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The Uncertainty of the International Situation and the Fourth Industrial Revolution

世界形势的不确定性和第四次 工业革命

Introduction

Note: The following translation is one of six entries in a roundtable discussion convened by two state think tanks in the spring of 2019. Participants were all eminent Chinese academics. Their task was to analyze the slogan “Great Changes Unseen in a Century.” A general introduction to the seminar and the slogan it discusses can be found here.

For more than a century China’s political visionaries have been entranced by the power of high technology. This obsession was baked into the Communist Party of China from the beginning. At the height of the May 4th movement, Chen Duxiu, co-founder of the Communist Party of China, wrote that only by pairing political reform with science could his generation “save China from all of its political, moral, intellectual, and spiritual darkness.”¹ Six decades later Deng Xiaoping articulated his own generation’s faith in science. On a trip to Eastern Europe he declared that

Marx was quite right to say that science and technology are part of the productive forces, but now it seems his statement was incomplete. The complete statement should be that science and technology constitute a primary productive force…. For us the basic task is to maintain socialist convictions and principles and expand the productive forces.²

Though Chen and Deng died long ago,the Communist Party still quests for the technological frontier. Xi Jinping used the word “technology” some 40 times in his report to the 20th Congress, arguing that China must “more deeply implement our strategy of using scientific education for national rejuvenation,” as “science and technology are the number one productive force, [scientific] talent is our number one resource, and innovation is the number one driving force” behind modernization.³

Jin Canrong’s analysis of the slogan“great changes unforeseen in a century” is centered on this strategy. Jin describes Western hegemony as a product of technology. The British Empire and the United States were the origin point and the prime beneficiaries of the three most consequential technological revolutions of modern world history. New technologies promise a fourth wave of technological advance–or in Jin’s words, a “fourth industrial revolution.” This technological revolution is different from those who came before. For the first time in modern history“both the East and West are participants” in the scientific race. “This,” Jin tells us, “is a great change unseen in five centuries.”  

Jin began his career in the American Research Office of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, China’s premier state-run think tank. There his work ranged from translating the memoirs of Henry Kissinger to publishing peer-reviewed analysis of Washington political culture. After graduating with a PhD in international relations from Beijing University, Jin joined the staff of the School of International Studies at Renmin University, where he currently serves as vice-dean.  Though he privately consults for various state ministries and party research groups, Jin is best known as a prolific and bombastic champion of Chinese foreign policy. 

Jin’s trademark triumphalism is on full display in this piece. He tells us how “neoliberalism” has burdened the Western powers with myriad maladies: these include “an aging population,” “a high welfare burden,”“widening inequality,” “populism,” and “strongman politics.” Because of these problems Japan and Europe will soon be relegated to the “second echelon” of technological competition. “The competition for the Fourth IndustrialRevolution will be held between China and the US.” But America also suffers from the diseases of neoliberal politics. Its prospects are not bright. “For China,” Jin concludes, this once-in-a-century race “is an opportunity; forAmerica, it is an enormous challenge.”

¹ Chen Duxiu [陳獨秀], “Defense of the New Youth Case” [《新青年》罪案之答辯書”], New Youth [新青年], 1 January 1919. 
² Deng Xiaoping, “Science and Technology Constitute A Primary Productive Force,” September 5 and September 12, 1988, in Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, vol III,
³ In Chinese the full passage reads, “强化现代化建设人才支撑 教育、科技、人才是全面建设社会主义现代化国家的基础性、战略性支撑。必须坚持科技是第一生产力、人才是第一资源、创新是第一动力,深入实施科教兴国战略、人才强国战略、创新驱动发展战略,” Xi Jinping  [习近平], [insert official source here when available].
Author
Jin Canrong
金灿荣
original publication
Asia Pacific Security and Maritime Affairs
《亚太安全与海洋研究》
publication date
March 3, 2019
Translator
Tianyu Fang
Translation date
October 2022
Tags
Tag term
Tag term

当前世界形势的总特点是不确定。从2016年开始,世界形势进入比较长的不确定期,起点就是英国“脱欧”,美国选出特朗普。这个不确定期大概有几个东西是比较确定的:

