The Myth of Chinese Power

September 28, 1999

Hype and hyperbole are already building for the 50th anniversary of the Chinese communist revolution. Fortunately, sane voices are reminding us how devastating communism can be to a country.

One of those voices is Gerald Segal at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. His recent essay in Newsweek magazine reminds us what 50 years of communist rule in China has wrought. "It led to the deaths of 30 million in the Great Leap Forward and ruined a generation in the Cultural Revolution. Only since the Chinese communists began to trade Marxism for the market in the 1980s has China begun to climb out of its historical role."

But the most remarkable feat of the Chinese has been to convince the rest of the world that it has been a success story. It has not. China is home to a fifth of the poorest of humankind and is overrated as a market and economic power.

Consider the history of China. In 1800, China accounted for 33 percent of the world manufacturing output. By way of comparison, all of Europe only accounted for 28 percent and the United States accounted for less than 1 percent. By 1900, China was down to 6.2 percent, while Europe was 62 percent, and the United States was 23.6 percent. Today China accounts for only 3.5 percent of world output, while the U.S. is 25.6 percent.

China's economy ranked seventh in the world, ahead of Brazil and behind Italy. But if you look at per-capital GDP, China ranks 81st (behind Papua New Guinea). Even if you look at purchasing-power-parity, China ranks 65th (just ahead of Jamaica).

While it is true that China does pose a threat, Gerald Segal reminds us that the political influence and economic power of China may be significantly overrated.

I'm Kerby Anderson of Probe Ministries, and that's my opinion.