We have all heard that China is a powerful nation, whose military capacities and hegemony are increasingly threatening to the world order. David Frum’s recent Atlantic article reassuringly speak of China as an overestimated threat.
The David Frum article
The article relies on an book published 3 years ago by Michael Beckley, an international relation professional from Tufts University, called Unrivaled: Why America Will Remain the World’s Sole Superpower. The article states:
- China’s military strength is drained with social control responsibilities, social training classes (indoctrination), aka focusing on internal threats, not external issues.
- The universities are great on the international level, but there is no tuition program for high-school educational costs, and 76% of the country has not reached that level.
- University students spend 25% of their time studying “Mao Zedong thought” rather books, often missing access to academic journals.
- Industrial automatization remains below the US levels by several orders of magnitude.
- China leads the world in retractions of scientific studies due to fraud; one-third of Chinese scientists have admitted to falsifying results (versus 2 percent of U.S. scientists); and two-thirds of China’s R&D spending has been lost to corruption.
- China’s GDP was a world leader in the 1800’s. Its larger army didn’t prevent it from being defeated during the Opium Wars. China outproduced the UK, but with a population 13 times bigger.
- The Financial Time article of April 28, stating that the Chinse population is decreasing, has been criticized, but not fully disavowed by the government. The economic growth is based on borrowing, which is relying on the population’s saving. As the country grows older, its economic capacity will decrease.
- Meanwhile, the country’s investments are misallocated. A fifth of the country’s houses are empty, the result of prohibition for nationals to invest abroad. China’s wealthiest send their children abroad for education, because they cannot escape repression at home.
The Beckley interview
In his interview with Tufts, Beckley also mentions:
- The US has only two neighbors, which are both at peace. China has 19 neighbors, and territorial claims against 10 of them.
- The US has more economic arteries, navigable waterways and ports than the rest of the world combined.
- The US Workforce is the third largest, second youngest, most educated and most educated population of the major powers. The only population that will grow in this new century. Meanwhile, China will lose 200 million workers over the next thirty years and add 300 million senior citizens.
- Chinese workers produce six times less wealth per hour than American workers on average.
- One-third of Chinese young people entering the workforce have an IQ below 90, largely a result of malnutrition, poor care, and pollution.
- Russia’s military budget is ten times smaller than America’s. Its economy is smaller than that of Texas and its population will shrink 30 percent over the next thirty years. The United States needs to worry about Russia’s nefarious activities—especially its election meddling and paramilitary encroachments in the Baltics—but it can do so without gearing up for another Cold War.
- Russia and China have too many rivalries to ever unite against the US power.
- The US, with its unrivaled economic and military powers, also engages into difficult challenges – democratizing the Middle East, winning a war on drugs, convincing North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons. It is also bug down by partisan rivalry and special interests. Domestic problems like inequality, ethnic and cultural tensions are getting worse. Upward mobility, entrepreneurship, and life expectancy are declining. The U.S. debt is massive. Infrastructure is generally mediocre.
- The image of an emerging Chinese superpower has its supporters. It helps the Pentagon justify a larger budget, the media to sell books, and investment banks to sell emerging-market funds… Also we are naturally more aware of local problems, than of problems far and abroad.
- The usual power metrics – GDP, military spending, trade volumes – systematically exaggerate the power of countries with big populations, like China and India, but it understates their weaknesses. China also leads the world in debt, resource consumption, pollution, useless infrastructure and wasted industrial capacity, scientific fraud, internal security spending, border disputes, and populations of sick and elderly.
- With 5 percent of the world’s population, the United States accounts for 25 percent of global wealth, 35 percent of world innovation, and 40 percent of global military spending. It is home to nearly 600 of the world’s 2,000 most profitable companies and fifty of the top 100 universities.
- It has sixty-eight formal allies, and it is the only country that can fight major wars beyond its home region, with 587 bases scattered across forty-two countries.
Yale historian Paul Kennedy conducted a famous study comparing great powers over the past five hundred years and concluded: “Nothing has ever existed like this disparity of power; nothing.” The United States is, quite simply, “the greatest superpower ever.”
So the US is not perfect, but looking at the future, you would surely prefer American troubles and future to those of China.
Other related topics
A few more articles on the topic:
- China is threatening the freedom of speech of international universities, not jus their own. They are notably preventing UK academics from publishing about Beijing Human Rights abuses. The censorship is now the ‘biggest freedom of speech issue’ facing UK universities.
- The National Interest: 89 percent of Americans consider China a competitor or enemy, rather than a partner. Meanwhile, the party faces a crisis of legitimacy from its own people; its brutal treatment of ordinary Chinese demonstrates the precarity of the regime.
- The job losses in the US due to China’s economic strengths are outpaced by the benefits of lower costs to the US economy, says the Hoover Institution in its August 2020 article. If ~2.4 million jobs were lost to China between 1999 and 2011, the economic gains over the period is scaled at $202 bn, or $85k gain per job loss. The pain to the workers was real, but did it cost them as much?
- Opposition to David Frum’s article are showing. John Mac Ghlionn’s China is no Paper Dragon insists on China’s heavy investment in (military) technologies, its unity, the internationalism of its Belt Road initiative. He points out to the US’s cacophony of opinions, the low interest of high schoolers in science, the lower meritocracy in access to university, the US’s own aging population. An official denial?
- Michael Beckley, University professor at Tufts, September 15, 2018: Unrivaled: Why America Will Remain the World’s Sole Superpower.
- Tuft University, November21, 2019: Why the United States Is the Only Superpower
- The Hoover Institution, David Henderson, August 27, 2020: Is china an Economic Threat?
- The National Interest, March 18, 2021: China Is a Big Threat, But the Challenge May Not Be What It Seems
- Nasdaq, April 28, 2021: China to report first population drop in five decades -FT
- AOL, Eleanor Busby, May 12, 2021: Self-censorship on China ‘biggest freedom of speech issue’ facing universities
- The Atlantic, David Frum, May 3rd, 2021: China Is a Paper Dragon
- The National Review, John Max Ghlionn, May 17, 2021: China Is No Paper Dragon