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Focusing exclusively on the growing economic and military might of the PRC, however, risks distorting our understanding of China’s rise by privileging traditional metrics of power over more relevant but less well-defined forms of influence.
A more holistic view of Chinese power suggests that the PRC will fail to emerge as the global hegemon even while it becomes ever more entrenched as Asia’s leading power. should, therefore, seek to accommodate China’s rise in Asia while working to retain its global preeminence and reassure Asian partners.
As one article notes, “Half a billion peasants will produce a large volume of output, but most of it will be immediately consumed, leaving little left over for national purposes.” Some would respond that China’s robust growth will allow it to improve its position relative to the U. This is indubitably true, but one should not evaluate China’s economy through rose-tinted glasses. Chinese public debt is not much lower than that of the U.
S., and it is arguably even more worrisome because much of it has been incurred by local governments that chronically misrepresent statistics.
Thus, China’s actual debt level is not clear, making it all the more difficult to address. China also faces a growing demographic challenge which far exceeds that of the U. With fewer young workers to support growth and an increasingly elderly population draining state welfare coffers, China might simply lack the economic resources to project power globally.
China is also disadvantaged by the increasing prominence of integrated supply chains, which undermines the efficacy of state-directed industrial policy.
As Kupchan demonstrates, dominant states create international orders based on their “social and ideological proclivities.” This presents a problem for China, as its model of authoritarianism is unpopular, and this means it will struggle to legitimate the institutions it is creating to supplant U. And to the extent China’s rise generates global economic growth and innovation, it could significantly reduce human security concerns by increasing the global capacity to address transnational threats like climate change, disease, and extreme poverty. The Obama administration famously pursued its “pivot to Asia,” which aimed to reassure allies wary of China’s rise by expanding the American military presence in the region. At the same time, the administration sought to integrate China into the American-led global order, noting that “the scope of our cooperation with China is unprecedented, even as we remain alert to China’s military modernization.” While this approach had the correct intentions, there is little evidence the pivot succeeded.
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Instead of leading innovation, Chinese firms are mired in the less rewarding endeavor of assembling intermediate goods. This is largely borne out by the data: American R&D spending is still greater than China’s, and Chinese research is of relatively low quality even as it increases in magnitude. The influence that economic growth has bestowed upon Beijing is also exercised inefficiently.
One example of this is China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which seeks to develop infrastructure to link China’s economy to the resource-rich African continent and consumer-rich European continent.