"China Will Implode Sooner or Later."
Don't count on it. It is certainly true that when Americans are worrying about national decline, they tend to overlook the weaknesses of their scariest-looking rival. The flaws in the Soviet and Japanese systems became obvious only in retrospect. Those who are confident that American hegemony will be extended long into the future point to the potential liabilities of the Chinese system. In a recent interview with the Times of London, former U.S. President George W. Bush suggested that China's internal problems mean that its economy will be unlikely to rival America's in the foreseeable future. "Do I still think America will remain the sole superpower?" he asked. "I do."
But predictions of the imminent demise of the Chinese miracle have been a regular feature of Western analysis ever since it got rolling in the late 1970s. In 1989, the Communist Party seemed to be staggering after the Tiananmen Square massacre. In the 1990s, economy watchers regularly pointed to the parlous state of Chinese banks and state-owned enterprises. Yet the Chinese economy has kept growing, doubling in size roughly every seven years.
Of course, it would be absurd to pretend that China does not face major challenges. In the short term, there is plenty of evidence that a property bubble is building in big cities like Shanghai, and inflation is on the rise. Over the long term, China has alarming political and economic transitions to navigate. The Communist Party is unlikely to be able to maintain its monopoly on political power forever. And the country's traditional dependence on exports and an undervalued currency are coming under increasing criticism from the United States and other international actors demanding a "rebalancing" of China's export-driven economy. The country also faces major demographic and environmental challenges: The population is aging rapidly as a result of the one-child policy, and China is threatened by water shortages and pollution.
Yet even if you factor in considerable future economic and political turbulence, it would be a big mistake to assume that the Chinese challenge to U.S. power will simply disappear. Once countries get the hang of economic growth, it takes a great deal to throw them off course. The analogy to the rise of Germany from the mid-19th century onward is instructive. Germany went through two catastrophic military defeats, hyperinflation, the Great Depression, the collapse of democracy, and the destruction of its major cities and infrastructure by Allied bombs. And yet by the end of the 1950s, West Germany was once again one of the world's leading economies, albeit shorn of its imperial ambitions.
In a nuclear age, China is unlikely to get sucked into a world war, so it will not face turbulence and disorder on remotely the scale Germany did in the 20th century. And whatever economic and political difficulties it does experience will not be enough to stop the country's rise to great-power status. Sheer size and economic momentum mean that the Chinese juggernaut will keep rolling forward, no matter what obstacles lie in its path.