Superpower Denied? Why China's 'Rise' May Have Already Peaked
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Superpower Denied? Why China's 'Rise' May Have Already Peaked


If dating the rise and decline of great powers is tricky, pinpointing the peaking of a rising power is almost hopeless.  One obvious problem is the measurement of power.  Shall we look at the size of a country’s economy or its level of wealth? Should we also consider the momentum and sustainability of its growth?  Is its external environment a legitimate variable to include in calculating its power since any country’s power is relative to that of its potential adversaries?

These are the questions to bear in mind when we tackle an important real-world problem: Has China’s rise peaked?

If one were to pose this question a few years ago, he would probably be laughed out of the room.  The conventional wisdom then was that China’s rise was certain to continue.  But today, this question is very much on everyone’s mind.

What has changed?

Almost everything.

If one has to take a position, it may be reasonable to argue that the Beijing Olympics in 2008 symbolically marked the peaking of Chinese power.  Everything began to go downhill afterwards.  Caught up in the global economic crisis, the Chinese economy has never fully recovered its momentum.  To be sure, Beijing’s stimulus package of 2008-2009, fueled by deficit spending and a proliferation of credit, managed to avoid a recession and produce one more year of double-digit growth in 2010.  For awhile, Beijing’s ability to keep its economic growth high was lauded around the world as a sign of its strong leadership and resilience.  Little did we know that China paid a huge price for a misguided and wasteful stimulus program.  The bulk of its stimulus package, roughly $1.5 trillion (with two-thirds in the form of loans from state-owned banks), was squandered on fixed-asset investments, such as infrastructure, factories, and commercial real estate.   As a result, many of these projects are not economically viable and will saddle the banking system with a mountain of non-performing loans.  The real estate bubble has maintained its froth.  The macroeconomic imbalance between investment and household consumption has barely improved.  Today, Chinese economic policy-makers are hamstrung in trying to revive economic growth.  The combination of local government indebtedness, massive bad loans hidden in the banking system, anemic external demand, and diminishing returns from investments has made it all but impossible for Beijing to use the same old economic playbook to fire up the economy.

Short-term difficulties are not the least of Beijing’s worries.  In the coming decade, many of the favorable structural factors that have helped power China’s double-digit growth in the past two decades are going to disappear.  Topping the list is the demographics.  The proportion of the Chinese population of working age peaked in 2011 and has started decreasing in 2012, according to a RAND study.  At the same time, the share of the elderly in the population is beginning to rise rapidly.  In 2010, 8.6 percent of the population was 65 and older.  By 2025, the figure will likely be 14.3 percent.  An aging population will increase labor costs, reduce savings and investments, inflate healthcare and pension costs — and slow down growth.

Another difficult obstacle ahead is environmental degradation.  Beijing has neglected environmental protection for the sake of rapid growth.  But the costs of environmental degradation have become unbearable, both economically and politically.  Water and air pollution today cause 750,000 premature deaths and around 8 percent of GDP.  China’s long-suffering population has finally begun to fight vigorously for their environmental rights.  This year alone, large-scale protests forced the government to cancel plans to build plants that would threaten the health and livelihoods of the residents in two Chinese cities.  In the decade ahead, the combination of environmental degradation and the effects of global warming will further drag down Chinese growth.

February 14, 2014 at 01:22

Has China’s rise peaked yet? At least Minxin Pei doesn’t want to predict the coming collapse of China as Gordon Chang has been predicting for the past decade or so. But both earn a good living as highly-paid stars in the anti-China porn industry in the U.S.A.

February 24, 2013 at 13:04

Chinese propaganda is everywhere in this thread. China has long lost credibility not only in her region but practically everywhere. They are behind many prostitution rings and drug rings in the Philippines and in other countries as well. Their government can only maintain power in their country because they have no reluctance to use force or violence against their people. I pity the people of China, they have to endure an inhuman regime.

January 13, 2014 at 17:45

Thank you for your “pity”.
Actually, Chinese people is not in those who really need that “pity”

j.b. diGriz
February 24, 2013 at 10:44


[...] De todos los problemas que enfrenta China en los próximos 25 años, la brecha de ingresos y todas las cuestiones conexas, es quizás el más peligroso para el Partido Comunista y la estabilidad social en el futuro.Por ejemplo, en su libro 2013 de Desarrollo Social Azul, de la Academia China de Ciencias Sociales señala que se han producido 100.000 “incidentes masivos” (protestas grandes) cada año durante varios años, y que la mitad de estas protestas están relacionadas con la apropiación de tierras. [...]

