“Why China Won’t Overtake the United States”
China is not going to be a superpower anytime soon, assert Stephen G. Brooks and William C. Wohlforth in Foreign Affairs. Instead, American dominance will continue:
Even though the United States’ economic dominance has eroded from its peak, the country’s military superiority is not going anywhere, nor is the globe-spanning alliance structure that constitutes the core of the existing liberal international order (unless Washington unwisely decides to throw it away). Rather than expecting a power transition in international politics, everyone should start getting used to a world in which the United States remains the sole superpower for decades to come.
They base this on these assumptions:
- “Economic growth no longer translates as directly into military power as it did in the past, which means that it is now harder than ever for rising powers to rise and established ones to fall.” “The United States is far more capable of converting its resources into military might.”
- “China — the only country with the raw potential to become a true global peer of the United States — also faces a more daunting challenge than previous rising states because of how far it lags behind technologically.” One indicator they flag: compared to those of the US, China receives minuscule payments for use of its IP. (World Bank data shows that the US takes in 191 times the amount China does.)
- Measured by human capital, natural capital, and infrastructure (rather than GDP), the US economy is 4.5 times larger than China’s.
- The Chinese defense-industrial complex has little ability to manage giant defense projects, while the US has spent decades developing this capability.
- “China’s quest for superpower status is undermined by something else, too: weak incentives to make the sacrifices required.”
Their central concept leads them to these associated forecasts:
- A potential superpower — “China will, for a long time, continue to hover somewhere between a great power and a superpower. You might call it ‘an emerging potential superpower.'”
- China’s limits — “China’s relative technological backwardness today, however, means that even if its economy continues to gain ground, it will not be easy for it to catch up militarily and become a true global strategic peer, as opposed to a merely a major player in its own neighborhood.”
- US still strong — “Barring some odd change of heart that results in a true abnegation of its global role … Washington will be well positioned for decades to maintain the core military capabilities, alliances, and commitments that secure key regions, backstop the global economy, and foster cooperation on transnational problems.”
- Behind in every capability — Of “the 14 categories of systems that create [a superpower’s] capability (everything from nuclear attack submarines to satellites to transport aircraft), … It would take a very long time for China to approach U.S. power on any of these fronts, let alone all of them.”
- Averting war — “Lasting preeminence will help the United States ward off the greatest traditional international danger, war between the world’s major powers.”
Still, this forecast may not be at odds with that might be called patient triumphalism on the part of China, expressed here by Shen Dingli in The Guardian last year: “In 10 years, our GDP will be bigger than the US, in 20 years our military spending will be equal to the US. Thirty to 40 years from now, our armed forces will be better than the US. … When you have power, the world has to accept. The US is a superpower today, and it can do whatever it wants. When China is a superpower, the world will also have to accept.”