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The Economist looks at what the rise of China means for its neighboursnews
29 March 2007

New Delhi: A special report in The Economist this week looks at the rise of China as it begins to reach out to the world, starting with its neighbours in Asia. The report looks at China''s influence in the Asia-Pacific region, and concludes that it will be many years before it emerges as the single dominant power in Asia.

It notes that certain countries in Asia are already seeking to balance China''s rise, whilst at the same time looking to the US to remain a powerful presence.

For the past several years China''s rise as an economic power has brought forth a special report from The Economist almost every year. These reports have focussed on China''s domestic transformation, and the challenges that come with it. With a breakneck rate of economic growth creating prosperity, this special report does not ignore those issues. But its main focus is China''s impact on the region — for Asia is changing, and China is the chief cause of that change.

The report examines how, until now, the world has come to China, but now China is going out to the world — a process that has begun with the countries in its immediate vicinity. It points out that China''s imperative is to secure the peace and prosperity around its borders that is necessary for its own peaceful development at home.

At the same time, securing the resources that fuel the Chinese industrial revolution also necessitates good neighbourly relations. Where once China''s diplomacy was narrow, prickly and suspicious, it has since become omni-directional. The past few years have seen not just a sharp improvement in bilateral ties with most of its neighbours, but also an unequivocal commitment by China to the kind of multilateralism of which it was once deeply suspicious, The Economist observes.

The Economist report also asserts that Asian neighbours cannot ignore China''s economic rise. This year or next, China''s annual exports will top $1 trillion for the first time. China''s imports, according to the World Bank, will grow more than America''s this year, becoming the biggest source of import growth in the world. While the 10 ASEAN countries have seen record foreign direct investment, "much investment outside China is in fact contingent on the China boom" the report observes.

Conversely, it notes that China''s rise also represents a vast environmental threat, both to itself and the region. A logging ban in China has led to forest stripping in West Africa, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Cambodia. China is already the world''s biggest emitter of sulphur dioxide, and will in 2009 overtake the United States as the biggest source of greenhouse gases, the report continues. Acknowledging this, China has committed to reducing its energy intensity by 20 per cent.

The report also asserts that there exists an uncertainty at the heart of China''s rise. China''s long-term intentions about what to do with its power remain ambiguous. For example, growth in the military budget may reflect China''s growing prestige, desire to protect its shipments of oil and other commodities, and deter Taiwan from declaring independence.

The report also poses the question why China built roads, ports and pipelines in Myanmar and Pakistan, connecting West and South West China with the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean. They may serve to help develop China''s poorer regions or one day serve to bring supplies to China''s blue-water navy.

The special report argues that doubts about China''s intentions stem less from its actions overseas than from the domestic front. China is wracked by problems of social inequality, environmental damage and government corruption.

China''s authoritarian mode of government stands at odds with a region that is feeling its way, however imperfectly, towards more accountable forms of government: the rule of law, democracy, human rights. At the very least, across much of Asia, these values stand in quiet opposition to China''s, concludes the report.

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The Economist looks at what the rise of China means for its neighbours