January 26, 2013 at 05:26

Why my reply to Jerry Seinfeld was not approved here? No offense in the reply, no insult, no profanity of swear words. Why? 

January 26, 2013 at 02:13

@intellectual merc, … amen, your wish will be fulfilled in no time. 
With such a fickle, fleeting want from Philippines to US like "I don't want you" …and .. "come back, I need you" attitude, US will definitely love your country. Of course US will provide you an illusory golden cage while you can enjoy eating your home-grown banana after Chinese Embargo. 

intellectual merc
January 25, 2013 at 20:40

@Jerry Seinfeld – amen…
-to be honest as a filipino, looking back at both powers’ history, we can’t deny the past but looking at china now, in terms of how it treats its own lesser classes… Well, I would rather be treated as a pet than as a form of livestock… I would prefer a golden cage for my people rather than a pig sty that china will provide…

January 25, 2013 at 11:45

Red China is destined to follow the standard ultra-rapid development track — just a bit further and faster than ever before.
Then, like every other nation, she will 'hit the wall.' The easy improvements will have been made. From that point onward, it's a real challenge to figure out newer, better, ways of doing things.
Red China does massively benefit from having an above average national IQ. It approximates 98 to 102 on the verbal scale — and even higher on the math scale. (102 to 106) These figures run even higher in China's major cities.
Beyond that, Red China has massively benefited from wider inter-marriage. Like Japan and Korea, those living back on the village farm became inbred over the centuries. As seen all over the world, this phenomena lowers IQ. Some estimates place the effect as high as 15 to 20 IQ points. So, when the kids move off to the big cities, and intermarry, their sons and daughters 'magically' get a lot smarter. This effect is the primary reason why the urban Chinese hold such disdain for country farmers.
That, and the infusion of fresh ideas and methods, caused Red China to absolutely explode in per capita performance. It's an un-repeatable, un-extendable, jolt of improvement.
Japan and Korea are illustrative: per capita GDP growth slows down to 'maturity.' The super-boom never comes back — and the society becomes a steady, major, player in global events.
As for Red China's PLA, PLAN: they're out of political control. This was last seen eighty-years ago in Japan. It didn't have a happy ending.
The PLA is so self-sufficient that it effectively can disregard the CCP — and it does. The PLA already has an atomic throw weight larger than America and Russia combined. This is now realized by everyone important. (Exception: the Pink House)
Consequently, the next stage in events is the hyper-rapid expansion of atomic powers with ballistic missile delivery systems. Red China is certain to be ringed by fulsome atomic arsenals before this decade is out.
Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Australia will join India, Pakistan and Russia. Red China will face atomics at every point of the compass.
The Japanese navy will be entirely re-born, almost certainly as a submarine force. (It had the world's largest submarine fleet in 1940.)
Red China is too big to gain ANY allies. Not one single neighbor wants their border 'adjusted' by Beijing.

January 14, 2013 at 15:14

I gues 230 million counts as "no middle class." And quit it with these "if it werent for me youd be poor" type comments.  If it werent for Chinese and Muslim innovations, the west would be a backwater, feaudalistic dunghole with half the population dying of plague and the other half praying to their imaginary savior.  More Eurocentric bs from a person seething of jealousy.

January 15, 2014 at 21:19

You obviously know nothing of European history. The Europeans invented the modern age – engineering,medicine,physics – every “ology” you can think of. Whatever the muslims have contributed is taken from the Greeks and the Hindus….And China? Well they invented gun powder to scare away demons.

March 4, 2014 at 00:49

No, he obviously knows real history, unlike the garbage shoveled into your waiting mouths by your corporate owners. Without the Middle East and China developing agriculture and government you’d still be in the Stone Age. Get back to us once you find some excuse to dodge that one.

Monseneur Dokdokhun
February 2, 2014 at 19:27

Eurocentric? Sounds like someone here fails to see the truth and never will because of his or her inability to critically think. No doubt due to a substandard totalitarian education system.
Regarding your attempted insult and poorly delivered argument (again the result of not being able to critically think), if you must no those who are brilliant apply others ideas.
Finally, I think anyone who uses the word Eurocentric somehow feels less than adequate knowing that all there countrymen still aspire for what they consider to be European luxury, which Europeans consider normal. You see it’s all about standards.
Finally, why is it that supporters of China (one of the worst human rights violators in history, and easily the must at present) have such a hard time hearing criticism? Oh, yes, they are brainwashed like robots that you can’t criticise the state. In a word, pathetic.
China should be stopped in all areas. As a state it has failed, a large portion of HK parents are hearing their children being brainwashed by Red robotic ideals and protest carrying British flags, obviously they are Eurocentric too??? Or they value transparency and can think for themselves.

