The Big Fallacy: China Replacing US as the Global Superpower

Chelsea Lenhart, MPA, Staff Writer, Brief Policy Perspectives

As early as 2011, and arguably earlier, Americans have been warned of a looming monster across the sea: China and it’s inexplicable rise on the world stage.  Additionally, constant news of political partisan divides, racism in the US, a somewhat failing public education system, and the rise of Donald Trump lead many to believe that the US is declining in power.  However, when one considers China’s struggling economy, the US’s military strength globally, its political weight in international conversations, and its cultural influence through commercial products and media, it is more certain than ever that China will not surpass the US as the world’s global hegemon anytime soon. The US will remain the world’s superpower.  

What does it take to be a Global Superpower?

A “superpower” is country that wields enough military, economic, and political power to persuade other countries to agree on specific policies, decisions, and practices. In addition, superpowers exude a large amount of cultural influence, often referred to as “soft power.” The combination of hard and soft power that a country holds results in things such as immigration influxes, foreign countries clamoring for the superpower’s film and news, and the native tongue of the superpower known across many countries. All of this influence results in the superpower being at the center of most, if not all, decisions on the international stage.

The United States vs. China: Examining the Elements of a Global Superpower

Although China has experienced a growing economy, an expanding military, and strengthening foreign political ties, it still does not rival the US. By examining each element individually, it becomes clear that China may be providing a challenge to the US, but will not overcome the US anytime soon.

Economy

The International Monetary Fund predicted that China’s economy would surpass the US economy in 2016. However,  2016 is upon us, and China’s economy is struggling to stay afloat.  

There is no doubt that China’s economy has grown at an almost impossible rate, with annual GDP growth at almost 10% since market reforms were initiated in 1978. In 2014, the IMF even stated that China’s economy officially surpassed that of the US. However, the IMF’s calculation included an adjustment for purchasing power parity (PPP). PPP is an estimate made in economics to see how much an exchange rate needs to be adjusted to make the purchasing power of one country’s currency equal to the purchasing power of another country’s currency. In the case of the US and China, a dollar goes a lot farther than a yuan. The Economist’s Big Mac Index highlights the different purchasing power of the two countries. When removing the calculated estimate of PPP, the Chinese economy doesn’t surpass the US – instead it has roughly $6.5 trillion to go to match the US.

It is also difficult to say if China’s economy truly grew at an annualised rate of 10%. With accusations and admittances that the Chinese government lied about its growth numbers, and the sudden slowing of the Chinese economy in the beginning of 2016, marked by a crash in the Chinese stock market and an attempted devaluing of the yuan, it is possible that China was never growing at the rate that they claimed.

Military

China has been flexing its military muscle by making moves in the South China Sea. However, China’s posturing amounts to little when directly comparing US and Chinese military capabilities. A quick glance would lead one to believe that China surpasses the US in military power, especially when considering that China’s large population allows it to have a larger military. However, an in-depth study by the Rand Corporation demonstrates that although China’s military capabilities have grown, the US would still maintain the upper hand in a direct confrontation.The United States also spends roughly four times that of China on its military annually, equipping it with the newest and greatest weapons of the day.

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Another key distinction is worth noting: The US is considered a global military power, ready and willing to respond anywhere around the world if needed. The US Navy allows the country to project its power anywhere in the world, boasting more aircraft carriers than all other countries combined. The presence of the US military in conflicts all around the world is not rivaled, and China does not appear willing to take on the task.

Political Influence

To be considered a global superpower, a country needs to wield a considerable amount of political influence on a global scale. The United States is called upon every day by nations needing assistance, and world leaders turn to the United States to set  precedent in numerous issues. In contrast, China lacks what is referred to as “capture,” where the economic or security dependence of one country on another allows the more powerful to drive the other’s policy making. The United States was ranked by more than 8,000 informed intellectuals as the most influential country, whereas China can claim “capture” over a relatively low number of countries.

Other Factors

Other factors, such as cultural influence, media popularity, and the number of foreign visitors to a country for tourism, study, and work also play a role in being a global superpower. The US tops China in all categories. Eight times as many foreign students study annually in the US compared to China. Unlike the restricted Chinese media, the US has news outlets that operate all around the world, with millions of viewers tuning in. Cultural influence manifests itself in the number of US films and shows aired around the world, the spreading of US sports globally, and the prevalence of English, US-made songs in every country.

The US Will Remain the Global Superpower

When comparing the US and China as potential global superpowers, China will not surpass the US anytime soon. Although it is growing in many ways, and making strides in becoming a regional superpower, China is not yet able to take over the US’s global role. The world is becoming increasingly multipolar, with regional powers gaining in influence. Rather than argue that China will replace the US, a different question should be posited: how will the US and China work together as equal powers to keep peace throughout the globe?

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