Last week the wise and all-powerful Harvard professor Joe Nye decreed that "China Is Not Imperial Germany." I seldom take issue with Professor Nye, whose works on soft power and international public goods are go-to works for anyone researching related topics. But his China/Germany comparison is so one-dimensional that it misleads. It boils down to side-by-side comparisons between Germany and Great Britain circa 1900 and between China and the United States today. Fin de siècle Germany had overtaken Britain by many industrial and economic measures by the turn of the century. China, by contrast, still trails the United States by most metrics. Nye accepts the Chinese talking point that it will take China thirty years to catch up. Presto! The United States can take a breather while trying to fashion some sort of condominium with the Asian giant.
No one can quarrel with trying to manage relations with China amicably — Washington should, and must, make the attempt — but we should also be clear about the state of the Sino-American competition and its likely future trajectory. China is not Imperial Germany, but it need not overtake the United States outright to be a far tougher competitor than the Reich ever was. And it can do so long before three decades have elapsed. Herewith, three reasons why China is more formidable than the Kaiser's Germany: