Eight Ways China is Changing Our World

As China’s Communist Party meets next week to pick the leaders who will oversee the party for the next decade, the world may not realize how much of its fate will lie in their hands.

The BBC broke down the ways China will impact the world in an insightful piece called “Eight Ways China is Changing Your World.” It looked at eight different arenas in which China’s emergence will have a big impact on the entire planet.

1. Having grown to the world’s second largest economy, China could be challenging the U.S. for the top spot over the next decade. Cheap Chinese labor has transformed the world economy and severely affected workers in the U.S. and Europe. With China’s growing focus on investments in Africa, it will soon become more influential on the African continent than the U.S. and Europe. And as the biggest holder of U.S. government debt, China could wield significant influence over the U.S.’s economic fortunes if it so chooses. China’s new growth is going to create the world’s biggest middle class, which will be seeking to enjoy comforts like cars and air conditioning, deeply hurting the environment.

2. China became the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in 2007, overtaking the U.S., but the Chinese don’t appear to be that concerned about environmental reform. This could have a huge impact on the health of the planet. Seven of the world’s most polluted cities are in China, causing 500,000 to 750,000 premature deaths each year. China’s lead and mercury pollution is also moving into other countries in Asia and across the Pacific to the West Coast of the U.S.

China must be central to any future agreements on climate change, but already its leaders have refused to limit greenhouse emissions. Since China relies on coal for up to 70 percent of its energy needs, emissions will continue to rise to dangerous levels.

3. A rising interest in Chinese culture and language will result in more people around the world trying to speak Mandarin. To capitalize, the Chinese government has set up hundreds of Confucius Institutes around the world, which spreads the brand. But experts believe Chinese is too hard to master to challenge English as the global language anytime soon.

4. With the world’s largest army at 3 million and increasing military expenditures, China has the ability to make the entire world nervous when it looks like it is flexing its military muscle, such as in recent territorial disputes with Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam, and simmering tensions with the U.S. But Chinese leaders say the world shouldn’t be nervous.

“Every country has to defend its security and territorial interests, but it doesn’t mean we have to become aggressive, that way you can alienate even your friends,” Wu Jianmin, former ambassador to France, told the BBC.
5. Though 150 million of its people still live on $1 a day or less, China is putting huge sums into space exploration. It is already sent an unmanned craft to the moon and plans to land its first probe there next year—and the government is talking about soon putting humans on the moon. Yes, the U.S. got there first, a long time ago, but China wants to catch up.
6. The Chinese appetite for endangered species and for meat is having a huge impact on the rest of the world. The Chinese are blamed for widespread poaching of endangered species for use as aphrodisiacs, ornaments or to put in soup, and thousands of African elephants are killed each year for their ivory, which Chinese carvers prize. And then there’s pork. China is now home to 460 million pigs, half the world’s total, and to feed them Chinese farmers must import up to 60 percent of the world’s soybean exports—driving up everyone’s food prices and also having an environmental impact. Experts say food prices will stay high for the long-term as China must feed 21 percent of the world’s population with 9 percent of its cultivated land—which will force the Chinese to continue buying up overseas land.

7. Chinese tourists are now third in the world, behind Germany and the U.S., as 70 million Chinese traveled overseas in 2011—compared to 4.5 million in 1995. Those numbers will only rise—and the Chinese are increasingly venturing outside of Hong Kong, Macau and Thailand to the U.S. and Europe. In addition, more Chinese students are studying abroad, primarily in the U.S. and Australia.

8. Chinese wealth is transforming the world market for luxury goods like wine and Louis Vuitton and has driven up the price of commodities like copper, which is needed to outfit China’s rapidly growing cities and infrastructure. There has been a big spike in the sale of Chinese art. Three of the 10 most expensive paintings sold in 2011 were by Chinese artists, including the most expensive, a $57.2m work by Qi Baishi.

As China begins to look for new markets overseas in areas like telecommunications and energy, look for increasing friction with the U.S.


Back to top