January 12, 2013 at 10:22

Except for extreme recession years, the US has been growing. China is no where close to its percapita production:
And in fact, with energy and transportation costs, it is once again cheaper to manufacture in the US than China, so manufacturing has slowly been moving back since 2010. Also this year, US became a net energy exporter due to the boom in natural gas. Will shell sands it is also on track to become self sufficient in oil again. The population rate of the US is growing, it still attracts top talent immigration. China's population rate is negative.  Even the "debt problem" is overblown — the resession made it look bad, but it is stable and easily made to go away (as in California that passed a fairly small tax increase and suddenly it is already making a surplus this year). 
I don't know what will happen with China, but thinking that the US is a declining power is likely to be a mistake. It is likely that 2020-2030s, the news will be about the resurgence of US power. 

January 12, 2013 at 09:44

So much nationalism.  In the long term the US has an advantage that it isn't a "tribal/racial" state. Any Chinese can become an American but it doesn't really work that a white, black or hispanic American can become Chinese. There is also the issue of ideology. In most of the US, the citizens still hold to freedom and democracy, universal rule of law, justice. These are universal, even for Chinese. What does China offer? Letting state supported industries pollute in the name of market share? Making money by any means probably.
But, looked at another way. If the US fell, world trade would dry up, many many nations would be at war. It would be a dark age and China, with little internal demand would probably not survive the fall of the US in once piece. It would probably break down into 2 coastal regions and the inland areas. I mean, this would happen with no war, just the economics. 
But, for the world, it would be best if China became an open, democratic, rule of law power. That would be better for China and the US. It would also be better for the US to reform its economic policies etc. Better for everyone.

Jerry Seinfeld
December 14, 2012 at 04:41

At the end of the day who here can actually imagine themselves living in a world dominated by China?  No one.

