A tough year but China emerges with reputation enhanced

2020-12-31 12:05:40

2020 is not an easy year to reflect back on but few outside of world wars have resulted in this scale of global upheaval. The biggest pandemic for more than a century has so far resulted in 1.7 million deaths and has cost the global economy $6 trillion, according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research, a London-based consultancy in its World Economic League Table annual survey published over the Christmas period. Much has been written this year about how China and other East Asian countries and economies have dealt with the outbreak better than their Western counterparts, but now there is hard economic evidence of it. China, which has managed to control the virus in a country with 1.4 billion people, is the only major world economy expected to grow this year while the world as a whole will contract by 4.4 percent. According to the Cebr, it means that China is on track to become the world's largest economy in 2028, five years ahead of its 2019 forecast. It is also expected to join the high-income club of countries by 2023 well within the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) period. Douglas McWilliams, deputy chairman and founder of the Cebr, said the year was one of reckoning for the West. "We in the West need to be more aware of Asia. One lesson for Western policymakers, who have performed relatively badly during the pandemic, is that they need to pay much more attention to what is happening in Asia rather than simply looking at each other," he said. Some have gone further and believe the year will be seen by future historians as a major turning point in world history. Martin Jacques, the academic and author of When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a new Global Order, believes 2020 will be seen as the year of "The Great Transition". "China has performed brilliantly. The world was already familiar with China's economic competence. Now they know that China's governance can cope with the greatest of challenges. 2020 is the year when the world will come to recognize China as the new global leader," he told me. Adrian Wooldridge, the political editor of The Economist magazine, believes the pandemic has exposed major weaknesses in the way the West is governed. When I interviewed him about his new book, The Wake-up Call: Why the Pandemic has Exposed the Weakness of the West-and How to Fix It, written with John Micklethwait, in September, he said the West had forgotten why it had dominated the world for three centuries. He argued that it had become obsessed with populist and quack solutions to very real problems. "There's been an enormous amount of quackery, blaming everything on immigrants and the greediness of the elite rather than on structural problems within the system," he said. He argued it needed to learn from China and other Asian countries like Singapore in attracting the very brightest into government and also using the latest technology to deliver government services. "There are five times as many people in the tech bits of the public sector (in the US) who are over 50 than under 30 since everyone now gravitates toward Google and Facebook," he said. Wooldridge is not, however, advocating the West adopts China's system of government and neither is China. While China has passed an important test this year in its handling of the pandemic, its leadership remains determined to improve how the government machine operates. This was made clear at the Fourth Plenary Session of the 19th Communist Party of China Central Committee, which concluded in October 2019. Next year, of course, is an important year with the CPC marking its 100th anniversary. Kishore Mahbubani, distinguished fellow at the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore and the author of Has China Won? believes the results of China's progress is there for everyone to see. "If anyone had dared to predict in 1921 that by 2021, China would become one of the two most powerful countries in the world-and also just to have experienced the best four decades in 5,000 years of history-such a prediction would have been described as foolhardy and impossible," he said. He said that, clearly, the Chinese people have made enormous progress under the leadership of the CPC. "This big fact cannot be denied by anybody."