By GERRY BLOOM, STEPS Centre member

Over the past few months there have been a number of stories in the international media about dangerous exports from China. On the one hand, this reflects a recognition that China needs to establish regulatory systems to ensure the good performance of its burgeoning market economy. The failures of China’s newly established Food and Drug Regulatory Agency and the sentencing to death of its first director, Zheng Xiaoyu, highlighted this problem to the international community. Since then there have been newspaper stories about dangerous food, dangerous toys and other dangerous products.

There are also stories about China as a major source of carbon emissions and a potential competitor in a new arms race. We should be wary of the coherence of this new narrative about a strong and threatening China. It certainly reflects truths about China’s largely unregulated economy, but it also reflects the fears of economic competitors who would gain by damaging the brand “China”. It could also lead to major contracts for military R&D and divert attention from the strategic implications of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The media’s portrayal of India is also paying increasing attention to the wealth and power of its middle classes and the potential risks of its economic growth and integration into global markets.
These portrayals of China and India as powerful and potential sources of competition and risk are likely to gain in importance. They could play a growing role in political discourse in the advanced market economies. They create new challenges for Indian and Chinese citizens who have strong interests in creating pressure for the establishment of regulatory states in their countries (but with what standards) but also support attempts by their large corporations to challenge arrangements whereby global value chains in some sectors are largely controlled by a small number of firms linked to regulatory agencies in a few countries.

We are in interesting times and we can anticipate many complex negotiations around these issues as China and India threaten existing arrangements. The battle over narratives will play an important part in these negotiations..