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China's Global Impact




How big is the Chinese influence?

China's reach now extends from the Australian desert through the Sahara to the Amazonian jungle — and it's those regions supplying goods for China, not just the other way around. China has stepped up its political and diplomatic presence, most notably in Africa, where it is funneling billions of dollars in aid. And it is increasingly shaping the lifestyle of people around the world, as the United States did before it, right down to the Mandarin-language courses being taught in schools from Argentina to Virginia.

If China's growth continues, its consumer market will be the world's second largest by 2015. The Chinese already eat 32 percent of the world's rice, build with 47 percent of its cement and smoke one out of every three cigarettes.

China is buying coal mining equipment from Poland and drilling for oil and gas in Ethiopia and Nigeria. It has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into Zambia's copper industry. It is the world's biggest market for mobile phones, headed for 520 million handsets this year. The list goes on.

"The Chinese don't want war — the Chinese just want to trade their way to power," said David Zweig, a professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. "In the past, if a state wanted to expand, it had to take territory. You don't need to grab colonies any more. You just need to have competitive goods to trade."

If China stays on the same economic track, it would become the world's largest economy in 2027, surpassing the United States, according to projections by Goldman, Sachs & Co., a Wall Street investment bank. And unlike Japan, which rose in the 1980s only to fade again, China still has a huge pool of workers to tap and an emerging middle class that is just starting to reach critical mass. Many development economists believe China still has 20 years of fairly high growth ahead.

As Beijing plays an ever bigger role in the developing world, some Western countries fear it could undermine efforts to promote democracy. In its attempt to secure markets and win allies, China is stepping up development aid to Africa and Asia. Chinese President Hu Jintao pledged last year to double Chinese aid to Africa between 2006 and 2009, promising $3 billion in loans, $2 billion in export credits and a $5 billion fund to encourage Chinese investment in Africa. China has also promised Cambodia a $600 million aid package and agreed to loan $500 million to the Philippines for a rail project.

And those who benefit from China's growth express some wariness. Aerospace giant Boeing expects China to be the largest market for commercial air travel outside the United States in the next 20 years, buying more than $100 billion worth of commercial aircraft, U.S. trade envoy Karan Bhatia said in a recent speech.

Yet Boeing workers remain wary of China's ambitions to build its own planes. next year China plans to test-fly a locally made midsize jet seating 78 to 85 passengers. It also has announced plans to roll out a 150-seat plane by 2020.

That's what happened to Western and Japanese automakers, which made inroads in the Chinese market only to see their designs copied and technologies stolen. Already, China's vehicle manufacturers are venturing overseas, exporting 325,000 units last year — mostly low-priced trucks and buses to Asia, Africa and Latin America.

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