Room in 'elevator' for emerging economies

Updated: 2013-12-21 11:21

By Chen Weihua (China Daily)

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I have heard some pundits in the United States, such as Edward Luttwak, a military strategist, describing fast-growing China as a fat man entering an elevator. They say that because the man is so large he should be ultra-polite to people already in the elevator.

This description not only distorts the reality, it sows the seeds for more misunderstanding and distrust.

China is not a fat man, but a healthy, growing adolescent.

With double-digit growth for almost three decades, China has undoubtedly been the most noticeable of the emerging economies. And with 1.3 billion people, about one-fifth of the global population, it would be unfair to try and keep China a skinny boy. That is also true for India, which boasts a population of 1.1 billion, and other major emerging nations such as Indonesia and Brazil.

For a long time, these nations have not had the chance to develop like they have today, so those folks already in the elevator should simply move a bit to allow these adolescents to enter the elevator, instead of standing in front of the doors blocking the way.

Just like the ongoing debate between the developing and the developed nations on climate change, it is unreasonable and unfair to require China, or India, which both have populations several times that of the US, to emit less greenhouse gases than the superpower. In a per capita sense, the US discharges much more carbon dioxide.

On the other hand, it would obviously benefit the world if China and India could manage to control their greenhouse gas emissions amid their rapid economic growth. It would mean that they are following a more sustainable and green path of development than the industrialized world.

But for others to argue that China and India should consume the same amount of energy burned by say Canada, whose population is only 35 million, is outrageous.

The question is whether the US or other industrialized nations are willing to make room for those emerging economies about to enter that elevator.

I agree that these new arrivals should be polite, as should everyone else. But to be ultra-polite is unnecessary and would smack of hypocrisy. After all, emerging nations, such as China and India, rightly deserve their place in the elevator.

To apply an analogy that might appeal to US pundits, in the US each state is represented in the House of Representatives in proportion to its population. For example, the most populous state of California has 53 representatives, while seven other sparsely populated states, such as Alaska, Delaware and Wyoming, have only one representative each.

If such rules apply, China and India should certainly have a stronger representation in every aspect of world affairs. It is ridiculous for the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to be headed always by Americans and Europeans.

That said, I have not heard China or other emerging economies are seeking a revolutionary change in the international system. They just call for adjustments that meet the changing times.

With or without the rise of China and other emerging economies, everything in the world's governance system needs to evolve. But their fast rise means there is a more urgent need to adapt the current system to the new reality.

Such adjustment is by no means going to be easy. Yet it will be vital for China and the US to build a new type of major country relationship, and vital for the developed nations to rightly and politely face the rising of the rest.

The author, based in Washington, is deputy editor of China Daily USA.