第一,贸易保护主义,特朗普离开了美国还会搞贸易保护主义。

第二,民粹主义,左右两派都有民粹主义。还有一个是身份政治,导致西方各国国内的矛盾很尖锐。

第三,强人政治将是今后的趋势,之前在俄罗斯出现,问题是现在美国也走向强人政治,特朗普非常迷恋自己的权力,马克龙也是如此,东欧许多国家也是一样。强人政治是新常态。

第四,大国博弈重新成为国际政治的主题。

世界进入到一个比较长的不确定期。今后出路怎样?尚不清楚。我个人推崇的出路是大国协调,就是模仿19世纪初的欧洲协调。1815年拿破仑战争结束后,欧洲人开了一个维也纳会议,当时的奥匈帝国首相梅特涅提议搞了一个五国协调机制,包括英国、沙俄帝国、法国、奥匈帝国和普鲁士王国,这个大格局就叫做欧洲协调,它帮助欧洲地区大致稳定了100年,直到一战爆发。中国能不能主动建议一下,这对于世界稳定有好处,这个是捷径,能做到最好,做不到也没有办法

世界进入不确定期的原因有几个:

第一,过去30多年的全球化有一个意识形态,即新自由主义。这一轮全球化起点是1979年撒切尔革命和1980年的里根革命,这两个革命在他们内部叫保守革命。但实际上现在学界讨论叫新自由主义,即恢复19世纪在英美盛兴的自由主义。新自由主义有正面作用,就是它提倡竞争,提倡私有制,效率会比较高,导致财富的增长、贸易的扩展。但也有问题。因为它是市场化的,市场化的导向非常明显,通行赢家通吃原则,必然导致贫富分化。事实上,各国在过去30年贫富分化都比以前严重很多。贫富分化必定导致中下层广泛的不满,中下层不满一定会酝酿左右两派的民粹政治盛行,民粹政治又必然有强人来利用,之后进入强人政治。这是一个必然的结果。

第二,西方内部问题突出,对外部世界的主导力下降。西方的问题首先是人口老化,日本、韩国、俄罗斯、欧洲人口绝对老龄化,人口减少。美国人口还行,但是内在比例出问题了,白人比例急剧减少。另外,西方福利负担相对较高,影响它的经济效率和投资。欧洲国家在数字经济上几乎没有投资,政府财政全吃了(网上说中国的税收太高,其实中国税负是中等的,另外中国财政开支一半是用在跟经济有关的项目上,开发区,修路,都是升值的),所以,它的福利太高,效率下降,竞争力下降。还有一个问题就是内部政治分裂,影响了国家治理效率。总之,西方的内部矛盾必然导致外部主导力下降。

第三,中国为代表的新兴国家群体崛起。尽管中国经济增速比之前下降一点,增长率从10%到6%,但相对还是比较快的,除了中国,印度、印尼、越南等新兴国家也不错。

第四,第四次工业革命正在到来,西方和新兴国家都有机会,西方主导世界的生产力基础不能确保了。这可能是习主席说世界正在面临“百年未有之大变局”的根本依据。

有些人认为,第四次工业革命它已经来到我们身边,他们认为5G+物联网就是第四次工业革命。在去年天津的夏季达沃斯论坛上,论坛创始人施瓦布教授就认为以5G技术为基础的物联网就是第四次工业革命。由于中国华为公司的5G技术是最好的,中国三大电信运营商的5G投资最多,加上中国的物联网投资巨大,所以,如果5G+物联网是第四次工业革命的话,中国已经领先了。

当然,更多的人特别是科学界的人都认为第四次工业革命是听到脚步声,但还没有到来,他们把基于5G的物联网归于计算机革命的网络阶段。科学界一般认为,工业革命是三次:一次是蒸汽机,一次是电气化,一次是计算机。我们目前处于计算机革命的网络化阶段,计算机产生一个阶段,然后计算机小型化是第二阶段,网络是第三阶段。前三次工业革命全是英美贡献的。第一次工业革命蒸汽机是英国,第二次电气化和第三次计算机是美国。因为三次工业革命都是他们创造的,所以他们拥有了国际政治、世界经济的主导权,包括语言、金融以及各个行业的标准。

