China becomes a super-power (geopolitical analysis need not be war-mongering)

If Vice Admiral Winnefeld’s article illustrates modern war-mongering, an unnecessarily hostile view of our fellow great powers, what would be a more balanced view?  Just in time Albert Keidel gives us an example.  {Please do not critique his analysis without first reading it.  This is #7 in a series about grand strategy. }

China’s Economic Rise – Fact and Fiction“, ALBERT KEIDEL, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, July 2008, 16 pages. 

Keidel was deputy for the Office of East Asian Nations in the U.S. Treasury. Before that he was senior economist in the World Bank’s Beijing office. He has taught at Johns Hopkins, George Washington, and Georgetown Universities. Keidel’s recent writings include China’s Economic Fluctuations: Implications for Its Rural Economy and The Causes and Impact of Chinese Regional Inequalities in Income and Well-Being.


  1. China’s domestically driven economic expansion is not limited by export markets and can sustain high single-digit growth rates for decades.
  2. Beijing now seems likely to overcome potential stumbling blocks such as economic instability, pollution, inequality, corruption, and a slow pace of political reform.
  3. China’s economic size will match America’s by 2035 and double it by midcentury, with unclear but potentially wrenching strategic implications that demand U.S. economic and military reassessment.
  4. American policy makers should take this opportunity to enact wide-ranging domestic reforms and rethink their inherited concepts of global order.


Exports: Not China’s Engine of Growth

Skeptics about China’s growth prospects most frequently question the sustainability of its export performance. In recent years, its exports and trade surplus have ballooned, leading to the common assumption that its growth is export-led and that limited global markets will curtail its expansion sooner rather than later. But this assumption is not supported by the data on the sources of Chinese growth, which are overwhelmingly domestic.

In fact, a detailed study of each of China’s five macroeconomic booms and slowdowns since 1978 reveals that domestic shifts in investment and consumption have been responsible for China’s growth (table 1). Even in recent years, the contributions to growth from the country’s trade surplus have had secondary importance. …

How Big Is China Now, and How Big Could It Become?

… Despite this low starting point, if China’s expansion is anywhere near as fast as the earlier expansion of other East Asian modernizers at a comparable stage of development, the power of compound growth rates means that China’s economy will be larger than America’s by midcentury—no matter how it is converted to dollars. …

China’s Future Military Potential

The military repercussions of China’s rapid economic expansion are more difficult to gauge, but should it want to, China by later in the century could become a major—and possibly the leading—global military power. Whether it chooses to pursue this goal depends in part on the international environment thirty or more years from now. Today, while China’s military resources are still a small fraction of America’s, the United States has time to lead the development of a system of international institutions and coalitions in which America can prosper when it is no longer the world’s largest economy.

China’s relative military capabilities today are even weaker than indicated by estimates of its annual military budgets like those in the Pentagon’s recent report to Congress on Chinese military power. Conservative estimates show the U.S. 2005 military budget was at least eight times China’s. But another indicator of China’s global military strength is not annual budgets but rather the dollar value of accumulated stocks of sophisticated weapons. …

Maximizing the Benefits of China’s Rise

(1)  Reforms in the United States:

China’s rapid economic emergence in the coming decade will increasingly reveal America’s need for broad reforms, especially in its public investment systems. China’s legitimate challenge can motivate U.S. reform initiatives that would otherwise be difficult to achieve—such as for infrastructure, primary and secondary education, health care finance, and pensions.

(2)  The benefits of broad-based engagement:

China’s meteoric growth over the last three decades and its likely continuation argue for intensified U.S. engagement with China over as broad a spectrum as possible. …

(3)  An “SED Club” Combining China’s Strategic Economic Dialogue relationships:

China has developed three additional SED relationships, with Japan, the European Union, and the United Kingdom. The United States should propose that Chinese and foreign counterparts in all four SED relationships meet together to discuss global economic and financial developments of common interest. …

(4)  The payoff from engagement with autocratic regimes:

Contrary to popular understanding, China did not “open itself ” to reforms and global commerce in the 1970s. Rather, the United States, which had “closed” China during the Korean War, decided under President Richard Nixon to engage the highly autocratic authorities in Beijing. It might thus be more accurate to say that the United States and China both contributed to “opening” China. The subsequent benefits are obvious, including the evolution of China’s more sophisticated and decreasingly autocratic economic and political structures. This experience argues for considering the replacement of blanket U.S. sanctions against other countries. with broad-based engagement, keeping an eye on potential benefits several decades hence.

(5)  Modes for promoting poor-country development:

China’s remarkable economic achievements since 1978 suggest new alternatives for reversing the economic failure of many poor countries around the world. Policy makers and social scientists should focus on exploring the potential lessons of China’s development success. At a minimum such lessons could form an essential supplement, not necessarily an alternative, to the “Washington consensus” on economic development.  {FM note:  the “Washington Consensus” has proved itself to be a reliable formula for proverty and instability}

(6)  Adjustments to long-term plans for global security cooperation:

China’s military capacity is now relatively quite weak and will remain so for some time. The United States therefore still has time to prepare for the longer term, when China’s potentially much-enhanced military capabilities could make China globally competitive and eventually even the world’s leader. The United States should not wait until it is too late to shape the character of broad-based security arrangements around the world that can best serve its national interests in what will likely be very different circumstances after 2050.

