Will China become a superpower in the next few years?
With the economic rise of China there has been a lot of discussion as to how this is going to change the geopolitical landscape. Currently the United States is the only true superpower, with a dominant position in global politics, having the ability to influence events and its own interests while being able to project power throughout the world. Many believe that China will reach this stage in the coming years, able to match the US and perhaps even surpass it in the not to distant future. However, being a superpower isn’t just about economic size, it’s also about culture, finance, defence, education and energy. For this reason, China is actually further away than many think, and for the time being, the United States will remain the only true global superpower.
US brands, ranging from Hollywood studios, such as 21st Century Fox, to technology brands, such as Apple, Google and YouTube, control the entertainment and information needs of the world. From the drinks that Coca Cola provides, to the sports clothing of Nike, people around the world are familiar with and love the products that American companies produce. Children in Mumbai are likely to associate more with America more than China, which has a dramatic influence. With a language that is unfamiliar to most of the world, China is unlikely to be able to replicate and take advantage of power over others through culture and entertainment.
Yet again the US leads the world in finance, with the democracy and transparency that is essential for the markets to operate. Many of the world’s leading financial companies are located in the country, with stock markets that evolved through a centuries of experiments. The NYSE is a global brand in which many investors and companies flock to without even considering the mainland Chinese alternatives. In fact, New York just became the world’s financial hub yet again, taking over from London. The regulation, political climate, research and consumer environment has grown throughout the years in the US to become most receptive to the needs of businesses and the financial sector. In fact, the environment in China has forced many international businesses and financial firms to either downsize or leave the country entirely in recent years.
Along with the economic rise, China has been increasing it’s defence spending, investing in its own aircraft carrier and developing more military technology. However, this is still far behind the United States, which has the potential for as many as 18 aircraft carriers – which at the same time are much bigger than those developed by China – while also leading the world in stealth, aircraft and even laser technology. It’s also worth mentioning that they will have many other, secret projects in development that are far ahead of the rest of the world. In addition, the US is also part of many alliances, including NATO. These help the country to project power and lead major decisions. It will take many decades for China to replicate this, even if that is possible – with the country carrying a lot of baggage – historically aggressive towards most of its neighbours, including Japan, Vietnam, Korea and India.
Out of the world’s top 100 universities, 70 of them are located in the United States, with very few in China. While this might not seem important, these institutions are very important for technological innovations. Historically, universities have taken an important role in the moon landings and the internet. Many of them also play a role in the formation of the next-generation of companies, with Google formed by two former Stanford students. Lately, this has become a revolving door, with Stanford students working for Facebook, Apple and many other high-tech companies, joining the Silicon Valley technology breeding ground. A world leading education environment cannot be understated and will take centuries to replicate.
A few years ago, with American oil production declining, it looked as if the country was going to have to turn to the Middle East even more. As a result, it would be more open to regional political issues and would struggle to get the energy stability that a superpower needs. However, the recent shale gas revolution puts the US on course to make it the world’s largest oil producer by 2017, giving it unrivalled energy security. On the other hand, China has to rely on a more unreliable source, with oil passing through two of the most dangerous parts of the sea – the Horn of Africa and the Straits of Malacca – notable for Pirate problems.
It’s likely that the next war will be fought over information and communication superiority. While China has been proving that it does have some expertise in this area, attempting to hack American internet, financial and aerospace companies on a regular basis, it’s still a long way behind the US. With the US controlling much of the world’s information, with Twitter, Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft and many other companies located in the US, it has a unique advantage. The actions of the NSA, with programmes such as PRISM showcase US power, with the ability to locate and utilise information. With Stuxnet as evidence and American companies holding many other hacking secrets (such as zero-day exploits to popular software, such as Windows), it again is far ahead of the rest of the world.
Although Chinese growth has been declining recently, it is still much higher than the United States. This means that sooner rather than later the country will have an economy bigger than the US under current predictions. However, I believe that Chinese growth could slow much more than predicted, delaying this moment. In China, investment is around 50% of GDP and one of the main reasons for the a high level of the GDP growth. However, with exports declining, I just don’t see how the current growth in investment is sustainable, with many projects likely to become unviable and current investment providing little or no return. The country’s local and national debt problem is also likely to become a much more important issue. It’s also worth noting that even though the economy is bigger, it is still much more reliable on other countries actions and GDP per capita will still be much, much lower than in the US. You could even claim that old figures, such as GDP, are outdated.
It’s important to remember that at the top of its game, Japan was compared to the United States. Yet, it was still nowhere near being considered a global superpower. It’s possible that China has a different experience, growing to control more of culture and energy. However, it’s more than likely that the United States will still be considered the only true superpower, currently the only country with strong economic, cultural, financial, military, education and energy potential. Of course the US has plenty of problems, including a difficult political system and what some see as weakening foreign influence, but as Mark Twain wrote, “The report of my death was an exaggeration.” – the same can be said of the US.
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