但是,第四次工业革命现在还没有完全到来。如果把物联网排除开,那么第四次工业革命存在于如下五个方向:第一个是新材料,现在所有的电子产品都用硅芯片,但是基于硅晶片这种材料的电子技术到了极限,证据是摩尔定律失效了,下面的工业革命,将是基于崭新的材料石墨烯。第二个是基因工程,第三个是人工智能,第四个是量子工程,第五个是新能源。

这五个方向上,美国的技术积累很好,属于第一梯队。值得重视的是,中国现今在五大领域全面参与,而且水平不差。客观讲,我们跟欧洲和日本在重组第二梯队,韩国、俄罗斯、印度属于第三梯队,没有能力全面参与,只是选某些点参与,大部分国家是第四梯队,没有参与的资格。

未来十年,中国非常可能从中欧日第二梯队脱颖而出,第四次工业革命的竞争将在中美之间展开。这个是过去500年中没有的大变局,过去500年工业革命都是西方参与,这次工业革命是东西方同时参与。这对于中国是机会,对美国是巨大的挑战。

我注意到,去年习近平主席在外交上有两大新论断:一个是百年未有的大变局,还有一个是金砖国家要组成第四次工业革命联盟。我的理解,就是习主席大概注意到第四次工业革命正在到来,而且认定中国有一定的机会,希望和新兴国家分享这次机会。

The general characteristic of the current international situation is uncertainty. Since 2016, the international situation has entered a relatively long period of uncertainty, starting from Brexit in the UK and the election of [Donald] Trump in the US. During this period of uncertainty, a few things are relatively certain:

First, trade protectionism. After Trump’s departure, the US will continue to engage in trade protectionism.

Second, populism. There is populism on both the Left and the Right. There is also identity politics, which has led to sharp contradictions domestically within Western countries.

Third, strongman politics will be the trend moving forward. This was previously seen in Russia. The problem is that now the US is also marching towards strongman politics. Trump is obsessed with his power, so is [Emmanuel] Macron, as are many Eastern European countries. Strongman politics is the new normal.

Fourth, the great power game has once again become the theme of international politics.

The world has entered a relatively long period of uncertainty. What does the path forward look like? It is still unclear. The path I hold in highest regard is a concert of major powers, modeled after the Concert of Europe in the early 19th century. After the Napoleonic Wars ended in 1815, the Europeans held a conference in Vienna. [Klemens von] Metternich, then prime minister of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, proposed a coordination mechanism among five countries including Britain, Tsarist Russia, France, Austria-Hungary, and the Kingdom of Prussia. This structure, known as the Concert of Europe, helped Europe maintain a hundred years of rough stability until the outbreak of the First World War.⁴ Can China take the initiative to suggest [something similar]? It would have benefits for world stability. It would be a shortcut. If it is possible, this would be the best path. If it is not possible, well, then nothing can be done about it.

There are a few reasons that the world has entered a period of uncertainty:

First, globalization during the last three decades or so has an ideology: neoliberalism. This wave of globalization was started by the Thatcher Revolution in 1979 and the Reagan Revolution in 1980. Domestically, these two revolutions were referred to as conservative revolutions. But in fact, academic discussions now call it “neoliberalism”—i.e., a revival of the liberalism that prevailed in the UK and the US in the 19th century. Neoliberalism has positive effects. It promotes competition and privatization.  More efficiency leads to the growth of wealth and expansion of trade. But it also has problems. Because neoliberalism is market-oriented—its market orientation is very obvious—the winner-takes-all principle inevitably leads to a widening wealth gap. In fact, the gap has grown more severe in all countries over the past 30 years. It is bound to result in widespread discontent among the middle and lower classes, and this discontent is bound to fuel the rise of populist politics on the Left and Right. Populist politics are then bound to be exploited by strongmen, bringing [the country in question] into strongman politics. This outcome is inevitable.

