America’s fall, China’s Rise

Be prepared for a flurry of such articles prophesying the imminent rise of China and the decline of the US. While I think there’s no dispute that the US is declining and China is rising, I am highly suspicious when reporters lead their readers to think they’re going to see role reversal in just 30 years.

When President Hu Jintao of China shakes hands with President George Bush in Washington tomorrow and gives one of his fixed grins for photographers, it will not be just another meeting between the leader of a large developing country and the chief executive of the richest nation on earth.

China is rising fast and is expected to eclipse the United States economically in the future – its gross domestic product is tipped to overtake that of America by 2045.

While Mr Bush has only given Mr Hu an hour of his time for a state lunch, the global balance of power is changing and in future meetings, the Chinese will set the timetable.

The rise of China is posing awkward questions for the US, along with the realisation that its days as the world’s economic superpower are numbered.

Some analysts see America entering a period of “managed decline” not unlike that which Britain has experienced since the end of the Second World War and the end of empire.

Since the Chinese economy began to open up a quarter of a century ago, there are 400 million fewer desperately poor people in China. Now Beijing wants the remarkable domestic growth story to count for something in global terms. China has already overtaken Britain and France to become the world’s fourth largest economy and Mr Hu’s visit to Washington represents a culture clash on a global scale. China, the emerging Asian superpower, is ruled with an iron fist by the Communist Party, which has transformed a once centrally planned economy into a free market one, “socialist with Chinese characteristics”.

What these articles never seem to deal with is the fact that for all the progress China remains, in John Pomfret’s words, “a third, fourth and fifth-world country.” As an antidote to the at-times breathless jubliation, I strong suggest readers re-visit the Pomfret post for another, more measured point of view. And check out this old article while you’re at it. Hu might be making impressive strides in some areas, and there may be a lot fewer people starving than in the Mao days. But superpower status is still a good ways away, and there’s a good chance it will never arrive at all.

The Discussion: 5 Comments

“While I think there’s no dispute that the US is declining…”.
“is” or “has been” or “will be”? And since when the US decline (1999? Or rather, 1989 only Japan failed to take over)? In a globalized situation, does (will) that even happen/matter?

April 19, 2006 @ 1:42 am | Comment

Is, has been and will be – at varying degrees, with lots of ups and downs, but the trend lines point south. Just look at our dollar, and our deficits.

April 19, 2006 @ 2:11 am | Comment

That’s funny. I was just talking to a colleague about the how much the “China rising” alarmism in the U.S. media reminds me of the “Japan rising” alarmism of the late 1980s..

April 19, 2006 @ 12:57 pm | Comment

yup, china rising, and a chinese threat is just around the horizon, exactly why americans must do all it can to make sure china is kept in check. and, when appropriate, kick them where it really hurts. after all, isn’t that the predominant sentiment in the congress?

April 19, 2006 @ 5:47 pm | Comment

America has had it coming; the corporate rip-offs have done it to themselves. Low wages, unemployment, war.
Now the tables turn.
With idiots in office, its a sure bet America will follow Rome.

May 17, 2006 @ 6:43 pm | Comment

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