2030 will see China become a wealthy country
Published: Jul 14, 2022 06:49 PM
Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

Editor's Note: 

There have been many surprising events taking place in China over the past decade, and by 2030, China will become a country where everybody is richer, and where the digital economy is pervasive everywhere. This is what Mauro F. Guillen (Guillen), dean of the Cambridge Judge Business School and emeritus management professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, predicts China will look like in the next 10 years to come. After publishing the Chinese edition of his book, 2030: How Today's Biggest Trends Will Collide and Reshape the Future of Everything, Guillen shares his view with Global Times (GT) reporter Li Aixin on a glimpse of future and how the greatest changes in this era will affect the geopolitical landscape across the globe.

Mauro F. Guillen  Photo: Courtesy of Guillen

Mauro F. Guillen Photo: Courtesy of Guillen

GT: After you wrote the book, the world has witnessed the COVID-19 pandemic, the Russia-Ukraine conflict, and a nose-diving China-US ties. In the final part of your book, you mentioned how COVID-19 will amplify and accelerate the changes in the world. Will the trends, which you analyzed in the book, be affected by other unexpected events?

The pandemic has been very consequential in terms of changing everything. But when you think about the three basic trends that I discussed in the book - demographics, economy, and technology - I think the pandemic has been a major accelerator of those trends. They have increased in terms of magnitude.

For example, one key trend, the decline in the number of babies. As data shows, during 2020 and 2021, fewer babies were born because young couples, when confronted with all of the uncertainties about the pandemic, decided to postpone having babies. 

Then the other really important issue is the transformation of the economy. Emerging markets have done better in terms of economic growth than other markets in the world, especially those in Asia. Therefore, the gap between developed markets and the emerging markets has become smaller, which was already going on before the pandemic. 

And then the best example is technology adoption. Before the pandemic, very few of us were using digital platforms, such as the ones that we're using now. But now we do this every day for many hours. I spend hours and hours on Zoom every day. The rate of technological change, especially technological adoption, has actually accelerated as a result of the pandemic. 

My only regret is that instead of giving the book the title "2030," I should have called it "2028," because the future that I describe in the 2030 now is arriving much faster. 

GT: How about the mutual influence among wars, major powers relations, and the trends? How do they affect one another? 

We're going to see certain aspects of globalization disappear because we're seeing more trade wars. We're seeing that companies prefer to source their products from closer locations to their home countries. We see even economic nationalism - countries in Europe, in the US, deciding to manufacture what they need more at home. 

But at the same time, we're still in a global world from at least two very important perspectives. One is climate change. Whatever happens in one part of the world, we continue to affect the rest of the world in terms of climate change. The other one is technology and communications. There's nothing now stopping us from communicating really quickly.

GT: Which countries or region will face the biggest influence of the eight major trends that you analyzed in the book?

The biggest impacts of these trends, the extreme cases, are in terms of demographics and technology and economy. Certainly, China, India, and the other emerging markets in Asia. From a demographic point of view, (the answer is) Europe, because it (in demographic figures) is declining as fast as that in East Asia. 

On the other extreme, I think the biggest changes that we're going to see in the next few years will happen in Africa, in particular, in sub-Saharan Africa, because we're going to see a major population increase. Also, digital technology is very much adopted in Africa. They use mobile phones for things that we don't use for, for example, telemedicine or for electronic payments, for mobile banking. I see more changes taking place in those parts of the world than in others.

GT: Would you make a value judgment of the trends? Which are positive ones and which are negative? 

The biggest positive trend has to do with the economy. We continue to see that the middle class is expanding in China, in the rest of East Asia, in India, and also in Africa. 

This is very important because essentially when the middle class expands, people are being lifted out of poverty. That is a very good thing that continues to go on in spite of the pandemic in the world. 

Unfortunately, this is not happening in Europe and the US, and also not in Latin America, where the middle class has stagnated. What we see is this bifurcation in the world in terms of this good news. 

I also believe it's good news that the number of children being born is declining, especially in parts of the world where it is still very high, like four or five children per woman. By the same token, perhaps the number of babies per woman is declining fast in China, in Europe, and in the US. 

It's good news because we can better address problems such as overpopulation, the pressure on natural resources, climate change. But it's bad news as well, because it also means aging of the population. That puts pressure on pensions, on healthcare. And younger generations complain that they have to pay too many taxes. 

GT: Should and could people intervene in the trends?

