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China will overtake the U.S economy within 20 years.
On Tuesday I had the chance to interview a former head of state who is well-placed to understand China. I started the interview with an admittedly leading statement. “I’m worried that China could someday, say over the next 50 years, overtake the United States and snuff out democracy globally.” He replied, “More like 20 years.”
BEIJING, CHINA – SEPTEMBER 03: Chinese soldiers march in formation passed Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City during a military parade on September 3, 2015 in Beijing, China. China is marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II and its role in defeating Japan with a new national holiday and a military parade in Beijing. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
We agreed that the danger could be described as China’s project of authoritarian capitalism. Other analysts have gone so far as to call China a predator state. One friend of mine, an Asian diplomat, wrote to me that there is an “iron triangle in China Inc.,” composed of the Party-government, state enterprises, and major state-owned commercial banks.
However one characterizes China, it is expanding on many fronts: territorial, social, political, technological, and economic. China’s South and East China Sea expansion, as well as the border dispute with India in the Himalayas, are territorial examples. In the social and political realms, China started its own Davos-like convention of global elites in 2001 — the Boao Forum For Asia. China is subsidising the export of its language and culture through over 480 Confucius Institutes on six continents, including in 90 U.S. colleges and universities.
Chinese cyber-espionage of commercial secrets, and purchase of U.S. and European companies in the technology sector, combine to provide a powerful conduit for the acquisition of technical and military expertise. My interviewee said that China is vacuuming technology globally. “You can hear the sucking,” he said. A current U.S. government official told me that China uses these strategies against U.S. companies as part of a long-term plan to beat the U.S. in technology. “They are focused on becoming, by 2049, a [science and technology] superpower by any means necessary,” he said.
China’s economy is increasing at a faster rate than that of the U.S., and its centralized form of government seemingly gives President Xi Jinping of China more power through diplomatic and economic statecraft than has the U.S. president, despite the U.S. economy being larger, and the U.S. military more technologically advanced. China’s president has more power than the U.S. president, because the Chinese president can better coordinate the economic resources of his nation with its diplomatic and military resources.
Put simply, the Chinese president in peacetime has more control of money than does the U.S. president, and is freer to spend it globally, including through state-sponsored corruption. The Chinese president has greater latitude in how to deploy economic, diplomatic and military resources in support of China’s national interests. The Chinese president’s resulting hard power is therefore substantially higher than that of the U.S. president, despite greater U.S. soft power obtained through popular ideologies like democracy and human rights. China, too, uses these ideologies to increase its soft power.
The Chinese president has more ideological truck with authoritarian regimes and global elites. These elites typically focus on increasing their own power and wealth, and seek assistance in doing so from understanding partners like China. There is a tipping point at which the post-World War II international system will be supplanted by the growing international power and influence of China. Given President Xi of China’s increasingly centralized control over state and economic resources, we could reach the tipping point well before China exceeds the U.S. in military or economic capacity. At that point, it would only be a matter of time before China was able, with no effective resistance possible, to remake the world in its own image.