We can argue about the details, but with geopolitical analysis like this America could find a path to peace and prosperity in the 21st century.  As opposted to what Vice Admiral Winnefeld’s article illustrates, a path to mutual hostility, ruinous military spending, and possible wars.

Please share your comments by posting below (brief and relevant, please), or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

Grand Strategy and our national security

Does America need a grand strategy?  If so, what should it be?  Answers to these questions illuminate many of the questions hotly debated about foreign policy and national security.

  1. The Myth of Grand Strategy   (31 January 2006)
  2. America’s Most Dangerous Enemy   (1 March 2006)
  3. The Fate of Israel  (28 July 2006)
  4. Why We Lose at 4GW   (4 January 2007)
  5. America takes another step towards the “Long War”   (24 July 2007)
  6. One step beyond Lind: What is America’s geopolitical strategy?   (28 October 2007)
  7. ABCDs for today: About Blitzkrieg, COIN, and Diplomacy  (21 February 2008)
  8. One telling similarity between the the Wehrmacht and the US Military  (10 March 2008)
  9. America needs a Foreign Legion  (18 April 2008)
  10. Militia – the ultimate defense against 4GW   (original September 2005; revised 30 May 2008)
  11. How America can survive and even prosper in the 21st Century – part I  (19 March 2007; revised 7 June 2008)
  12. How America can survive and even prosper in the 21st Century – part II  (14 June 2008)
  13. America’s grand strategy: lessons from our past  (30 June 2008)
  14. President Grant warns us about the dangers of national hubris  (1 July 2008)
  15. America’s grand strategy, now in shambles  (2 July 2008)
  16. A lesson in war-mongering: “Maritime Strategy in an Age of Blood and Belief”     (8 July 2008)

6 thoughts on “China becomes a super-power (geopolitical analysis need not be war-mongering)”

  1. William RAISER

    Fabius, thanks for the reference to the KEIDEL article. My knowledge is much more limited than his, but all that I know supports his analysis. I hope such views will gain place in US political circles and among the American public. There are great opportunities for working together. I hope we’re as up to the challenge as the Chinese seem to be.

  2. I think point 3 (SED club) can be taken with a dash of salt. Japan’s present wrangling over it’s constitutions article 9 is pretty clearly aimed at China as much as anything.
    Fabius Maximus replies: While I agree with your point, I suspect none of the governments want an arms race — or see military adventures as a source of growth or wealth. Hence the seriousness of the SED talks.

  3. “China’s legitimate challenge can motivate U.S. reform initiatives that would otherwise be difficult to achieve—such as for infrastructure, primary and secondary education, health care finance, and pensions.”

    Noble vision! Others in this article include the idea of cooperative mutual security arrangements, and replacing (or modifying) the “Washington consensus” on third world development with a “Peking consensus”. Of course, powerful vested interests will oppose each of these initiatives (the military-industrial complex, for example, or the broad panoply of American businesses which demand lower taxes, recission of labor and environmental laws, an end to pension and health-care obligations, exemptions from local property taxes that support education, etc.)

    Under current election laws and finance practices, what imaginable political leader could oppose these interests?
    Fabius Maximus replies: There are political interests on both sides. As China grows in importance as a manufacturing center and marketplace for US companies, those companies have no interest in the US government seeing China as a threat — to the extent that it damages commercial interests.

    Which side wins? WWI happened despited the close social and commercial integration of european states (this was a commonly given reason why war was impossible). On the other hand, Nixcon went to China in part because commercial interests overpowered the war-folks.

    Equally so, there are powerful interests on both sides of these domestic issues. But the #1 question is the degree of involvement of American citizens in these things.

  4. Will China’s Problems Dance Away?
    Size has a quality all its own and China has that. But they also have many real and serious issues that can, if not solved, bring about major problems for the rest of the world.
    Fabius Maximus replies: True, but this is just the human condition. Your statement applies equally well to the US as well as China. Every generation of every society faces serious problems. The author gives substantive reasons to expect that China will work through theirs. I wish I had an equally strong basis for confidence that we will so successfully work though ours.

  5. Approximately 1.3 billion people is to 1.3 billion problems to the power of n. I dunno.I’m like those tribal people who can’t seem to count past 10 & comprehend larger figures. After nine hundred & ninety-nine thousand, any number higher than that is beyond my ability to comprehend.

    Help please.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I do not see the problem. Is there historical evidence for larger societies being less stable than smaller ones? I doubt that. If so, Chinese history would show far less stability than Europes (other factors being equal).

  6. xtdzb vczdxajf : ??? Dude, even if it’s an insult, least ya could do is have it typed in ENGLISH. FM, jesus, why’s everyone writin’ in CODE these days? Is the lingua franca of the world so difficult to master or command?

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