Observer columnist, author and think tanker Will Hutton knows that controversy sells. So he's done his best to highlight the dark side of China's political economy in his a book to be published January 18: The Writing on the Wall: China and the West in the 21st Century (Little, Brown UK). The book is being serialised, with three excerpts published so far:
1. New China. New crisis: The Observer, Sunday January 7 - "In the last decade China has emerged as a powerful, resurgent economic force with the muscle to challenge America as the global superpower. But, in his controversial new book, Will Hutton argues that China's explosive economic reforms will create seismic tensions within the one-party authoritarian state and asks: can the centre hold?"
2. Power, corruption and lies: The Guardian, Monday January 8 - "To the west, China is a waking economic giant, poised to dominate the world. But, argues Will Hutton in this extract from his new book, we have consistently exaggerated and misunderstood the threat - and the consequences could be grave."
3. Low wage competition isn't to blame for western job losses and inequality: The Guardian, Tuesday January 9 - "US and British business culture is creating our widening pay gap, not the impact of sub-contractor economies like China."
His central thesis is neatly summarised in the second piece:
The west is unforgivably ignorant about China's shortcomings and weaknesses, which leads it vastly to exaggerate the extent of the Chinese "threat". China is certainly emerging as a leading exporter, but essentially it is a sub-contractor to the west. It has not bucked the way globalisation is heavily skewed in favour of the rich developed nations.
Its productivity is poor; it lacks international champions; its innovation record is lamentable; it relies far too much on exports and investment to propel its economy. To characterise China as an unstoppable force whose economic model is unbeatable and set to swamp us - the stuff of almost every ministerial and business lobby speech - is to make a first-order mistake.
Gripping stuff, which I'm sure will go down particularly well in America. Hutton overstates his case, of course. And he's no China expert. But he's a well known commentator and author and he writes better than 99% of those who do know better - so I'm sure it will sell well.
UPDATE: Torcuil Crichton of the Sunday Herald interviews Will Hutton about his book, and British politics: Great Will of China
Hutton's handling of the complex Chinese economic puzzle is refreshingly straightforward. China, as we all vaguely know, will be very important very soon. The economics of the 21st century will belong to China, much as the 19th came under British influence and the 20th closed under US dominance.
He details the fantasy that is communist doctrine, the endemic corruption of the state and the unsustainability of China's exponential growth. Within a decade it will be the world's second largest economy. The country is the single most important financier of the enormous US trade deficit. It competes for oil, water and military muscle. But though it looks like an unstoppable engine, it is not a market economy that we would recognise and it is on the verge of collapse.
Sitting in his office at the Work Foundation, the left-of-centre think tank he now heads, Hutton insists that "collapse" is too strong a word; convulsion might be better. "The question is, how will they make the transition from what they've got to where they need to be without very substantial convulsions?" says Hutton. "In the best case the Communist Party see the light and build plural institutions, which will mean losing monopoly control of the state. The next generation of leaders enact this or fight like tigers to resist it. If so we will see civil war in China or they may rally the country in a foreign adventure."