Second, the West’s internal problems are acute, and its predominance over the world abroad is in decline. The first problem in the West is an aging population: in Japan, South Korea, Russia, and Europe, the population has categorically grown older, and is declining. The U.S. population [size] is still fine, but problems have arisen with its internal demographics: the percentage of whites has decreased dramatically. Additionally, the relatively high welfare burden of the West affects its economic efficiency and investment. European countries are barely investing in the digital economy; instead, government coffers are eaten up (some people on the internet say that China’s taxes are too high. In fact, China’s tax burden is only of the middle rank. And half of Chinese fiscal expenditure is spent on projects related to the economy—building development zones and roads, both of which are appreciating in value.) Thus, it [Europe] has too much welfare, causing its efficiency and competitiveness to decline. There is also the problem of fragmentation in internal politics, which affects the efficiency of state governance. In short, the West’s internal conflicts inevitably lead to a decline in its predominance abroad.  

Third, emerging countries, represented by China, are on the rise. While China’s economic growth rate is lower than before, dropping from 10% to 6%, it is still relatively fast.⁵ Aside from China, emerging countries such as India, Indonesia, and Vietnam also have good prospects.

Fourth, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is underway. There will be opportunities for both Western and emerging countries. The productive base of the West’s global predominance can no longer be assured. This might be fundamental evidence for President Xi’s statement that the world is facing “great changes unseen in a century.”

Some people believe that the Fourth Industrial Revolution has already arrived, and that “5G + Internet of Things” is the Fourth Industrial Revolution.  At the Summer Davos in Tianjin last summer, Professor [Klaus] Schwab, the founder of the forum, felt that the Fourth Industrial Revolution is 5G technology-based IoT.⁶ Because China’s Huawei has the best 5G technology, China’s three major telecommunication operators have the most investments in 5G, and China has huge IoT investments, if “5G + IoT” really is the Fourth Industrial Revolution, China is already ahead.

Of course, more people—especially in the scientific community—believe that while we have heard the footfalls of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, it has yet to arrive. They attribute 5G-based IoT to the network phase of the computer revolution. The scientific community generally believes that industrial revolutions have occurred three times: first, with the steam engine; second, with electrification; and third, with the computer. We are now at the network phase of the computer revolution: the emergence of computers was the first phase, miniaturization was the second phase, and networks are the third phase. The first three industrial revolutions were all contributions of Great Britain or the United States. The British designed the steam engine, kicking off the First Industrial Revolution. The Americans were responsible for electrification and the invention of computers. Because they brought about all three industrial revolutions they were the predominant powers in international politics and the world economy, setting standards for languages, finance, and various industries.

However, the Fourth Industrial Revolution has yet to fully arrive. Besides IoT, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is taking place in five areas. The first is new materials. Today all electronic goods use silicon chips, but technology based on silicon wafers has reached its limits—the evidence is that Moore’s law is no longer valid.⁷ The next industrial revolution will rely on a new material, graphene. The second is genetic engineering, the third is artificial intelligence. The fourth is quantum engineering. The fifth is new energy.

In these five areas, the US has a good accumulation of technology and is in the top echelon [of competition]. It is worth noting that China is currently a full participant in all five of these fields, and its standards are not subpar. Objectively speaking, we have, along with Europe and Japan, restructured the second echelon. South Korea, Russia, and India belong to the third echelon—they do not have the ability to participate fully, but only in select areas.  Most countries are in the fourth echelon, disqualified from participation.  

In the next decade, China will very likely emerge from the second echelon, surpassing Europe and Japan and coming to the forefront. The competition for the Fourth Industrial Revolution will be held between China and the US. This is a great change unseen in five centuries. During the past 500 years of industrial revolution only the West was a participant. In this next industrial revolution, both the East and West are participants. For China, this is an opportunity; for America, this is an enormous challenge.

I notice that last year President Xi Jinping made two major diplomatic assertions: One on the “great changes unseen in a century,” and the other on BRICS countries forming an alliance on the Fourth Industrial Revolution.⁸ My understanding is that President Xi probably noticed the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, determined that China has a certain opportunity, and wanted to share this opportunity with emerging countries.

