[Editor's note: "Illustration by Jon Berkeley with apologies to Steinberg and The New Yorker". Map illustration shows China's world view / mental map with Tiananmen Square central, the US in the distance, and Europe but a spec on the horizon. This mental map is a good example of a network topology based projection.]
Republished from the March 21st, 2009 print edition of The Economist.
And how the world should see China
IT IS an ill wind that blows no one any good. For many in China even the buffeting by the gale that has hit the global economy has a bracing message. The rise of China over the past three decades has been astonishing. But it has lacked the one feature it needed fully to satisfy the ultranationalist fringe: an accompanying decline of the West. Now capitalism is in a funk in its heartlands. Europe and Japan, embroiled in the deepest post-war recession, are barely worth consideration as rivals. America, the superpower, has passed its peak. Although in public China’s leaders eschew triumphalism, there is a sense in Beijing that the reassertion of the Middle Kingdom’s global ascendancy is at hand (see article).
China’s prime minister, Wen Jiabao, no longer sticks to the script that China is a humble player in world affairs that wants to focus on its own economic development. He talks of China as a “great power” and worries about America’s profligate spending endangering his $1 trillion nest egg there. Incautious remarks by the new American treasury secretary about China manipulating its currency were dismissed as ridiculous; a duly penitent Hillary Clinton was welcomed in Beijing, but as an equal. This month saw an apparent attempt to engineer a low-level naval confrontation with an American spy ship in the South China Sea. Yet at least the Americans get noticed. Europe, that speck on the horizon, is ignored: an EU summit was cancelled and France is still blacklisted because Nicolas Sarkozy dared to meet the Dalai Lama.