Wednesday, April 8, 2015

"The China Challenge"

The Boston Globe - April 3, 2015  

Joseph S. Nye, Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor

Since World War II, the United States has been the most powerful state in world politics. Many analysts view a rising China as the most likely contender to end the American century. One recent book is even entitled "When China Rules the World."
Most projections of Chinese power are based on the rapid growth rate of its GDP, and China may pass the United States in total economic size in the 2020s. But even then, it will be decades before it equals America in per capita income (a measure of the sophistication of an economy). China also has other significant power resources. In terms of basic resources, its territory is equal to that of the United States and its population is four times greater. It has the world's largest army, more than 250 nuclear weapons, and modern capabilities in space and cyberspace. In soft power (the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than payment or coercion), China still lacks cultural industries able to compete with Hollywood; its universities are not top ranked; and it lacks the many non-governmental organizations that generate much of America's soft or attractive power.
In the 1990s, I wrote that the rapid rise of China might cause the type of conflict predicted by Thucydides when he attributed the disastrous Peloponnesian War in ancient Greece to the rise in the power of Athens and the fear it created in Sparta. Today, I think that is unlikely, though some analysts flatly assert that China cannot rise peacefully. Many draw analogies to World War I, when Germany had surpassed Britain in industrial power. But we should also recall Thucydides' other warning, that belief in the inevitability of conflict can become one of its main causes. Each side, believing it will end up at war with the other, makes reasonable military preparations which then are read by the other side as confirmation of its worst fears.

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