4 Jin Canrong oversaw the translation of Henry Kissinger’s Diplomacy into Chinese. Kissinger positions Metternich’s role in creating the Concert of Europe as a foundational act of statesmanship that set the benchmark that all crafters of world order should measure themselves against. Jin’s thinking mirrors Kissinger’s ideas, and are likely to have inspired them.  
5 This essay was published in the world before COVID: In 2019 China’s official growth rate was 5.9%.
6 Schwab used the 2018 Summer Davos forum for the release ceremony of his book Shaping the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Jin accurately describes its thesis in this passage.  
7 In 1965 Gordon Moore predicted that roughly every two years the number of transistors on microchips will double, leading to dramatic reductions in microchip price and equally dramatic gains in computational capacity. Moore’s proposition was not intended as a scientific law, but as a rule of thumb for microchip companies seeking to push forward the technological frontier. As of the publication of this translation, industry insiders are divided on whether Moore’s law still describes the rate of innovation in their sector.

See Kif Leswing, “Intel says Moore’s Law is still alive and well. Nvidia says it’s ended,” CNBC, 27 September 2022. https://www.cnbc.com/2022/09/27/intel-says-moores-law-is-still-alive-nvidia-says-its-ended.html 
8 After presenting a historical framework similar to Jin’s, Xi Jinping stated his hope that the 4th industrial revolution might “sustain global growth with new driving forces and address the North-South imbalance and other deep-seated structural problems.” He further promised that “China will host ten human resources development programs during which experts of our five countries will be invited to draw up a blueprint for our cooperation in the new industrial revolution. By so doing, we hope to enhance the competitiveness of not only BRICS countries but also other emerging markets and developing countries.” 
Xi Jinping, “Turn Our Vision into a Reality.” July 26, 2018 [available at here]

当前世界形势的总特点是不确定。从2016年开始,世界形势进入比较长的不确定期,起点就是英国“脱欧”,美国选出特朗普。这个不确定期大概有几个东西是比较确定的:

第一,贸易保护主义,特朗普离开了美国还会搞贸易保护主义。

第二,民粹主义,左右两派都有民粹主义。还有一个是身份政治,导致西方各国国内的矛盾很尖锐。

第三,强人政治将是今后的趋势,之前在俄罗斯出现,问题是现在美国也走向强人政治,特朗普非常迷恋自己的权力,马克龙也是如此,东欧许多国家也是一样。强人政治是新常态。

第四,大国博弈重新成为国际政治的主题。

世界进入到一个比较长的不确定期。今后出路怎样?尚不清楚。我个人推崇的出路是大国协调,就是模仿19世纪初的欧洲协调。1815年拿破仑战争结束后,欧洲人开了一个维也纳会议,当时的奥匈帝国首相梅特涅提议搞了一个五国协调机制,包括英国、沙俄帝国、法国、奥匈帝国和普鲁士王国,这个大格局就叫做欧洲协调,它帮助欧洲地区大致稳定了100年,直到一战爆发。中国能不能主动建议一下,这对于世界稳定有好处,这个是捷径,能做到最好,做不到也没有办法

世界进入不确定期的原因有几个:

第一,过去30多年的全球化有一个意识形态,即新自由主义。这一轮全球化起点是1979年撒切尔革命和1980年的里根革命,这两个革命在他们内部叫保守革命。但实际上现在学界讨论叫新自由主义,即恢复19世纪在英美盛兴的自由主义。新自由主义有正面作用,就是它提倡竞争,提倡私有制,效率会比较高,导致财富的增长、贸易的扩展。但也有问题。因为它是市场化的,市场化的导向非常明显,通行赢家通吃原则,必然导致贫富分化。事实上,各国在过去30年贫富分化都比以前严重很多。贫富分化必定导致中下层广泛的不满,中下层不满一定会酝酿左右两派的民粹政治盛行,民粹政治又必然有强人来利用,之后进入强人政治。这是一个必然的结果。

