Will the 21st Century Be the Age of China?
Given today’s landscape of diverging interests between the United States and China, understanding the major strategic initiatives that will guide Chinese policy, along with their implications, can be extremely useful, particularly to young Westerners who will feel an outsized impact of these events as they unfold into the future. To begin, it is almost a certainty that China will eclipse the United States as the world’s largest economy; PriceWaterhouseCoopers anticipates this reversal to happen as soon as 2030. The Chinese population, sitting at over four times that of the United States, has historically commanded roughly twenty-five percent of the world economy, and some view that the cultural revolution of Mao Zedong remains the only reason that China had such depressed economic conditions in the 20th century.
This is to say that China should never have experienced such a low in their economy such that the United States vastly outpaced them. In addition, this implies that the United States’ loss of its position as the top economy in the world does not indicate a departure from American exceptionalism, as this nation would remain the wealthiest per capita of any large economy into the foreseeable future. Further, competition can stifle complacency, enhance innovation, and improve outcomes, as is the model which underlies capitalism. In this way, the “threat” of China entering the ranks of an advanced economy, with a notably large populace, certainly presents competition for American enterprise. However, it also simply demands that business of all sizes continue to provide value and growth, as has been the case since the inception of the United States and certainly been the case since the post-war era.
Today, China can mobilize its full government, and by extension much of its population, with relative ease through the framework of communistic acquiescence of the constituency with a single-party authoritarian government. Such governance allows China to act with great effectiveness and efficiency that simply cannot be matched with democratic ideals of debate and competing opinions. However, the United States has benefited from attracting great minds to exercise their talents freely and innovate at a scale and pace unlike other nations. With strategic initiatives like Made in China 2025 and the Belt and Road Initiative, the Chinese government clearly has long term plans for how to radically modernize the domestic economy, as well as establish hegemony as the world’s most populous country. Made in China 2025 seeks to advance Chinese domestic production to the most cutting-edge industries and complex, high-cost manufacturing, ranging from aerospace and biotechnology to robotics and information technology, with self-sufficiency being an integral objective. The Belt and Road Initiative hopes to increase their sphere of influence by strategically investing in the infrastructure of less developed countries and asking in return for those countries to employ Chinese services to fulfill their needs (in essence, it does create some sense of indebtedness on the part of the developing country to China).
These plans have a level of intuitiveness and sensibility with which can be difficult to argue; however, they do require coordination and collaboration of great numbers of domestic and foreign peoples to pull off properly. Should it come to fruition, though, China will have once again revolutionized itself into a truly global superpower that would contend with the United States. Current policies being pursued by the current presidential administration may have some reasonable basis, but the true test of continued American exceptionalism will be to double-down on the qualities that had brought the U.S. to its initial zenith and success: embracing the middle class and small business, investment in innovation and other allies, and the generation of coalitions and strategic alliances. As an individual country, the United States cannot be a commander of the world stage. For all the possibility of a future China as a superpower, the United States, when unified with all other Western countries, represents a virtually undefeatable global political coalition with a command of more economic might and people than any single other nation can challenge.
Of course, reestablishing the ideals that proved so successful through the latter half of the twentieth century will prove to be no easy task, much in the same way that the execution of China’s strategic plans will not be simple. Truly, the challenges that will face both states will be deterministic of the influence and prosperity that each will have into the future in an ever increasingly globalized existence. Ultimately, one should not view the battle as complete nor settled. Action and activism will be of incredible importance to ensure the advancement of the interests of one’s respective worldview and nation.