The topic of China’s rise in the world‘s political and economic stage has raised questions as to whether it will replace the US as the next world superpower.
This reality became more pronounced after Donald Trump signed the executive order withdrawing from Trans-Pacific partnership leading to the belief that this would pave the way for China to usher in a new global leaders, thus providing China the leadership for Asia considering the fact that Asia is set to be next center of growth.
This is because the TPP was viewed by many as a U.S. strategy to “contain” China’s trading power, incorporating many other nations along the Pacific coast into the pact, and it excluded China.
China’s economic prowess can be seen in the fact that it has embraced globalisation through its participation in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), its desire to provide infrastructure through the One Belt One Road (OBOR) and the various initiatives in the establishment of the Asian infrastructure Bank that it gives it an elevated financial status.
China’s economic ascendency does not make it automatic for it to gain superpower status. To start with its economic growth is slowing with many economic inefficiencies and reform in the service sector suffering from slow implementation.
In the financial sector, investors are not accorded consistent returns due to considerable intervention by the government in the private sector.
China’s on-going capital controls and lack of financial liberalization deters the Renminbi from being an internationally accepted currency.
The US, on the other hand, has a headstart. After the second world war, the world was in disarray and through the Bretton Woods system, it used gold that would be tied to the US dollar as a means to impose its economic power on the globe.
China lacks the advantage that the US has. While it can provide some leadership in Asia, its currency, the Renminbi lacks internationalisation and its living standards within the country are not even close to Europe.
Another impediment to China’s rise as an economic and political powerhouse is its aging population. The one-child policy and declining fertility rates would only mean a stagnant economy in the future. It is believed that by 2050 as much as 40% of the population would be retirees.
While China is embracing globalisation and the free-market economy, it is still seen as a socialist enterprise, with a great portion of Chinese economy still in the hands of state-Owned Enterprises which does not allow it to have economic, let alone political dominance.
One of the prerequisites of being a superpower is having an advanced military. While China’s military has been growing in strength, it is still behind that of the US. China had US$147 billion in miltary spending in 2016 which constitutes about 2.1 % of the GDP compared to the US which spends approximately US664 billion in the military or 2.4% of its GDP.
In terms of military personnel, China is known to have a population of 2.4 billion people with 2.35 million people in the military while the US has a population of 321 million people with those in the military estimated to be 1.4 million people.
The US has 13,444 aircrafts as compared to China’s 2,492 aircrafts. While China is building its military strength, the US would still be ahead of China. In addition, China also has issues of corruption, quality issues, and monopoly in defense which will haunt the Chinese military back.
The Chinese army has also dealt with issues in several regions such as Tibet and Hong Kong that are demanding more autonomy and that would require China to deploy a significant amount of resources to these regions in order to ensure political stability within the borders.
While China has the trappings of a super-power evidenced by its economic prowess, it is still a long way to go unless it sets its domestic reforms agenda straight and give a time-frame for its eventual realization.