To Mark Steyn, the notion of a Chinese Century that would replace the American Century of 1900-2000 is a pipe dream of the anti-American Left and the ignorant. Why? Because the Chinese system is rotted at its core:
What we're seeing is . . . a cunning simulation of external wealth and power that is, in fact, a forbidding false front for a state that remains a squalid hovel. . .
On the one hand, there's the China the world gushes over - the economic powerhouse that makes just about everything in your house. On the other, there's the largely unreconstructed official China - a regime that, while no longer as zealously ideological as it once was, nevertheless clings to the old techniques beloved of paranoid totalitarianism: lie and bluster in public, arrest and torture in private.
Thus, the fundamental underpinnings of China's economic system are threatened by its totalitarian government:
The internal contradictions of Commie-capitalism will, in the end, scupper the present arrangements in Beijing. China manufactures the products for some of the biggest brands in the world, but it's also the biggest thief of copyrights and patents of those same brands. It makes almost all Disney's official merchandising, yet it's also the country that defrauds Disney and pirates its movies. The new China's contempt for the concept of intellectual property arises from the old China's contempt for the concept of all private property: because most big Chinese businesses are (in one form or another) government-controlled, they've failed to understand the link between property rights and economic development.
China hasn't invented or discovered anything of significance in half a millennium, but the careless assumption that intellectual property is something to be stolen rather than protected shows why. If you're a resource-poor nation (as China is), long-term prosperity comes from liberating the creative energies of your people - and Beijing still has no interest in that. . .
* * *
India, by contrast, with much less ballyhoo, is advancing faster than China toward a fully-developed economy - one that creates its own ideas. Small example: there are low-fare airlines that sell £40 one-way cross-country air tickets from computer screens at Indian petrol stations. No one would develop such a system for China, where internal travel is still tightly controlled by the state. But, because they respect their own people as a market, Indian businesses are already proving nimbler at serving other markets. The return on investment capital is already much better in India than in China.
I said a while back that China was a better bet for the future than Russia or the European Union. Which is damning with faint praise: trapped in a demographic death spiral, Russia and Europe have no future at all. But that doesn't mean China will bestride the scene as a geopolitical colossus. When European analysts coo about a "Chinese century", all they mean is "Oh, God, please, anything other than a second American century". But wishing won't make it so.
China won't advance to the First World with its present borders intact. In a billion-strong state with an 80 per cent rural population cut off from the coastal boom and prevented from participating in it, "One country, two systems" will lead to two or three countries, three or four systems. The 21st century will be an Anglosphere century, with America, India and Australia leading the way. Anti-Americans betting on Beijing will find the China shop is in the end mostly a lot of bull.