China has rapidly grown both economically and militarily in the last 20 years. Decades of double-digit growth has propelled China to being the second largest economy in the world and is on track to become the largest overtaking the US.
What helped China attain this high economic growth, advancement in science and technology, creation of a military industrial complex which has reached such advances that China built its own fifth generation fighter aircraft? The answer lies in Chinese smartness and Western greed.
Before 1979 when china started embracing capitalism with Chinese communism traits, it was a backward third world country just like india which under Mao saw the great leap forward which actually resulted in 45 million dead due to hunger. Early seventies saw the US under the Nixon regime develop relations with China with an eye on the Soviet and use it as a counter weight. The Chinese realized the benefit of such a move and quickly embraced the US leading to the US diplomatic relations with China and a shift from its recognition of Taiwan as the real China to Beijing. Though it was a communist country, China saw a pretty peaceful cold war as the US thought it had a friend in China. The US probably didn’t benefit immensely from its relations with China as China continued its support to North Vietnam and North Korea.
The US directly invested in wide range of manufacturing sector in China, created joint ventures and also contract ventures which led to substantial transfer of industrial know how to the Chinese. American multinational corporation quickly moved manufacturing out of the US to China to cut its costs and maximize profits and today it is fully depended on Chinese manufacturing for even its basic needs. The Chinese were good enough to learn the latest manufacturing process to quickly establish vast industrial base with large capacities to become the center of world manufacturing. The Chinese learned to make advanced machines and machining technologies which have helped her in the military sector. China similarly benefited from the Europeans who increased their dependence on China for manufactured goods.
The objective was simple, to cut costs and shift lower end jobs to China and maximize their profits. China was all too happy to accept and absorb all that came its way. This has actually turned into a major problem now for the west as they run huge trade deficits with China and also let China become its major source of debt with a severe erosion in their own manufacturing capacities though they remain premier nations for research and development and high-end manufacturing.
Although trade has prospered between the west and China, arms and related technology was embargoed on China which is where the Russians stepped in. Benefiting from denial by the west, Russia supplied China with advanced weaponry and technical know how which bought it billions of dollars. But this has proved to be a disastrous and shortsighted policy. China has now learned a lot from Russians arms and its technology and violated intellectual property to develop its own military industrial complex. China now makes fighter jets that are rip offs of Russian ones which they have reversed engineered. Today Chinese arms purchases from Russia has declined rapidly. The manufacturing capability for this was derived from years of US and European shift in manufacturing industrial products to China. China benefited from the learning about the latest manufacturing, machines and machining technology from the West and arms purchases from Russia to develop its own large-scale military industrial complex which it is using to rapidly modernize it’s over 3 million strong Peoples Liberation Army. China is making advanced missiles, fighter jets, ships, submarines which has led it to develop capabilities to rival the west and Russia which have long been its benefactors. Chinese are not known to be benevolent and pursue their ambitions with impunity. China does not want to share its space with anyone and in fact create more space for itself. Even if it means confronting the very nations which helped it attain the position it is in today.
China’s rise has been aided largely by the west whose greed and shortsightedness is coming back to haunt it. This is where there is a lesson for India as it pursues its relations with the US. Given the right policies, India can do what the Chinese did with the US during the cold war by pretending to be with the US against the Soviets. While the US and China slug it out, India can position itself owing to its geography, its large population, is large labor force, its large middle class to become a hub for investment and manufacturing and absorb advanced technologies to create a better future for itself and secure its interests. The US is already willing to help India rise. It depends on India as to how it grasps the opportunity.