The movement of people across China from the impoverished rural areas to the south and east coast cities will be one of the most significant events of the end of the millenium, according to western experts on China. Compared to migration on this scale, the few Mexicans who slip across the US border into California, the numbers of Africans who come to Europe from North Africa or east Europeans who move westwards are insignificant.
Helped by this illegal migration, China's economy is growing at 9 per cent a year, transforming the world's second largest country from a peasant agrarian society into a world industrial power.
The emergence of China on to the world stage was marked by its unsuccessful demand to be a founding member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which was inaugurated as the successor to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade yesterday.
China is still claiming status as a "developing country" which gives it certain concessions to protect its industries and agriculture. The US and the EU are objecting on the grounds that it is already one of the world's top trading countries. Because of this dispute China may not be able to join the WTO until later in the year, but it is serving notice that it is not simply its nuclear capacity which merits a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.
In recent years, Peking's foreign policy has appeared diffident and remote, but after the death of Deng Xiaoping, which has been described as "imminent" for some time, China is in for a change of leadership and an inevitable reassessment of its past and future policies.
World leaders are remarkable by their absence from the stage now. In Washington, President Bill Clinton has been hobbled by the victory of the Republican right in the November elections. France will have a new President in May. In Britain, John Major is struggling to lead his own party, Japan is experimenting with a new electoral and parliamentary system, Italian politics are back in the melting pot, and in Germany Chancellor Helmut Kohl is into the last quarter of his game.
In Russia, however, the war in Chechnya is making President Boris Yeltsin look more like an old-fashioned dictator than a democrat. What other ambitions might Russia, in its present atavistic mood, have in the Caucasus?
The weakness of each leader has local causes, but it may not be a coincidence. Five years on from the end of the Cold War, the world is beginning to realise that it was not the end of communism which caused most impact but the end of all political philosophy. In almost no country which holds elections is there any policy difference between parties about what is to be done, only about how. There is indeed no alternative.
Politicians did not suddenly discover a miraculous consensus, but they have lost or abandoned control of so much that once constituted government. The global movement of money and trade have put them beyond the regulation of any nation state. Governmentsnow are mere managers trying to look good and make rules which will attract investor confidence in their patch.
In such a climate, can the state survive? What does national sovereignty mean? Politicians know that when their voters are frightened by the feeling that they are losing control, the sense of national sovereignty is a powerful emotion. They are also aware that in a competitive world only the most disciplined workforces and societies will win.
They therefore need to impose stricter rules on their citizens, but this the voters do not like . The feeling is strongest in America, where the anti-government vote is almost a majority. The loss of identity at the end of the Cold War, the lack of political ideas, the decline of the nation state and the power of national governments all contribute to a defensive individualism that does not bode well for international understanding, let alone solidarity.
Regional economic blocs are a halfway stage and a buffer between the individual nation-state and the big wide world: 1995 will be a testing time for several of these blocs. The North American Free-Trade Agreement will be receiving its first returns shortly and the verdict of the "America First" Republicans on whether it has boosted exports or destroyed jobs will be crucial.
What is now certain is that the US and Europe will continue to diverge. The "special relationship" has all but evaporated as the Atlantic generation, which knew the importance of US intervention in two world wars, dies off.
In Europe, the newly enlarged union will be preparing for the intergovernmental conference to be held in 1996, but the vital questions on further enlargement eastwards to include Poland, Hungary and the Czech and Slovak republics must be decided this year. Throughout Europe there has been an increasing disillusionment with the Maastricht vision and the idea of a centralised European federation. Unpredictable events this year, edicts from Brussels and the way they are presented in the media, will determine whether Europe's weak leaders take refuge in nationalism or push on towards European unity.
In Africa too, the Southern African Development Community which joined South Africa with the old anti-apartheid economic coalition of the "frontline states" will also be reviewing its first year's successes and failures. If it works, and a peace agreement in Angola finally sticks, the SADC could begin to transform the region, an effect which might gradually spread to the rest of the continent.
In Japan this year, the members of Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation will discuss an agenda for lowering trade barriers and possibly building a Pacific trading bloc. Since this includes Japan and the US as well as China, this should become the most powerful of all but its disparate politics make further co-operation more difficult. Whatever happens to Apec the increasing co-operation of Japan and the Asian "tigers" with China make this the most economically dynamic region of the world.
But do not forget that the regional blocs, political as well as economic, also indicate the failure of a global economic and security agreement. The New World Order, the toast of the post-Cold War honeymoon, has finally evaporated. The US, which should have led it, was frightened by its failure in Somalia and will not allow any of its soldiers to be put at risk outside its zone of interest again.
Because the US, Britain and France are the only countries in the world capable of delivering troops and equipment rapidly to a war zone, this retreat from global responsibility means that the United Nations peace-enforcing capacity is hobbled. By its 50th birthday this year, the UN may be reduced to a register of idealistic resolutions and a depository for the failures of the permanent members of the Security Council.
It may be able to police a few prearranged ceasefires but its ability to negotiate peace agreements, let alone impose them, is drastically diminished.
As if to symbolise this, Somalia will be finally abandoned to the clan war gangs at the end of March, when the last UN troops are due to leave. After billions of wasted dollars and the lives of over a hundred UN soldiers, Somalia will become again a no-go land for the rest of humanity.
A more terrible catastrophe is unfolding in the refugee camps of eastern Zaire, where some two million Rwandans are camped, angry and vengeful. As the prospects for their peaceful return lessen by the day, there is an increasing likelihood that they willlaunch guerrilla raids into Rwanda, reducing the area to a state of permanent ethnic war. How long will the rest of the world provide food and assistance in such circumstances?
Liberia too is running out of grace. Its five-year civil war, now a battle between well-armed gangs of uncertain allegiance, has also exhausted the West African peace-keeping force and the donors which support it.
The fear is that this is the beginning of a trend, a continent-wide violent reordering of power in Africa in which millions will die. So far, the man-made catastrophes have been in small and unimportant countries, but what happens when a country like Nigeria catches fire? It is as close to civil war as it can be, while its military rulers seem to be devoting their energies to stealing from the state and stamping on any signs of dissent.
The failure to protect Bosnia is another example of the inability of Britain, France and the US to fulfil the obligations of the UN Charter.
This year will determine whether the fig leaf of staying on in a humanitarian capacity can be kept in place, or whether the Serbian militants will finally dispense with the charade and kick out Unprofor altogether. Will Bosnia exist this time next year?
But a new danger to Europe, and France in particular, is brewing in north Africa. An explosion in Algeria will send millions of people across the Mediterranean. The new pieds noirs are culturally French but ethnically north African, and as refugees they will find they have fled Islamic fundamentalism to face European racism.
For Europe, an Algerian war and Algerian boat people may be the agonising cause in 1995.Reuse content