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Sunday 20 Aug 2017 | 23:57 | SYDNEY
Sunday 20 Aug 2017 | 23:57 | SYDNEY

The China obsession

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4 July 2011 11:34

If politics is showbiz for ugly people, International Relations must be the fashion district. Every few years the obsession of scholars changes rapidly, with terrorism, the Middle East, and now China earning the attention of the biggest names and weight of coverage this decade. Yet I have to wonder if the sheer volume of attention is distorting our sense of perspective.

By focusing on China's rise at such lengths (and this blog is as guilty as any) are we creating an environment of perceived Chinese supremacy (both in the West and in China) long before it's actually materially viable? The 2010 Lowy Institute poll found 55% of Australians thought China was the world's leading economic power. Obviously this is shaped by China's massive investment in Australia, yet the US GDP is almost three times China's. (Even US citizens are mislead).

Misconceptions of China's rise affect more than just our pub-night trivia scores: The 2011 Lowy Poll found 44% of Australians forsee China becoming a military threat in twenty-years time. They might well be right, but it's a fair bet that perception is due to the wealth of coverage of China's military rise. (For instance, of those who saw China as a threat, 82% thought that 'China views Australia as a country it could invade in future to secure land and resources', something most China scholars would downplay).

The answer to this may well lie in my last sentence: Maybe the answer is accepting the change, and encouraging far more scholarly study of China in the hope it will calm elites from making over-the-top statements, and better educate the public.  

Hopefully the problem will solve itself as the 'newness' of the change dissipates and our famously short attention spans in the West lead us elsewhere. This post is motivated by a sense of China-fatigue in my daily reading diet (both news and books) that I suspect many others are feeling. Just as by 2004 we'd all read enough on arcane Wahhabist ideology to last a lifetime, the attention of scholars and interested readers in the West may well be reaching a peak.

China's rise is a world changing event, but it's only one of many significant shifts at play in the world in 2011. A better sense of perspective might be helpful for all.

Photo by Flickr user thekellyscope.

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