Why China will not surpass the US as the world’s #1 player even by 2030

Many self-appointed “foreign policy experts”, including some Foreign Policy magazine contributors, claim that “American decline is real this time”, that the US will inevitably cease to be the world’s #1 player/leader/hegemon within a few decades, and that it will be replaced by China. The FP’s newest edition features an article dedicated to this subject whose title made it to the mag’s cover.


But the declinists – those who are heralding America’s “inevitable decline” and the ascendancy of China – are wrong. America’s obit has been written many times, but it’s still the “toughest kid on the block”. There is nothing inevitable about decline, and America’s decline can be stopped and reversed if the right policies are implemented. As for China, the author of that ridiculous article ignored the fact that – as a blogger calling himself “the Futurist” pointed out – China would have to match the US not merely on military terms, but also on economic, technological, scientific, and cultural terms to match and surpass the US, which it is unlikely to do even by 2030. To achieve that goal, which it has obviously adopted, China would have to:

1) Have a military stronger than the US military. Already accomplished.

2) Have a larger economy than the US. Presently, America’s GDP is $14.62 trillion according to the World Bank, while China’s GDP, according to the most generous estimates, is $8 trillion. China’s economy would have to grow by no less than 11% for the next 20 years nonstop just to match the US, and that is even assuming that the US economy remains stagnant for the next 20 years. China’s economy cannot grow so rapidly for such a long time – such a rate of growth is not sustainable. The Chinese economy has been growing at 8-10% during the last 5 years, so China can’t really accelerate the rate of growth.

3) Have the world’s best universities that students from around the world will aspire to enroll at. Currently, 17 of the world’s best 20 universities are in the US. Prophets of America’s decline point out that China graduates hundreds of thousands of scientists and engineers every year, but they graduate from mediocre universities that are decisively inferior to American ones. If Chinese universities are not improved, China cannot match the US in the knowledge-based economy.

4) Be responsible for a large part of the world’s R&D programs and R&D spending. Currently, America alone is responsible for 33% of the world’s R&D spending, exceeding the science budgets of all EU countries combined. The National Science Foundation has a larger budget than the R&D budgets of some European countries. Asa %age of GDP, the US spends more on R&D than any European country (3% of GDP), and trails only a few Asian countries such as Japan and South Korea. China invests little in R&D and relies on copies of products developed in the US.

5) Have the world’s most famous, most profitable brands that will be household names. Currently, the vast majority of the world’s famous brands are American: Adidas, Nike, Coca-Cola, etc. Similarly, the world’s richest corporation (Wal-Mart) is American.

6) Engineer many of humanity’s greatest feats. China currently has plans to send an astronaut to the moon by 2024. The US remains the only country, so far, that has managed to send men to the moon. China will not match the US on this until China does something that no other country in the world has accomplished so far – for example, sends men to Mars before anyone else does.

7) Be the country expected to thanklessly use its own resources to solve the world’s problems. Unless China sends its ships and men to Haiti, Pakistan, Indonesia or another troubled country to help its population, it’s not in the same league as the US.

8) Adapt to the double standard that superpuissances have to tolerate – that you are being scrutinized far more heavily than other countries and criticized for something that other countries are not. The US is still being criticized for slavery, which ended 145 years ago, even by countries that maintain slavery to this day. The US is still being criticized for its invasion of Iraq and alleged “war crimes”, while few people mention the real war crimes committed by Saddam Hussein.

So, as the Futurist explained in 2008, China will NOT become the world’s hegemon unless it matches or surpasses the US on these eight points. So far, China has surpassed the US on only one.


EDIT: Some people have been mislead, or are deliberately misleading others, about the real sizes of the military budgets of the US and China. Therefore, I’d like to point out the following facts:

1) The US does not have, and has never had, a $700 bn military budget. Not this FY. Not ever. The FY2011 military budget is $685 bn ($525 bn as a core defense budget + a $160 bn GWOT supplemental); and it might be cut, depending on what the Congress decides. the FY2010 military budget was $664 bn ($534 bn + $130 bn). While this is nonetheless the largest military budget of any country, it’s still not $700 bn. The $700 bn military budget claim is a lie.

2) Some people claim that China’s military budget is only $70 bn. That is a lie. The $70 bn figure is a wildly underestimated fiure supplied by the Chinese government, which deliberately understates its military spending. No serious person believes in these figures, and Globalsecurity.org has documented how China understates its military spending and how the PLA gets off-the-books income. The DOD estimates that CHina’s real military budget for FY2007 was at least $100 bn, and possibly up top $140 bn. China’s military budget for this FY is certainly much huger. The Japanese press estimates that CHina’s military budget for FY2010 was $120 bn. Either way, it’s much higher than what China claims.