The mainland is a mercantile power in the making and countries cannot but protest against its increasing flood of exports 'In 1800, China's share of global GDP was about 30 per cent. Now it is six and our target is 20 per cent.' Huang Jianping, a Beijing investment banker, quoted the figures in a matter-of-fact voice, like the numbers of a train schedule. Mr Huang, who specialises in overseas acquisitions, is expressing a dream of many Chinese - to revive the country's former glory as the world's dominant economic force. The mainland is still far from being the next United States, but the world is regularly reminded of China's potential as a mercantile power. This year, it is textiles that has caught the world's attention. Since January 1, when global quotas were abolished, China's exports have flooded into Europe and the US. In the first quarter, China's textile and apparel exports to the US rose by 79 per cent, to Spain 92 per cent, to France 90 per cent and to Germany 89 per cent. After strong protests by textile companies and their workers, the European Union and US are considering the implementation of safeguard quotas. Textiles is one of many contentious issues on the way to achieving Mr Huang's 20 per cent target. It amounts to a historic transfer to China of manufacturing industry from the rest of the world - mainly the rich countries but also including developing ones - and the closure of thousands of factories and millions of people losing their jobs. In the eyes of Chinese leaders, this process is irreversible, as shown by the continuing flow of capital and technology into their country. Minister of Commerce Bo Xilai said in January that China remained the top destination in the world for foreign investment, with more than US$500 billion so far and this outlay was moving up the technology ladder. 'Foreign companies have set up over 700 research and development centres in China, mainly to manufacture electronic and telecommunications products. More than 30 multinationals have established their regional headquarters in China. Unctad [the UN Conference on Trade and Development] predicts that, between 2004 and 2007, there will be a new wave of foreign direct investment, of high-value and high-technology products and services. We must be ready to attract this.' Mr Bo and his colleagues see China in 10 years as a major global production centre, if not the most important one, for steel, cars, ships, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications equipment, industrial machines and biotechnology, in addition to industries it already dominates, like textiles, shoes, televisions and other consumer goods. China seems to have devised a formula irresistible to multinationals: rock-bottom wages, no unions, a tightly controlled society that prevents strikes or social unrest and a one-party system that allows continuity of policy impossible in countries where the government changes every few years. Helping China be a ruthless production machine is the absence of labour standards in the World Trade Organisation which Beijing joined - a major argument by the communist parties of Europe against the WTO. Mainland factories are not subject to the wage, safety or environmental standards of Europe or North America, making this the paradise of capitalists, as was the US in the last two decades of the 19th century. Whereas they used desperate immigrants from Ireland, Italy and eastern Europe, bosses now use millions of migrants from the Chinese countryside, willing to work for less than 1,000 yuan a month on a seven-day week and a fortnight's holiday a year. Just as in the US of 100 years ago, most of the wealth created goes to the employers, be they private bosses or state factory managers, giving China a gap between rich and poor that has surpassed India and many countries in Africa. For their part, Chinese look at this process as one of historic justice. It was the rich countries that wrote the rules of global trade, for 200 years with military power and colonies. When Britain had a trade deficit with China in the 19th century, it started a war to force the import of opium, enabling it to turn the deficit into a surplus. After the second world war, the developed countries established new rules and set up the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and WTO to enforce them. After a century of wars and 30 years of Maoism, China was a latecomer to the world trading system and had no say in how the rules were written. Cao Xinyu, deputy chairman of the China Textile Import and Export Association, protests that Europe and the US are disobeying their own rules. 'The European Union had 10 years to protect its textile market and prepare for the end of quotas. In such circumstances, it is not acceptable for a WTO member to impose restrictions. We find this hard to understand and impossible to accept.' While textile workers in Tunis and Toulouse protest against Chinese imports, producers in the mainland say that 19 million people work in the industry, mainly in Shandong and Zhejiang. Are their jobs worth any less? On a visit to Paris last week to assuage French anger on the issue, Mr Bo remarked that China needed to export 800 million shirts to buy one Airbus 380. Textiles is only one sector in which China is upsetting vested interest groups of the existing trading system. It is the recipient of more anti-dumping suits than any other country. Mr Bo counted 57 for the single year of 2004, from 16 countries and regions. He called them 'an inevitable result of China's development'. To solve this, China is pressing its trading partners to give it 'market economy status', which makes an unfavourable ruling in an anti-dumping suit less likely. Partners who do not accord this status, including the US and EU, use a third country to measure the 'normal' value of an export and the severity of dumping against Chinese goods. Many things could derail the attainment of Mr Huang's target - a war with Taiwan or Japan, a boycott of Chinese products in protest against human or labour rights, a rebellion by the urban poor or landless farmers or a collapse of its banking system. But, in the meantime, the fight over textiles is just the appetiser.