December 11, 2012 at 04:15

@Fred Freeman,
Read this,

1) Rule by Constitution, Yes, US has its own multi-parties system. At the end of the day, Constitutions and Democracy means choosing two puppets. That's all. Who holds the strings? You know the answer. Constitutions, the most sacred upheld bible, to serve its people, citizens, law-abiding residents in all corners turned back when it comes to serving jail time for Vincent Chin murder case. You might be happy living in this White dominant country, but Ask your Mao Yushi's mother if she likes to emigrate to US. There is a solid democratic form of electing and choosing the people you want in US, nobody can't deny that. But at the end of the day Where is Ron Paul? The one who declared he will cleanse the Fed, the most beguiling con artist on this earth. Where is he now? Of course you've got to choose to vote out of 2 candidates at the end of the day. But who is really pulling the strings? Not that Communist party system is doing a great job, but neither is Democratic system superb either. 
2) Open and Popularly elected government. You and your forefathers openly elected any government of you like, be it Democratic or Republican party. Tell me exactly how long it has been any officially elected government cleaning up the mess passed down by any previous government or just simply playing along with the one who is actually controlling this game. Of course people feel happy because they get to choose at least. Comparing popularly elected government and PRC party is nothing different than choosing two rotten apples in US and only one rotten apple given in China. What's the difference? 
3) Contribution to Knowledge and Innovation. Yes, this one goes to US. Nobody can't deny that. But how? US attracts great talents from all over the world. I once mentioned that US Vs China is like "The whole world VS China" because US is where all talented people come and contribute, not to mention Chinese immigrants as well. But China? It's one nation state, trying to get out of mass poverty status. Remember all knowledge and innovation in US come only after US became very rich and spent indefinite amount of money on research and science. Again, this feature "Knowledge and Innovation" is a socio-economic side effect, in a positive way. Only after does one become full of stomach, one can start working steadily and efficiently. No innovation and knowledge comes when you're hungry. So you can imagine China will lack in this aspect. But it's not that China is inherently lacking this trait. Now its economy booming and the inevitable side effect of higher socio-economic status will facilitate the growth of innovation and knowledge. There are a lot of Chinese Nobel Laureates in US. You may claim they are American born in US. But ask yourself honestly, don't be hypocrite. In other times, you label them as Asian Americans or American Born Chinese. But in times of claiming US laying superpower in Science and Innovation, you may want to claim them as Americans. That's how it is. So ask every chinese born or immigrated to US, how they feel? Yes, they feel foreigners still because White Americans ideology never allows them to integrate into American society. The end result? Read this, this is only the beginning. 
4) The qualities and size of solid allies. Tell me exactly which are US solid allies? Every country tries to stabilize their economy and financial status. UK comes into US closest allies because UK was shackled in US financial aids after WWII. Is US closest ally to Japan? How about WWII? Did US bomb Japan Hiroshima? Ask every Taiwanese if they believe US is their closest ally. Every taiwanese know US is just a economic backdrop. If there's a conflict between Taiwan and PRC, US will sit tight and watch. That's how it is. US quite know the lessons from Vietnam and Korea. Taking the size of allies or number of allies does not reflect the world superpower status. You have a lot of clients because you have tons of money, to help, to aid, and to build. You won't have a lot of clients if you don't have a penny. That's how simple it is. I scratched my head if Mao Yushi thinks US receive a free load of money from its allies? 
5) The only reason those Chinese wanting to emigrate to US or other European countries is they don't know the history of US on Chinese (Chinese Exclusion Act), Geary Amendments, Vincent Chin case, Racial discrimination in US. All they hear back from their relatives, families in US is they can open small shops or food restaurants to earn money. That's all. They don't realize US has a ceiling for their hard-working ethic and achievements too. And further analyze who exactly are those Chinese? Are they from Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen, Guangdong, Zhejing? Mostly who wanted to emigrate in the first place is from those living in inner side of the China. Just like you people living in Utah, Wyoming wanted to emigrate to New York or California to get a job. Now situation is changing and a lot of Chinese from inner cities wanted to move to Coastal Areas like Shanghai and Beijing. 
Superpower status
Remember US was established 200 years ago, but it came into dominant world power only a couple of decades ago. 19th Century witnessed British Empire. Tell me exactly how British achieved world power status? British was not a new found land. It had to fight with all other neighboring countries, some became its allies, some its adversaries, all depends on time and circumstances. British troops looted, invaded, plundered villages, colonized other countries, and seized jewelry, goods for free. You remember how wicked it is to smuggle opium to invade the most ancient civilization on earth? Of course I want to sit down and ask Mao Yushi which metrics he'd be using to measure the British Empire status? Obviously her constitutions might as well clearly state that "British can invade whichever countries they deem resources rich enough." By what standards Mao Yushi calls that Constitution to be the world most admired one? 
Chinese PRC already made a claim that the rise of China will not be exactly the same as Western Style, nor it will not copy their ideology. China will not bomb other countries, in the name of Weapon of Mass Destruction. China will not spread it ideology aggressively as Western countries used to do. The rise of China will be totally different from what we used to learn, what we used to witness, and lastly what we used to think what superpower actually is. 
Mao Yushi can analyze a variety of metrics to measure World Superpower. If World Superpower status is disseminating one's ideology (Like British empire aggressively spreading their ideology through building Christian Church, US influencing via its media), yes, China will never come close to those ideology disseminating tactics because Chinese civilization is not disseminating, but absorbing within itself. If Mao Yushi thinks one's assertiveness is what world superpower should have, I'm dead sure that he was brainwashed by Western media already. 

Bernard M.
November 25, 2012 at 06:33

I love how JC is using his western education to talk a lot of his nationalistic garbage about China being a super power. Don’t get cocky, if it wasn’t for trade and international cooperation you’d be working in a rice paddy right now.

Fact is China is its own worst enemy. There is NO middle class there, and the disparity of wealth is massive between the ultra rich, and the dirt poor. Leave it to the idiot and corrupt party leaders and business moguls over there to build a nation on the backs of its people….the only true natural resource china has. Give it time, and all the wanton display of wealth and flagrant disregard for the lives of its own people will lead to another civil war and cleansing of capitalist ideologies. Maybe then you guys would realize instead of blaming the west for everything, it is an internal Chinese problem.

I love how the Chinese state propaganda whines about western companies exploiting the workers. Maybe you guys didn’t study economics as well as you should have, because the supply determines wages…. not the state. When there’s 1.5 billion people, and a huge portion of them are uneducated, well sorry to say but those people are NOT entitled to the same standard of living as those of us that are educated. Once again, the state is to blame… not the west. No ones forcing china to be the worlds cheap manufacturing source, it is China that opened its doors.

November 4, 2012 at 06:14

When the west giant gets tired of cheap laptops, ipods, ipads, t shirts, makeups and bla bla bla…the east giant goes down…but west is greedy… East is ambitious

October 15, 2012 at 02:17

I'm astonished by the poor level of debate in this thread. And perplexed by how childish the rhetoric is. 

[...] questions are by no means the products of idle minds.  By many measures, the party’s rule is about to enter a decade of systemic crisis.  Having governed China for 63 years, the party is approaching, within a decade, the recorded [...]

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