The Blog

The People's Republic at 60

China's National Day celebration features new military weaponry.

12:00 AM, Oct 14, 2009 • By REUBEN F. JOHNSON
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

This is almost exactly what happened to the USSR (and later Russia's) military industry, although it was an almost here today-gone tomorrow abrupt cut off of government support that was a consequence of the nation's late-1980s/1990s economic collapse. (Ironically the nation that benefitted most from the Russian defense industry's need to find export markets or risk extinction was China itself. Without the massive purchases of Russian weaponry and know-how Chinese industry would not be enjoying the progress that is has shown to date.)

China shows no signs of economic collapse on the order of the old Soviet regime, but there is a growing sense that the defense burden on the economy is increasingly at the expense of other pressing needs. While most of the country's 500 million city dwellers have a reasonably good lifestyle, there are still 800 million poor farmers, and western regions of the country are not developing as rapidly as the more-favored coastal special economic zones. Moreover, some high level functionaries have suggested that the state's official economic data has been cooked to paint an unrealistically positive picture.

Specifically, 24 of China's 31 provinces have "official" growth rates that are higher than the national average, which hardly seems likely. Although China has avoided many of the absurdities of the 1930s Soviet drives to meet industrial output figures (like the Soviet factory that once turned thousands of shoes, all the same style and size and all for the left foot in order to fulfill the monthly production plan), there are accusations that make-work projects are responsible for part of these falsified numbers. One provincial party leader recently criticized projects that involve building, demolishing, and the re-building bridges and other structures in an effort to pad these growth statistics.

For the moment, however, the present Chinese leadership seems content to bask in the glow of this 60-year celebratory extravaganza. None of them will be around or in power when it comes time to commemorate 70 years of Communist power in Beijing ten years from now, which is why this year's parade and other ceremonies were so lavish. What will be the picture a decade in the future matters less to them than receiving what they see is as their just rewards for having brought China to its current pinnacle of economic prowess. Whether or how long it can be maintained is a problem for the next generation.

Reuben F. Johnson is a frequent contributor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD Online.