20 MAY 2021 - 21 MAY 2021
This Ditchley conference will focus on China, its internal state and sense of self today, its role in the region and world, and how these might evolve in years to come.
There are broadly two current divergent narratives about China. The first is that China’s successful response to the pandemic has accelerated China’s ascent to be the world’s pre-eminent economic power. The Made in China 2025 strategy will also see China take the lead in some technologies beyond 5G, become self-sufficient in silicon chip production and free itself largely of external constraints on growth. China’s internal market will grow, lessening dependence on exports and that continued growth will maintain the bargain between the Chinese people and the Chinese Communist Party through prosperity and stability. Retaining some elements of previous Chinese strategy though, this confidence is combined with a degree of humility: China is concerned with itself and its region, not becoming a global superpower or challenging the US. Economic supremacy is the aim but military strategy remains focused on defence, not increasing international leverage or scope of action.
The second competing narrative is that China’s position is more precarious than it appears. The Belt and Road Initiative will bring diplomatic support from client countries but not real economic gains. Human rights violations will damage China abroad. Internally the pressures on natural resources will prove hard to sustain. Democratic and free-market innovation, combined with a bit more industrial strategy, will outstrip China’s efforts. Careful attention to supply chains in the West will meanwhile reduce critical reliance on China and curb China’s economic expansion. This perceived fragility is often combined though with a sense of heightened Chinese ambition abroad, not just through the Belt and Road Initiative but in challenging the democratic global norms established since 1989 by presenting technologically-enabled and effective authoritarian rule as an alternative model for the world, rather than just a Chinese solution.
What is the evidence today for where we should settle between these narratives? What trends should we watch to determine likely future results? ...
[Suggested background reading at link above.]Unfortunately this meeting will be virtual. The video below gives some sense of the unique charm of in-person workshops at Ditchley.
See also this 2020 post about an earlier Ditchley meeting I attended: World Order Today
... analysis by German academic Gunnar Heinsohn. Two of his slides appear below.
1. It is possible that by 2050 the highly able STEM workforce in PRC will be ~10x larger than in the US and comparable to or larger than the rest of the world combined. Here "highly able" means roughly top few percentile math ability in developed countries (e.g., EU), as measured by PISA at age 15.
[ It is trivial to obtain this kind of estimate: PRC population is ~4x US population and fraction of university students in STEM is at least ~2x higher. Pool of highly able 15 year olds as estimated by PISA or TIMMS international testing regimes is much larger than in US, even per capita. Heinsohn's estimate is somewhat high because he uses PISA numbers that probably overstate the population fraction of Level 6 kids in PRC. Current PISA studies disproportionately sample from more developed areas of China. At bottom (asterisk) he uses results from Taiwan/Macau that give a smaller ~20x advantage of PRC vs USA. My own ~10x estimate is quite conservative in comparison. ]2. The trajectory of international patent filings shown below is likely to continue.