It is important to understand two basic things. One is that people make decisions, individuals make decisions, families make decisions, for example, about how many babies they want to have. We also make decisions at a national level as to what kind of a society we want to be. We make decisions about the economy, infrastructure, and so on. So, the world is a very complex place. What is really important is that we have a little bit more collaboration, more dialogue, more cooperation between governments in the world, which is something that over the last 10 years or so has been missing. This is not good. I don't think that really helps in any way. 

GT: If we look back over the past decade, are there any changes and developments in China that might have surprised you?

There are many things that have surprised me. One is the really fast pace of economic growth, the growth of the cities. This is something that has completely changed China. China used to be a very rural country 50 years ago, but today it is predominantly an urban country with so many big cities. 

The other thing is the expansion around the world of leading Chinese brands and companies. This has also been fast and is good for the world. I am happy about the new economic stature of China. It is also important that China becomes a positive force in the world through collaboration, cooperation, with the biggest countries in the world.

GT: How do you think China will look like in 2030?

It's going to be a country with fewer young people and more people above the age of 60. It's going to be a country where everybody is going to be richer than today. It's going to be a country where the digital economy is pervasive everywhere. Hopefully it will be a country that will play a very important role in the world, a constructive one collaborating with other countries, including the US. 

One of my most important wishes for the future is that China and US sit together at the table, discuss the problems of the world, and try to overcome them for all of us. 

China and the US will be the largest economies in the world. They will also be the technology power houses in the world. So, it's really important that happens. 

GT: You mentioned that China will be the world's largest economy and consumer market in 2030. How will China-US ties look like by then? Will it be worse than it is now? Or will the two countries find more common ground for coexistence?

I hope we can have more collaboration between the two countries. I do believe that the US is going to continue being a very important economy in the world. It may not be the largest, but technologically it will still be very important. But China will become the biggest economy and also very important technologically. 

In the world, we have everything to benefit if the two collaborate. That is my wish. I think in general, the population in US wants to be friendly with all of the other major places in the world. 

There are geopolitical frictions over security arrangements in Asia. The US, if you remember, started to have interest in Asia over 100 years ago, when it took over from Spain, the Philippine islands. That was the first time that the US had a strong presence in Asia. Since then, especially after WWII, we've seen more security commitments by the US. It is very complex, but that's precisely where I'm saying that we need to have China and US sitting at the same table. 

GT: In general, how will today's biggest trends influence geopolitics? Could there be a cold war in the post-2030 era, or even more hot wars?

We're going to see frictions, but I wouldn't call it a cold war. It's very different from the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union. For a very simple reason - the US and the Soviet Union didn't have many economic ties. They almost didn't trade with one another. They didn't have mutual investment connections. But the US and China are both very important trading partners for each other. There are also a lot of Chinese investments in US treasury bonds. There are a lot of American investments in China. 

The extent to which China and the US are interrelated, economically and financially, is very different from the situation when we have the Soviet Union and the US. There may be frictions, differences of opinion between China and US. But these are still two economies that are closely related to one another. 

GT: It seems decoupling has been going on for some time.

Yes, that is the counterpoint. We want to have these two countries being willing to sit at the table to collaborate, to cooperate. Otherwise, we're going to see a world very difficult to manage.

GT: The Chinese edition of your book has been published recently. Do you have any suggestions for China's young people, in terms of how to face the post-2030 world? They seem to face more challenges and uncertainties than their peers in other countries.

For young people in China, I would have three very clear messages. 

The first one is try and learn about all of these trends, because you need to have a sense as to what's going on in the world. 

The second thing, they have to prepare themselves, but they have to be optimistic. They have to look for the opportunities that are hidden behind all of these events. 

The third thing is that we are in an uncertain world. There's no question about it. Every few months we have another crisis. We have another moment in which we feel that everything is changing. Whenever that happens, what I would strongly suggest to them, which is what I proposed in the book in the last chapter, is that you should never make decisions that are irreversible. You should preserve as many degrees of freedom as possible. So in other words, make decisions that you can later adjust, that you can later change, as you see how the situation evolves. 

I would like to share in general, this sense of optimism. We have big problems in the world, but we also have big opportunities. And therefore, what I think we need to do is to study those opportunities very carefully and to pursue them. There are opportunities in every part of the world, more importantly, there are key advantages from collaboration and cooperation among countries in the world. 

<em>2030: How Today's Biggest Trends Will Collide and Reshape the Future of Everything</em>  Photo: Courtesy of CITIC Press

2030: How Today's Biggest Trends Will Collide and Reshape the Future of Everything  Photo: Courtesy of CITIC Press