It has been 40 years since China launched its economic reform program. Forty years ago today in 1978, then Chinese Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping chose to transform China's economy from state ownership to capitalism. The transition has borne much fruit so far. China’s gross domestic product (GDP) has soared by 80 times from 150 billion U.S. dollars to 12 trillion dollars, overtaking all countries in the world except for the U.S. China has the biggest number of millionaires in the world and the number of people suffering from extreme poverty dropped to less than 1 percent of its population.
Decisions made by China have greatly affected us as well. The Korean economy might not have gotten a chance to grow if Communist China's founding father Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution had not delayed China’s reform during the 10 years until Mao Zedong died in 1976. By the time China launched its economic reform, Korea was already on track for fast development. Technological gap between Korea and China has helped Korea become the largest exporter of components to China, which has emerged as the world’s factory.
The atmosphere has changed since 2010, when China overtook Japan to become the world’s second largest economy. After China’s economic retaliation against Korea over the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), people began to worry that depending too much on the Chinese market could put us at risk. Recent moves led by the U.S. to keep Huawei in check shows that China is challenging the U.S. not only in trade but also in technology.
Instead of taking a wait-and-see approach, Chinese President Xi Jinping is flexing its military muscle to compete against the U.S., raising concerns for the “Thucydides Trap,” where a rising power threatens to displace the supremacy of an established power. A clash between the U.S. and China would affect East Asian countries the most. The future of Korea’s security depends on striking a balance between acknowledging the U.S.’s role and setting an appropriate position for China.
After the end of World War I, the U.S. led the 20th century by introducing the new principles of national self-determination and collective security. Historically, China’s neighboring countries suffered when China flourished. Sinocentrism lacks awareness about maintaining good and equal relations with neighboring countries. Does rise of China giving hopes to its neighboring countries and to the world? China should take its 40th anniversary of reform as an opportunity to look back on itself.