I talk to people from European diplomatic circles fairly often, and one thing you hear pretty regularly is that European politicians hate the fact that the Chinese take Americans more seriously. Particularly in the context of the strategic economic dialogues – Europe may account for more trade with China than the US does, but China pulls out all the stops when American officials are in town, while it largely forgets about officials from the European Union.
The European Council on Foreign Relations just put together a policy brief, which – while I disagree with the assessment of China’s internal situation – is one of the best things I’ve seen put out recently on “engaging China.”
If you asked an educated American to identify Norman Borlaug — the Nobel Prize winning agronomist whose hybrid wheat doubled food production in Pakistan, India and Mexico among other places — the chances are you’d get an empty stare. The Atlantic dubbed him in 1997 “the forgotten benefactor of humanity”. On the other hand, the name Yuan Longping — who created a hybrid rice variety 30% more efficient than normal rice, and which now accounts for 20% of world production — is close to venerated in China, recently named China’s greatest businessman by a Sohu poll, often named as the Chinese person most deserving of a Nobel Peace Prize, and he was dubbed last April by China Social Sciences press with the somewhat bizarre title “China’s Richest Soul.”
Next year will be the first year that China will have a larger urban population than a rural population. In comparison America’s urban population surpassed its rural population in 1920, by 1850 England’s urban population was already at 44%. Historically speaking China should be at the point where its labor surplus is at its peak – it should still have a young population for at least the next 20 years, and land holdings are still relatively small for efficient farming, giving plenty of energy to continue pushing China’s manufacturing boom.