Brad DeLong on trade, inequality, and China

Brad DeLong makes some very interesting points:


One of them, however, looks debatable:

There is a good chance that China is now on the same path to world preeminence that America walked 130 years ago. Come 2047 and again in 2071 and in the years after 2075, America is going to need China.

Personally, I have serious doubts about the first part. Judging by what little is visible to an outside (and linguistically impaired to boot) observer, China expends more resources on keeping itself a single country than it does on any sort of outward expansion, and has been doing so at least since late 1970s, when its forays into Vietnam were abruptly halted. Perhaps a better way to say it would be that China is now on the same path to world preeminence that Europe walked around 1500? But China is not fragmented enough for that; it is entirely possible that Britain became the superpower only because in many places its rule was considered a lesser evil than that of France or Spain. Who would play France and Spain to China’s Britain? But then, who says there will be a China in 2047 and again in 2071?

Historically, China consolidated either in response to external threats or after losing to external threats (in which case it was the foreign invaders that did the consolidating). Let’s take a quick look on the last 1,000 years of the Chinese history:

  • Most of the 10th century was a period of what today is called Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms; the imperial (northern) China rapidly cycled through five dynasties, while the rest of China was divided into ten independent kingdoms.
  • By 1000, the Song Dynasty gained control over a large part of China, while the Liao Dynasty ruled in Manchuria and eastern Mongolia, to be supplanted by the Jin Dynasty around 1115. Around 1030, the Western Xia dynasty emerged and eventually took away much of Song Dynasty’s possessions, including their capital city of Kaifeng, so the Song (from then on referred to as Southern Song) Dynasty capital was moved to Hangzhou.
  • By 1271, after a lengthy Mongolian invasion, most of China was under the rule of the Yuan Dynasty founded by Kublai Khan.
  • By 1368, the Mongols, resented by much of Chinese population, were replaced by the Ming Dynasty, which proceeded to repair and expand the Great Wall to protect China from the northern invaders.
  • In 1616, the Manchus invaded and by 1644 completely defeated the Ming Dynasty, banned Chinese style in clothing and hair requiring Manchu styles instead, and ruled China as the Qing Dynasty until the 20th century.

I would guess that before China feels secure enough to pursue world preeminence, there will be people in China feeling secure enough to challenge Beijing’s preeminence. And when that happens, one of China’s successor states may indeed end up being preeminent through competition with the rest, just as Britain became preeminent through competition with France and Spain…

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Later same day:  In today’s issue, The New York Times reported large-scale violent protests in Tibet.

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According to the report, Chinese security forces initially withdrew, letting the protesters (and looters of Chinese-owned stores) run free, but returned 24 hours later for a massive crackdown.  The Chinese news media, which initially had not been allowed to cover the Lhasa violence, began to show footage of Tibetan uprising, but, predictably, not of the subsequent crackdown…

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