With economic growth running at around 8% per annum for over 20 years, China is often in the headlines of the Western media. The emergence of this demographic giant on the world economic stage and its greater involvement in geopolitics, after years of choosing to remain aloof, have raised considerable concerns - which are not absurd, given the size of this new competitor. Furthermore, increasing numbers of multinational firms (sometimes based in the United States or Europe) are choosing to relocate their manufacturing activities to China, where labour is cheap and little social protection is provided. China seems to be in the process of becoming the factory for the rest of the world.
Does this mean that its future is settled and China's place among the great industrialized nations is guaranteed? Will China stay on this steep growth path in spite of its authoritarian political regime? Are there not risks of major tensions developing? What are these risks and what might happen if they materialize?
Such questions are among those raised in this special number of Futuribles devoted to China. The articles have been assembled by the members of Asie 21, a study group focussed on the future of Asia that has been meeting for several years under the aegis of the Futuribles group.
In the first article, Michel Jan provides a general overview of the Chinese situation and its prospects between now and 2020 or 2025. He starts with the country's growth targets for the next 20 years, as well as the possible consequences, especially in the social and political spheres, if they are in fact achieved. He then discusses the various strategic choices faced by the Chinese leadership if the country is to maintain its position, in particular if it opens up to the outside world. Lastly, Michel Jan suggests several scenarios for its future, ranging from "more of the same" to some degree of democratisation, as well as the possibility of collapse; the most likely, in his view, is for the present situation to continue (i.e. the country tightly controlled by an authoritarian regime), punctuated by moments of "social respite" which will be essential to prevent everything from imploding but not enough to allow China to regain its dominant economic position for many years.