The CSS Blog Network

China: Superpower or Developing Country?

This illustration highlights the disparity between China’s per-capita income and its aggregate income in comparison with other countries.

China is not a superpower, said Major General Pan Zhenqiang, deconstructing one of the “myths” about his country. A retired officer from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and deputy chairman of the China Foundation for International Studies, Pan Zhenqiang talked at the Center for Security Studies (CSS) at ETH Zurich last week. He was also a guest of Vivian Fritschi of ISN Podcasts. In his talk Pan said that China is a poor developing country. Is he right? Or is China a superpower, after all? The answer to this question depends on whom you ask.

Chinese leaders themselves perceive their country as a developing one with a number of paramount domestic challenges. The largest share of China’s population lives in rural, underdeveloped areas and there is a large urban-rural income gap. And although China’s per capita income has been increasing at a remarkable pace – it grew more than threefold over the last decade – it is still comparatively low. To anyone familiar with rural China, it is obvious that this is in fact a developing country. But that’s only one side of the coin: even though China is a poor country in per-capita terms, it is a rich country in aggregate terms, due to its immense population.

From a Western perspective, China’s development is usually seen at the macro level: China is the second largest economy in the world today and might surpass the US within the next decade. » More

UN Summit for the World’s Poorest

Just a Drop in the Bucket? photo: rogiro/flickr

The Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDC-IV) opened its doors on Monday in Istanbul. Before its close on Friday, it aims to approve a new action plan to improve the situation for the world’s least developed countries. As the world’s poorest states are today at risk of falling even further behind, politicians and development experts are calling urgently for more investment and an unhindered access to global markets.

In accordance with the UN General Assembly resolutions and the note of the UN Secretary-General outlining the modalities of the conference, the objectives of the conference are (1) to comprehensively assess the implementation of the 2001 Brussels Program; (2) to share best practices and lessons learnt; (3) to identify new challenges and opportunities for LDCs; and (4) to mobilize additional international support measures and action in favor of the LDCs.

It has now been 40 years since the international community first recognized the category of the Least Developed Countries as a group of states with a distinct set of problems. Today, qualification for the list includes a per-capita annual income of less than $905, assessments of malnutrition, child mortality and education levels, as well as an economic vulnerability rating based on population size, remoteness and instability in exports and production. The category does not include large economies, and the populations of its members must be below 75 million. » More

Double Standards

Demonstrator at rally for Bhopal victims, courtesy of Ascanio Vitale/Flickr

The ongoing BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and and the 1984 Bhopal disaster have been hot topics in the news as of late. Both events have reproduced a popular debate regarding multinationals using and abusing their host countries, particularly within the environmental context. But rather than analyzing the power of the multinational companies in relation to the state, what appears more noteworthy is the conflicting attitude of the US. This in turn has influenced the hierarchy of states that exists on the world stage.

What I find interesting is how aggressively the US has condemned BP’s activities, even in the face of damaging trans-Atlantic relations. Yet, it has been so passive about the extensive damage done by American Union Carbide Chemicals, now Dow Chemicals, in Bhopal. » More

Mobile Phones Transform Development

Before the internet comes the mobile phone / Photo: Esthr, flickr

They are among the most underdeveloped countries in the world. Only a minority of their people has access to electricity. Clean drinking water remains a distant dream. Many of their children continue to die of diseases that have long become extinct here in the West or are easily preventable.

But in one area, developing countries are clearly ahead of the industrialized world: the use of mobile phone applications.

Three-quarters of the world’s mobile phones are believed to be owned by people in developing countries.

In Africa, more people own mobile phones (37 percent) than have access to electricity (25 percent). (Note: Phones are often charged using rather ingenious methods, such as old car batteries). According to one estimate, about a billion people, most of them in the developing world, don’t have a bank account but – guess what? – own a cell phone.
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Living the Dream?

Photo: Marcus Obal / Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Marcus Obal / Wikimedia Commons

A young, poverty-stricken woman with no career prospects, living in a cramped apartment together with her extended family, dreams of a wealthy prince who would take her with him and allow her to live a comfortable life on his side. A fifty-something man in the West, so far unlucky with women but with a good job and a decent salary, dreams of getting married to a young, exotic beauty, undemanding and subservient. Seems like a match made in heaven? Well, it’s complicated…
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