第二,西方内部问题突出,对外部世界的主导力下降。西方的问题首先是人口老化,日本、韩国、俄罗斯、欧洲人口绝对老龄化,人口减少。美国人口还行,但是内在比例出问题了,白人比例急剧减少。另外,西方福利负担相对较高,影响它的经济效率和投资。欧洲国家在数字经济上几乎没有投资,政府财政全吃了(网上说中国的税收太高,其实中国税负是中等的,另外中国财政开支一半是用在跟经济有关的项目上,开发区,修路,都是升值的),所以,它的福利太高,效率下降,竞争力下降。还有一个问题就是内部政治分裂,影响了国家治理效率。总之,西方的内部矛盾必然导致外部主导力下降。

第三,中国为代表的新兴国家群体崛起。尽管中国经济增速比之前下降一点,增长率从10%到6%,但相对还是比较快的,除了中国,印度、印尼、越南等新兴国家也不错。

第四,第四次工业革命正在到来,西方和新兴国家都有机会,西方主导世界的生产力基础不能确保了。这可能是习主席说世界正在面临“百年未有之大变局”的根本依据。

有些人认为,第四次工业革命它已经来到我们身边,他们认为5G+物联网就是第四次工业革命。在去年天津的夏季达沃斯论坛上,论坛创始人施瓦布教授就认为以5G技术为基础的物联网就是第四次工业革命。由于中国华为公司的5G技术是最好的,中国三大电信运营商的5G投资最多,加上中国的物联网投资巨大,所以,如果5G+物联网是第四次工业革命的话,中国已经领先了。

当然,更多的人特别是科学界的人都认为第四次工业革命是听到脚步声,但还没有到来,他们把基于5G的物联网归于计算机革命的网络阶段。科学界一般认为,工业革命是三次:一次是蒸汽机,一次是电气化,一次是计算机。我们目前处于计算机革命的网络化阶段,计算机产生一个阶段,然后计算机小型化是第二阶段,网络是第三阶段。前三次工业革命全是英美贡献的。第一次工业革命蒸汽机是英国,第二次电气化和第三次计算机是美国。因为三次工业革命都是他们创造的,所以他们拥有了国际政治、世界经济的主导权,包括语言、金融以及各个行业的标准。

但是,第四次工业革命现在还没有完全到来。如果把物联网排除开,那么第四次工业革命存在于如下五个方向:第一个是新材料,现在所有的电子产品都用硅芯片,但是基于硅晶片这种材料的电子技术到了极限,证据是摩尔定律失效了,下面的工业革命,将是基于崭新的材料石墨烯。第二个是基因工程,第三个是人工智能,第四个是量子工程,第五个是新能源。

这五个方向上,美国的技术积累很好,属于第一梯队。值得重视的是,中国现今在五大领域全面参与,而且水平不差。客观讲,我们跟欧洲和日本在重组第二梯队,韩国、俄罗斯、印度属于第三梯队,没有能力全面参与,只是选某些点参与,大部分国家是第四梯队,没有参与的资格。

未来十年,中国非常可能从中欧日第二梯队脱颖而出,第四次工业革命的竞争将在中美之间展开。这个是过去500年中没有的大变局,过去500年工业革命都是西方参与,这次工业革命是东西方同时参与。这对于中国是机会,对美国是巨大的挑战。

我注意到,去年习近平主席在外交上有两大新论断:一个是百年未有的大变局,还有一个是金砖国家要组成第四次工业革命联盟。我的理解,就是习主席大概注意到第四次工业革命正在到来,而且认定中国有一定的机会,希望和新兴国家分享这次机会。

The general characteristic of the current international situation is uncertainty. Since 2016, the international situation has entered a relatively long period of uncertainty, starting from Brexit in the UK and the election of [Donald] Trump in the US. During this period of uncertainty, a few things are relatively certain:

First, trade protectionism. After Trump’s departure, the US will continue to engage in trade protectionism.

Second, populism. There is populism on both the Left and the Right. There is also identity politics, which has led to sharp contradictions domestically within Western countries.

Third, strongman politics will be the trend moving forward. This was previously seen in Russia. The problem is that now the US is also marching towards strongman politics. Trump is obsessed with his power, so is [Emmanuel] Macron, as are many Eastern European countries. Strongman politics is the new normal.

Fourth, the great power game has once again become the theme of international politics.

