Some astute observers believe that China's recent space shot has far more symbolic significance than just the first Asian entry into outer space. If ultimately successful, it's another feather in the Chinese cap, like hosting the Olympics in 2008.
British historian Andrew Roberts says that this space venture is another strong indication of "the dawn of a Chinese century" (The Sunday Telegraph, Oct. 19, 2003). To this historian, "It is high time that we woke up to the threat that an awakened Chinese empire poses for our present [English-speaking] global hegemony."
Napoleon once referred to China as "a sleeping giant" and then predicted, "When she awakes she will shake the world."
Beijing's $100 billion trade surplus with the United States is not the only economic concern about China worrying the Western nations. In the last 10 years the Chinese economy has grown by an annual average of 10 percent (The Times, Oct. 20, 2003). Present growth patterns indicate that it is poised to overtake France in 2004 and Britain in 2005 (The Sunday Times, Oct. 12, 2003).
If by midcentury (as some are predicting) China should replace the United States as the leading global superpower, the world might be "looking forward" to a new dark age of oppression reminiscent of the Third Reich. The 2003 annual report of Amnesty International comments about China's performance: "Serious human rights violations continued and in some respects the situation deteriorated. Tens of thousands of people continue to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association or belief. Torture and ill treatment remain widespread" (The Sunday Telegraph, Oct. 19, 2003). Of course, some China watchers pin their hopes on potential political and cultural reforms.
The U.S. government clearly regards China as both a potential economic and military threat to democratic institutions and our Western way of life. Even as the president was visiting several Asian countries, "Washington's top envoy in Taiwan issued a blunt warning to the island to strengthen its defences, saying failure to do so would soon tip the military balance in favour of rival mainland China" (The Financial Times, Oct. 18, 2003).
Therese Shaheen, chairwoman of the American Institute in Taiwan, specifically said: "We have a serious problem because [China] is building up rapidly missiles across the strait, and doing a lot of other things that don't show peaceful interest" (op. cit.).