For good and for ill, we now live in the China century. China dominates the global discussion on various issues, from Covid-19 to super-scale infrastructure projects and international finance. It has been for four decades the manufacturing hub of the world.
China is proof of the Marxian thesis of the significance of the economy. Karl Marx declared that the economic conditions of man determine his every other state, being how he organises society and the impact that organisation has on every other thing. Economics and the deployment of the fruits also contribute to the determination of state power.
Africa is in hock to China as that country continues to pursue an extreme form of economic determinism. Nigeria is among leading African countries steadily and surely hocking its sovereignty to the Chinese economic might. Under President Buhari, there is a race to take on as many Chinese loans as possible and pile up debts for Nigeria.
However, we must go beyond loans in discussing China in Nigeria. We should be more interested in China’s trajectory and development path. I am yet to see our love of China revolve around the critical lessons from its choices and directions.
In December 2019, United States scholar Kimberly Amadeo noted, “China’s economy has enjoyed 30 years of explosive growth, making it the world’s largest. Its success was based on a mixed economy that incorporated limited capitalism within a command economy. The Chinese government’s spending has been a significant driver of its growth.
“China’s economy is measured by its gross domestic product. In 2017, growth was $23.12 trillion, the largest in the world.1 That’s 6.8% more than in 2016. China’s GDP grew at 6.5% year-over-year in the third quarter of 2018. China’s growth rate has slowed since the double-digit rates before 2013. Its economy grew 7.8% in 2013, 7.3% in 2014, 6.9% in 2015, and 6.7% in 2016.”
Please note the following. “China fuelled its former spectacular growth with massive government spending. The government owns strategically important companies that dominate their industries. It controls the big three energy companies: PetroChina, Sinopec, and CNOOC. They are less profitable than private firms and return only 4.9% on assets compared to 13.2%. But government ownership allowed China to direct the companies to high-priority projects.
“China requires several things of foreign companies who want to sell to the Chinese population. They must open factories to employ Chinese workers. They must share their technology. Chinese companies use this knowledge to make the products themselves.”
China focused on education, research, and innovation. One image sticks out from a trip to the Summer School of Birmingham City University in 2018. Students from China outnumbered the combined total of others from nine countries. They came to study and research all manner of disciplines. Chinese students constitute a growing and significant population of graduate schools worldwide, so much that former US President Donald Trump tried to restrict their numbers.
“Research and development (R&D) is the backbone of innovation. It supports the development of new products and services, which can boost growth and productivity. In recent decades, China has increasingly prioritised R&D, spending as a per cent of GDP rising from 0.72 per cent in 1991 to 2.13 per cent in 2017. Although this is less than the OECD average of 2.37 per cent, the immense size of China’s economy means that its R&D expenditure is now second only to the United States at $442.7 billion (in 2010 USD).
“Triadic patents are difficult to obtain but generally generate more revenue than other patent types. In 2016, China was the fourth largest contributor to triadic patents at 6.9 per cent, behind Japan (31.0 per cent), the United States (25.4 per cent), and Germany (8.1 per cent).”
Experts conceive of State power at three levels: (1) resources or capabilities, or power-in-being; (2) how they convert that power through national processes; (3) and power in outcomes, or which state prevails in specific situations. How a nation converts its capabilities into positive outcomes is the actual test of state power. The elements are national ethos, politics, and social cohesion. The outcomes a country generates depends on “power for what, and against whom”.
The Strategic Assessment Group is one of those institutions analysing and pronouncing on state power. The main categories of capabilities in the Strategic Assessments Group assessment of capacity are gross domestic product (GDP), population, defence spending, and a less specific factor capturing innovation in technology. In the SAG estimate, the United States is first but hardly the only power. The United States holds about 20 per cent of total global power and the European Union (EU) (considered a unified actor), and China about 14 per cent each. India holds about 9 per cent; Brazil, South Korea, and Russia have about 2 per cent each.
The World Bank has shown in its 2006 publication Where is the Wealth of Nations that human capital is the most strategic asset of countries. The authors submit, “The estimates of total wealth–including produced, natural, and human and institutional capital–suggest that human capital and the value of institutions (as measured by the rule of law) constitute the largest share of wealth in virtually all countries. It is striking that natural capital constitutes a quarter of total wealth in low-income countries, greater than the share of produced capital. This suggests that better management of ecosystems and natural resources will be key to sustaining development while these countries build their infrastructure and human and institutional capital.”.
Note the critical indices identified by the World Bank. They are produced, natural, human, and institutional capital as well as the rule of law. They note that while natural resources are essential, they are not as significant as produced capital from human and institutional factors.
What are we spending on R&D? What are we doing with education distinct from the charade of each head of our military arms setting up the university’s bureaucracy in their hometowns without the spirit and ethos of that universal crucible of knowledge?
Is anyone or group in the Federal Government, such as the Ministry of National Planning, understudying the Chinese? What strategies inform our engagement with them?
What are we learning from China, given our current romance with them?