Monday, December 31, 2007

The Superpower Debate

The media keeps hyping China up as the next superpower.

Of course it all depends on what your definition of superpower is.

If you look at China in terms of its economic strength, then it is, with its hundreds of trillions of US treasury bills. But if you're looking towards it as a country that will lead the world in politics, economics, society and military, then the Middle Kingdom falls short -- way short.

China is the world's factory. It manufactures practically everything from clothing and toys to computers and cars.

Its millions of people are employed in hundreds of thousands of factories, producing these goods, day after day.

These people are not asked for their input in the production process, or if they have suggestions on how to improve on the product. They are just told to make them as fast as they can so they can be paid per piece.

Management in China is very much top-down. Bosses bark orders down to their underlings who execute them. In many state-run companies, completing tasks at a high standard is not put into consideration -- staff only care about finishing their assignment rather than doing it well.

And bosses feel entitled to bark orders because of their titles and also because their salaries are so many more times than those of their staff. And by the same token, these underlings don't make enough every month to care too much; they just want to get the job done so that they can get their measly salary to survive.

There isn't much chance of those at the bottom to rise higher in salary or position, so these underlings are resigned to their fate and have little motivation for self-improvement, or acquire more knowledge or skills to get a better job.

At the management level, executives are battling each other for supremacy in office politics. They keep information to themselves, which results in little cooperation and creative thinking. Most of the time companies are stagnant or don't demonstrate much progress unless the big boss orders something to be done.

And every boss has a boss above them. No one ever knows who the big cheese really is.

In the 17th National Party Congress this October, President Hu Jintao said he wants China to move ahead -- through innovation.

Hu is thinking in the right direction, but getting 1.3 billion people on the same page will be a challenge to say the least.

Currently there are more and more young people graduating from university. This is great, but there aren't enough jobs for educated people.

Companies need to innovate, think outside the box. But when most of them are run with top-down management, success completely depends on the boss rather than the minds of many.

Also, the education system is such that students are spoon-fed information so the only way to get through with flying colours is to memorize rather than question. Pupils are not encouraged to think critically, to wonder or have different ideas.

Even the lucky some who have studied abroad don't seem to have picked up much Western thinking, like freedom of speech, free press or healthy criticism. They just learn what they were sent there for and come back. Even their English is hardly better than someone who has never left the country.

These observations bring on a conclusion that China is far from reaching the possibility of becoming a superpower anytime soon. If and when the country opens up more and encourages its people to think beyond the box will China develop and follow the path of Japan, Taiwan and Korea.

For now it will grab as much money as it can, supplying goods for the rest of the world.

Perhaps China thinks money will help it sort out its problems. But it will soon learn that money doesn't buy happiness.

1 comment:

ks said...

money cannot buy happiness, but no money sure will cause grief. it is nothing short of a miracle that china has reached the state it is in now. for thousands of years under a feudal and self imposed closed system china has been isolated from the rest of the world. with openning trade past two decades china has waken up all of a sudden. people realised the power of money. and commercialsm breeds imperialism. with the recent economic growth china is the envy of the world. it is the u.s. that has a chronic fear of china . it is their shadow enemy. but china has never tried to dominate over other countries. it is still a long way for china to become self sufficient let alone being a super power. so the u.s. fear is unfounded.