by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
China is not a rising power but a faltering one. At first glance, this seems an absurd statement. Since it initiated market reforms in 1978, the Asian giant has claimed economic growth averaging 10 percent annually, rising from the world’s seventh-largest economy in 1980 to the second-largest today.
During those decades, it converted its newfound wealth into military power and geopolitical influence, asserting itself both regionally and globally. It now seems to be on the verge of realizing President Xi Jinping’s goal of creating a Sino-centric world order – one that reflects Chinese, rather than American, values and interests.
To many, the notion that China is a faltering power is laughable. It has not only risen meteorically to the commanding heights of the international pecking order, it now looks poised to ascend to the very apex of that order.
But appearances can be deceiving. While it has not yet quite peaked, all the signs are that China’s relative power is nearing the high-tide mark and will soon begin to ebb.
Whether as a result of the “middle-income trap,” the imminent prospect of “growing old before growing rich,” the suffocating effects of the ever-more intrusive and pervasive surveillance state, or all three, China will soon peak. Soon thereafter it will sputter, then fade, all long before it is able to muscle the United States aside and remake the international order in its own image.
While from an American perspective this might seem like good news, a faltering China might also be a dangerous China. For one thing, a China that realizes that its reach has exceeded its grasp is likely to do everything in its power to lock in whatever geopolitical advantages it currently enjoys, before its ability to Sino-form the world begins to wane.