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Is China the Next Superpower?

By Kira Goldring
 Getty Images: China Photos
*Updated 2019
A superpower is defined as a country that has global influence over others in cultural, technological, military and political spheres, and China, whose Communist party just celebrated its 70th anniversary, is emerging as a strong contender for the position. While the US has been the world’s superpower for decades, escalating political tension between the US and China, especially the renewed trade war and recent criminal charges against Chinese company Huawei, leads many to wonder: Is China the Next Superpower?
Here are three arguments suggesting that China is becoming the next world superpower, and three arguments against it.


China will replace the US as superpower


Embraces globalization

It’s rare to pick up a knick-knack in the US without seeing the words “Made in China” written on it. That’s because China is the world’s top exporting and trading country, having exported $479.97 billion worth of goods into the US in 2018. In fact, the US is China’s top trading partner, receiving 19.2% of all Chinese imports. China has also taken strong steps to make global connections, trying to solidify relationships with some of America’s previous allies. It is also running an effective public-relations game, representing itself as a globalist world power. China’s One Belt and One Road initiative seeks to stimulate economic growth across Asia by investing billions of dollars into building ambitious amounts of infrastructure to connect China with the rest of the world.

Additionally, China is a huge investor in the US, owning over $1.123 trillion of US debt, and snapping up US-born startups. The fact that President Trump considered rejoining the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) only a year after withdrawing from it – on what was, at the time, the brink of a trade war with China, which is still continuing – demonstrates the “strategic threat” China poses to the US.


The West wants in

It’s not just exports that set China apart; China boasts a market of which the West wants a piece. Its economic growth has surpassed every other country’s at an average of 10% per year; the sheer size of its population (over one billion people), combined with a growing middle class, has given the country unrivaled buying power. Consequently, American companies are itching to get involved. Facebook and Google have repeatedly tried to re-enter China, with each company changing policies and creating new products to try to get into the Chinese game. Some of Hollywood’s biggest films have also been reworked just for the chance of being allowed in, not to mention popular TV shows have been censored for fear of being critical of China.


Technologically dominant

China checks the technological domination box on the list of superpower qualifications. Once notorious for being the “copycat” nation, it now boasts strong entrepreneurial spirit nearly akin to that of Silicon Valley. Its digital payments market is far more developed and prevalent than that of the US. By 2021, it is projected that nearly 80% of all of China’s smartphone users will be using their phones instead of cash or credit cards at points of sale, compared to only 31% of Americans.  Its two largest internet companies – Alibaba Group and Tencent Holdings – are leaders in online gaming, social media and ecommerce. From the lightweight, cutting-edge Mavic Pro drone (which controls over 70% of the commercial drone market), to the rise and fall of its bike-sharing industry and all-inclusive app WeChat, the technological innovation emerging from China that once would have been met with skepticism from the West is now met with due admiration.


China isn’t made of superpower stuff


Government intervention stifles potential

Soaring economic growth isn’t enough to propel a country into superpower status. China’s financial system lacks credibility, as it is largely underdeveloped and subject to government meddling. Additionally, the financial sector rarely provides investors with real, profitable returns, and has been accused of limiting competition. For example, Uber failed in China after government preferences for state-owned enterprises gave Chinese rideshare company Didi a competitive edge. Although China has kept its pledge to open up its finance sector to foreign investment, including in VPN services, to counter said accusations, the level of government involvement in the economy overall puts China out of the running in the superpower race.


The world isn’t on board

China needs global support to become a superpower, which it lacks in the current political climate. With US Department of Justice accusing Chinese firm Huawei of trying to steal trade secrets from T-Mobile and attempting to skirt US sanctions on Iran, the world will be cautious to interact with Chinese firms.

Additionally, take currency: Part of America’s rise to power was due to the post-WWII Bretton Woods Conference of 1944, in which delegates from around the world agreed that exchange rates would be rooted in gold, with the US dollar being the reserve currency. This rendered the dollar the most important currency in the world, and as a result, the US became the world’s foundation for economic stability. China, however, doesn’t have the trust that the world showed the US after WWII; the country’s persistent adherence away from Western ideals will keep the world at large from getting too close.


Problems at home

China’s current population of over one billion people puts a large strain on its natural resources. Efforts to curb explosive growth – such as the one-child policy, which had been in place for over 30 years – have backfired, resulting in an aging population that’s predominantly male. Much of China’s youth has gone abroad to seek opportunity, and China’s labor force is shrinking as a result. While their middle class may be growing rapidly, the income inequality outside of big cities is rampant by unparalleled standards. Until China’s demographics are adjusted to reflect a more balanced society across age, genders and socioeconomic status, their rise to superpower status is likely to be nonexistent.


The Bottom Line: It’s true that China is making great strides towards globalization, with booming technological and economic sectors. Yet, its world standing and concerning domestic issues seem to indicate that it still isn’t ready for world domination. Would you bet on China as the world’s next superpower?

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