President Xi Jin Ping warned against “an obsession with the GDP.” He believes that growing wealth—which is represented by GDP in his exquisitely economic version—needs to be balanced, qualitative, and smooth. He knows that an inflection in the annual rhythm—between 7 and 10%—favors stability, shines a light of maturity on the markets, and avoids the risk of breakaways. It’s one of the battles that he’s waging against the preceding administration’s slags. The arrests have been clamorous for corruption, but in the search for balance the criticisms appear more theoretical.
Yet, even Xi must have exalted like all the other Chinese when the International Monetary Fund published its latest bulletin. The rankings certified that the Chinese GDP had exceeded the United States’, concluding an epochal chase. The enthusiasm was justified, albeit symbolic. The overtaking was calculated with values at purchasing power parity. It’s the first chapter; the other 2 more important chapters will occur when the GDP is larger in absolute terms (within a decade) and especially when its per capita value reaches the US’ (not in the near future). Only then will China be absolutely the richest country in the world (on par with small states like Luxembourg, Qatar, and Singapore who enjoy particular situations).
In any case, the IMF’s announcement gave life to Chinese nationalist trumpets that insist on the population’s virtues that can be converted into economic successes. Concepts of saving, frugality, sacrifice, and respecting the community are reemerging in headlines. They are the strongholds of Chinese culture, the values that characterize it.
The West is the land of technological progress, not moral or cultural. From this point of view, China’s conviction is equally entrenched as Europe’s or North America’s. Washington, London, and Berlin are the capitals of military, cultural, and industrial supremacy. When these competencies are diffused—as it happens in globalization—ancient Chinese values prevail: surpassing the GDP is only the first example. While other countries seem to languish in managing their declines—indulging in consumption and increasing public debt—China proceeds with work and savings.
These observations seem to forget that even the specialization of labor is anthropological, and that technological inventions are cultural. You can be a big spender in shopping centers and finance the best universities in the world. If you deny these truths, which frequently happens in the Chinese press, you run the risk of duplicating arrogance, not defeating it. There were both inventions and suffering behind America’s big industries in the ‘30s. The lifestyle that ensued was next; a service society supplanted but did not eliminate manufacturing.
Xi Jin Ping knows these paths better than those singing Chinese nationalist songs. For this reason he is endeavoring to transform China. He knows that his country still has margins to improve. When he has his Silicon Valley, he’ll stop making shoes and t-shirts.