.
I believe that China has made enormous strides since 1949. It has achieved national unity and independence which it was not able to accomplish for over a hundred years. It has transformed China from a semi-feudal society toward a modern industrialized society. It has changed China from being “The Sick Man of Asia” to the world’s second richest country. With its large resources of intelligence and a hard working ethic in the Chinese people, China has the potential to move up the industrialized value chain from manufacturing to creative design of innovative products and processes, which it must achieve as its standard of living increases and its labor cost is no longer low comparing with some of the other countries in the world. However, for China to continue its meteoric rise and to maintain stability, it also must overcome many major problems. Below we list some of these major problems that China needs to address:
- With China’s current system, the children of many of the top government leaders have become top executives of many large private or semi-private/semi-state-owned enterprises, giving rise to huge wealth for these descendants of party leaders. It seems that the path to corporate success is to be a son or daughter of a top government leader. This phenomenon must stop. This is part of the problem of growing gaps between the rich and the poor and of corruption.
- The drive for money and power has become too dominant a theme, leaving by the roadside the drive to do good.
- A single party system with laws not always clearly stated or strictly enforced, coupled with tightly controlled mass media, makes it extremely difficult for different view points to be heard. The country must be more tolerant of dissent and opposing view points. For example, it should not be so paranoid about Falun Gong that a book on internal martial arts with the word “Qigong” in the book title is not allowed to be published. Properly addressing this issue will allow multiple competing ideas to be floated and discussed, a prerequisite for advancement. Furthermore, it can also go a long way to provide more freedom of religion and human rights protection .
- As the population ages, how can the growing number of senior citizens be supported by the shrinking working class who came mostly from single child families?
- Will the children who grew up in single child families be so pampered and spoiled that they cannot become effective team players?
- As the country drives itself to become industrialized and as people and companies drive themselves to maximize profits, very often corners are cut with respect to environmental protection, potentially leaving behind huge problems for future generations to solve.
- How can the country’s political, legal, social, and educational infrastructure transform to support the many changes as a result of solving the above problems?
The above list is by no means exhaustive. But it is clear that the problems are many and large. The solutions may not be those that have been adopted in the West, but could be solutions tailored to the historical, social, and cultural environment of China. However, it will require a determined effort at all levels of the government and its citizens to address these issues. How these issues are addressed will determine the fate of China.
 For more information on this, read this website’s article “A Discussion of China’s Population Control Policy and Issues.”
 For an elaboration on this point, read the article “The Significance of the Chinese Revolution in World History” by Professor Maurice Meisner of “The London School of Economics and Political Science.”
 For a more detailed discussion of Tibet, read this website’s article “Some Thoughts on Tibet.”
 For a more detailed discussion of one such dispute, read this website’s article “Diao Yu Tai Student Movement: Recollection 40 Years Later.”
 For more detailed explanation of this important and seldom mentioned point using Apple’s iPhone as an example, read the article “How the iPhone Widens the US Trade Deficit with China.”
 For an explanation of this even less seldom known fact, read the article “Apple’s China Sales Show Why US Trade Warriors Are Wrong.”
 This is not to say that Falun Gong is purely a religious issue and is devoid of ulterior motive.