Since the fall of the Soviet Union Americans have had the luxury of living in a country with no foreign rival. When we do look to see who could be a potential existential threat, the answer is almost always China. China’s economy is growing rapidly, its military is expanding, and its diplomatic influence has spread to every continent. However, despite its impressive rise in the last fifteen years, China remains decades away from competing with the US on any level.|
There has been more discussion of the rise of China in recent years due to the struggles in our own country. Our economy is growing very slowly, we have a massive national debt, and many of our weapon systems are aging. It is easy to get the impression that the U.S. is in decline while China is on the rise.
China has emerged in the last fifteen years due largely to free market reforms and expanded international trade. China is now the top exporter in the world. China’s economy has grown from $3 trillion in 2000 to $8.7 trillion in 2009. In 2009, China’s economy grew 8.7% while the U.S. economy shrunk 2.4%. China will soon become the largest economy in the world, surpassing the United States.
Despite these impressive numbers, most of China still struggles with poverty, unemployment, and civil unrest. Per capita income in the U.S. is still over seven times more ($46,000 compared to only $7,000 in China). It will be decades before the Chinese people will have an equal standard of living to the United States, if ever.
Many Americans are also concerned that we are losing too many jobs to China and we are becoming too dependent on them for manufactured goods. However, the evidence suggests neither is a real problem. U.S. dependence on imports is concentrated in a small segment of manufactured goods, mostly textiles, clothing and appliances. According to the Heritage Foundation, almost 90% of the American economy is not vulnerable to Chinese import interruption. More importantly, the materials and technology necessary for American weapon systems are not imported from China. In terms of employment, the U.S. maintained an unemployment rate below 7% for most of the past ten years despite the rapid Chinese economic expansion. The recent unemployment spike had nothing to do with China.
As China’s economic power has risen, so has its military power. China’s military spending has grown by more than 10% almost every year since 2000. In 2008-2009, Chinese military spending grew 11.8% while U.S. defense spending remained essentially unchanged. China now has the second largest defense budget, at an estimated $150 billion. China’s weapon systems are also being modernized. Currently they are developing a new anti-ship ballistic missile that many believe can sink an aircraft carrier. They have also developed a new anti-satellite missile. The Pentagon also believes China plans to build and operate an aircraft carrier in less than 15 years allowing it to project power to every corner of the world.
The figures make many nervous but China is still a long way away from taking on the U.S. military. The U.S. military budget is four times larger than China’s budget. The U.S. also operates state-of-the-art weapon systems that are unrivaled in the world. China may be closing the gap, but they are more than decade away from fielding ships or aircraft that can compete with the U.S. The U.S. nuclear arsenal is also much larger and more sophisticated. As long as the U.S. invests adequate resources in maintaining its military, China will not be in a position to challenge the U.S. in a conventional or nuclear war.
A war with China is highly unlikely. China’s rapid rise is largely the result of its trade relationship with the United States. It cannot afford to threaten that relationship. However, China has greatly expanded its influence throughout the rest of the world, often times conflicting with U.S. interests. In addition to having a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, China is building strategic partnerships with other Asian countries through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). China is also establishing strong new trade relations with South American and African nations. China has replaced the United States as the top trading partner of several South American countries, including Brazil.
China’s strategic and economic relations abroad create cause for concern. China is not interested in promoting human rights, democracy, or stability. Unlike the U.S., China does not mind working with ruthless and aggressive dictators. China does business with North Korea, Iran, and Sudan. A stronger and more influential China will not make for a safer or more peaceful world.
Many of China’s neighbors are getting nervous as well. Many countries have sought to improve their relationship with the United States in order to counterbalance the influence of China. Nations such as South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, and Indonesia see the United States as a benevolent power that has no imperial ambitions in Asia and as a country that presents considerable economic opportunity through trade. In contrast, they are suspicious of China’s ambitions in the region.
In the last ten years, the balance of power in the world has not really changed. The United States remains the lone superpower and it still wields strong influence on every continent. However, the gap between U.S. power and other rival nations is shrinking. China has begun to close the gap and is becoming more eager to flex its muscles. Although the threat of a confrontation or war with China remains very small, their rise could thwart U.S. interests abroad and slow efforts to improve human rights, spread democracy, and ensure peace and stability.
In order to counter the tensions that could arise in the coming years, the U.S. must work hard to maintain its status as the lone superpower and remain committed to promoting our values abroad. The U.S. must also honor its commitments to its allies abroad and keep the ambitions of would-be competitors in check. Finally, the U.S. must address its own internal weaknesses including its massive national debt and economic turmoil. If the U.S. fails to do so, Americans could soon be living in a world that is much more dangerous.
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Article Added on Tuesday, March 27, 2012
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