The world has entered a relatively long period of uncertainty. What does the path forward look like? It is still unclear. The path I hold in highest regard is a concert of major powers, modeled after the Concert of Europe in the early 19th century. After the Napoleonic Wars ended in 1815, the Europeans held a conference in Vienna. [Klemens von] Metternich, then prime minister of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, proposed a coordination mechanism among five countries including Britain, Tsarist Russia, France, Austria-Hungary, and the Kingdom of Prussia. This structure, known as the Concert of Europe, helped Europe maintain a hundred years of rough stability until the outbreak of the First World War.⁴ Can China take the initiative to suggest [something similar]? It would have benefits for world stability. It would be a shortcut. If it is possible, this would be the best path. If it is not possible, well, then nothing can be done about it.

There are a few reasons that the world has entered a period of uncertainty:

First, globalization during the last three decades or so has an ideology: neoliberalism. This wave of globalization was started by the Thatcher Revolution in 1979 and the Reagan Revolution in 1980. Domestically, these two revolutions were referred to as conservative revolutions. But in fact, academic discussions now call it “neoliberalism”—i.e., a revival of the liberalism that prevailed in the UK and the US in the 19th century. Neoliberalism has positive effects. It promotes competition and privatization.  More efficiency leads to the growth of wealth and expansion of trade. But it also has problems. Because neoliberalism is market-oriented—its market orientation is very obvious—the winner-takes-all principle inevitably leads to a widening wealth gap. In fact, the gap has grown more severe in all countries over the past 30 years. It is bound to result in widespread discontent among the middle and lower classes, and this discontent is bound to fuel the rise of populist politics on the Left and Right. Populist politics are then bound to be exploited by strongmen, bringing [the country in question] into strongman politics. This outcome is inevitable.

Second, the West’s internal problems are acute, and its predominance over the world abroad is in decline. The first problem in the West is an aging population: in Japan, South Korea, Russia, and Europe, the population has categorically grown older, and is declining. The U.S. population [size] is still fine, but problems have arisen with its internal demographics: the percentage of whites has decreased dramatically. Additionally, the relatively high welfare burden of the West affects its economic efficiency and investment. European countries are barely investing in the digital economy; instead, government coffers are eaten up (some people on the internet say that China’s taxes are too high. In fact, China’s tax burden is only of the middle rank. And half of Chinese fiscal expenditure is spent on projects related to the economy—building development zones and roads, both of which are appreciating in value.) Thus, it [Europe] has too much welfare, causing its efficiency and competitiveness to decline. There is also the problem of fragmentation in internal politics, which affects the efficiency of state governance. In short, the West’s internal conflicts inevitably lead to a decline in its predominance abroad.  

Third, emerging countries, represented by China, are on the rise. While China’s economic growth rate is lower than before, dropping from 10% to 6%, it is still relatively fast.⁵ Aside from China, emerging countries such as India, Indonesia, and Vietnam also have good prospects.

Fourth, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is underway. There will be opportunities for both Western and emerging countries. The productive base of the West’s global predominance can no longer be assured. This might be fundamental evidence for President Xi’s statement that the world is facing “great changes unseen in a century.”

Some people believe that the Fourth Industrial Revolution has already arrived, and that “5G + Internet of Things” is the Fourth Industrial Revolution.  At the Summer Davos in Tianjin last summer, Professor [Klaus] Schwab, the founder of the forum, felt that the Fourth Industrial Revolution is 5G technology-based IoT.⁶ Because China’s Huawei has the best 5G technology, China’s three major telecommunication operators have the most investments in 5G, and China has huge IoT investments, if “5G + IoT” really is the Fourth Industrial Revolution, China is already ahead.

Of course, more people—especially in the scientific community—believe that while we have heard the footfalls of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, it has yet to arrive. They attribute 5G-based IoT to the network phase of the computer revolution. The scientific community generally believes that industrial revolutions have occurred three times: first, with the steam engine; second, with electrification; and third, with the computer. We are now at the network phase of the computer revolution: the emergence of computers was the first phase, miniaturization was the second phase, and networks are the third phase. The first three industrial revolutions were all contributions of Great Britain or the United States. The British designed the steam engine, kicking off the First Industrial Revolution. The Americans were responsible for electrification and the invention of computers. Because they brought about all three industrial revolutions they were the predominant powers in international politics and the world economy, setting standards for languages, finance, and various industries.

However, the Fourth Industrial Revolution has yet to fully arrive. Besides IoT, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is taking place in five areas. The first is new materials. Today all electronic goods use silicon chips, but technology based on silicon wafers has reached its limits—the evidence is that Moore’s law is no longer valid.⁷ The next industrial revolution will rely on a new material, graphene. The second is genetic engineering, the third is artificial intelligence. The fourth is quantum engineering. The fifth is new energy.

In these five areas, the US has a good accumulation of technology and is in the top echelon [of competition]. It is worth noting that China is currently a full participant in all five of these fields, and its standards are not subpar. Objectively speaking, we have, along with Europe and Japan, restructured the second echelon. South Korea, Russia, and India belong to the third echelon—they do not have the ability to participate fully, but only in select areas.  Most countries are in the fourth echelon, disqualified from participation.  

In the next decade, China will very likely emerge from the second echelon, surpassing Europe and Japan and coming to the forefront. The competition for the Fourth Industrial Revolution will be held between China and the US. This is a great change unseen in five centuries. During the past 500 years of industrial revolution only the West was a participant. In this next industrial revolution, both the East and West are participants. For China, this is an opportunity; for America, this is an enormous challenge.

I notice that last year President Xi Jinping made two major diplomatic assertions: One on the “great changes unseen in a century,” and the other on BRICS countries forming an alliance on the Fourth Industrial Revolution.⁸ My understanding is that President Xi probably noticed the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, determined that China has a certain opportunity, and wanted to share this opportunity with emerging countries.

4 Jin Canrong oversaw the translation of Henry Kissinger’s Diplomacy into Chinese. Kissinger positions Metternich’s role in creating the Concert of Europe as a foundational act of statesmanship that set the benchmark that all crafters of world order should measure themselves against. Jin’s thinking mirrors Kissinger’s ideas, and are likely to have inspired them.  
5 This essay was published in the world before COVID: In 2019 China’s official growth rate was 5.9%.
6 Schwab used the 2018 Summer Davos forum for the release ceremony of his book Shaping the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Jin accurately describes its thesis in this passage.  
7 In 1965 Gordon Moore predicted that roughly every two years the number of transistors on microchips will double, leading to dramatic reductions in microchip price and equally dramatic gains in computational capacity. Moore’s proposition was not intended as a scientific law, but as a rule of thumb for microchip companies seeking to push forward the technological frontier. As of the publication of this translation, industry insiders are divided on whether Moore’s law still describes the rate of innovation in their sector.

See Kif Leswing, “Intel says Moore’s Law is still alive and well. Nvidia says it’s ended,” CNBC, 27 September 2022. https://www.cnbc.com/2022/09/27/intel-says-moores-law-is-still-alive-nvidia-says-its-ended.html 
8 After presenting a historical framework similar to Jin’s, Xi Jinping stated his hope that the 4th industrial revolution might “sustain global growth with new driving forces and address the North-South imbalance and other deep-seated structural problems.” He further promised that “China will host ten human resources development programs during which experts of our five countries will be invited to draw up a blueprint for our cooperation in the new industrial revolution. By so doing, we hope to enhance the competitiveness of not only BRICS countries but also other emerging markets and developing countries.” 
Xi Jinping, “Turn Our Vision into a Reality.” July 26, 2018 [available at here]

Cite This Article

Jin Canrong, “The Uncertainty of the International Situation and the Fourth Industrial Revolution.” Translated by Tianyu Fang. San Francisco: Center for Strategic Translation, 2022.

Originally published in 张蕴岭,楊光斌,等 [Zhang Yunling, Yang Guangbin, et. al.],  “Ruhe lijie yu renshi bainian dabianju如何理解于認識百年大變局 [How to Understand and Recognize Great Changes of the Century]”,  Yatai Anquan Yu Haiyang Yanjiu 亚太安全与海洋研究 2, no. 24 (2019): 1-15. 

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