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.

Culture

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.

Finance

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.

Defence

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.

Education

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.

Energy

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.

Technology

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.

Economy

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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4 responses to “Will China become a superpower in the next few years?”

  1. […] has many issues, and one as big as the US will always have an infinite number of problems. Yet, economically; culturally; financially; educationally and militarily, it’s a tough country to beat (of course it’s geographical size has its benefits). […]

  2. Ben Kelly says:

    I agree that reports of the death of the US have been exaggerated, but I think you are greatly underestimating China, and the extent to which China is already expressing a global reach. China will never, and does not intend to, operate in the same way as the United States does. I do not believe it desires to launch so many foreign wars and interventions to express its influence and combat opposing ideology. But it is now an empire with influence stretching far beyond its shores. It is operating like a ruthless post-modern colonial power in Africa, quietly harvesting the continent for its resources in exchange for investment in infrastructure. Through these methods it exerts influence and exploits such countries without direct rule of any great cost. It has no desire to export its culture, political system, system of laws etc. it is under no illusions, being strictly business, it is entirely self interested and does not pretend to be otherwise, it does not care who it deals with and whatever the state of the country that it is stripping bare. This gives it an advantage over western countries who, at the very least, have a moralistic pretence that can restrict them. Though I would say that its investment is actually far more effective at developing economies than the modern western model, which is to send money on an annual basis, a fraction of which does good and the rest just disappearing and lining pockets. Still, China is an amoral global player and vicious at home, and if it ever does become a super power with a global reach people will have to rethink their instinctive scorn for the the old masters, the USA and the British Empire before because they will be nostalgic.

    China is also investing in much of tired old Europe (which is desperate for it as it is economically fragile) and and holds it over a barrel. How gratifying it must have been for the Chinese Prime Minister to demand an audience with the Queen before considering visiting Britain- this is purely to embarrass us into a submissive state. From such a position they will always get a better deal and be able to make demands on their submissive client. Now he’s off to crumbling Athens. How does being in hock to China, in need of their finance and expertise, having so much business relying on their whim, effect foreign policy do you think?

    It is true that China is behind the US in military power, but it showing its intent to bridge the gap and over the coming decades will clearly be looking to have the ability to exert power over its sphere of influence in the east. Its alliance with Russia creates a powerful opposing force for the west in geopolitics.

    Not that i’m refuting your article at all. There are many things that could halt their rise. Throughout history economies so heavily made up of state ownership and state power have eventually collapsed under their own weight. There tends to be a disastrous mix of phoney statistics, fake money, mass corruption and an overly indulgent, overly powerful government which creaks to breaking point in a way that rivals and surpasses the worst excesses of western capitalistic debauchery. And in an increasingly globalised world will the people of China put up with a totalitarian government forever? Who knows?

    Good article, made me think, just playing a little devil’s advocate. Cheers.

  3. Thomas Aldred says:

    Thanks for the reply, I have to agree with a lot of your points. Certainly as you’ve pointed out China will rise, but it’s going to be a different rise than the West experienced. Does this mean that we rephrase the term superpower, or just create a new term? Either way,

    We’ve got all of the investment in the roads in Africa and purchasing of land – which as you’ve said has seemed in many cases to have more of an impact than Western aid. I suppose the Western world is limited in this regard as any of these moves would be seen by Africa as a desire to gain colonial rule again, China doesn’t have that baggage so to speak. No doubt this will gain them a lot of power, and quickly. In terms of effect on business, would be interesting to see what is going to happen with regards to inshoring. To me it seems like it’s gaining pace and will continue to do so with higher costs in China. Of course, China does have great network effects like the entire supply chain pretty much located next to each other. Even so, I wouldn’t be surprised if this could change at some point.

    Personally I feel that the phoney statistics and poor investment (considering projects losing money and the huge scale, it’s having to create more and more to ensure GDP growth – this just creates a spiralling problem as you invest in ever worse projects). I’d think that this must have to end soon, but how big the effect will be, we’ll have to wait and see. I personally feel that they’ll have a democratic issue as well at some point, but who knows when. Either way, plenty, like Japan and South Korea, have all been claimed to have the potential to surpass the US, but this time it’s different. With the massive population, they don’t need to be anywhere near as rich as the Western world to seem more significant.

    Thanks for your reply, it was great to read your thoughts. There’s certainly a few books on the subject that sound interesting.

    • Ben Kelly says:

      Lets hope they’re not as ruthless as they seem as Britain has just given them effective control of our power grid by foolishly signing up to China building our next generation of nuclear power stations. Poor old Britain.

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