Will China become a superpower?

Summary:  Will China become a superpower in the next decade?  US opinions have divided into two views.  The US military and its proxies describe China as a more than a rival — as a looming threat.  Others, most especially Wall Street, see China as about to slide into recession.  Or depression.  Or sink into the sea, like Atlantis.  They describe two different worlds, both shaped by American needs and fears.  Here are two other perspectives on China.

Article:  “China’s Not a Superpower Chinese Translation“, Minxin Pei, The Diplomat, January 2010 — The author is a Prof of Government at Claremont McKenna College; his latest book is China: Trapped Transition (2006).  It’s worth reading in full.  Opening:

With the United States apparently in terminal decline as the world’s sole superpower, the fashionable question to ask is which country will be the new superpower? The near-unanimous answer, it seems, is China. Poised to overtake Japan as the world’s 2nd largest economy in 2010, the Middle Kingdom has all the requisite elements of power – an extensive industrial base, a strong state, a nuclear-armed military, a continental-sized territory, a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council and a large population base–to be considered as Uncle Sam’s most eligible and logical equal. Indeed, the perception that China has already become the world’s second superpower has grown so strong that some in the West have proposed a G2 – the United States and China – as a new partnership to address the world’s most pressing problems.

To be sure, the perception of China as the next superpower is grounded, at least in part, in the country’s amazing rise over the last three decades. Powered by near-double digit economic growth since 1979, China has transformed itself from an isolated, impoverished and demoralized society into a confident, prospering global trading power. With a GDP of $4.4 trillion and total foreign trade of $2.6 trillion in 2008, China has firmly established itself as a premier world economic powerhouse.

Yet, despite such undeniable achievements, it may be too soon to regard China as the world’s next superpower.

For a response, the rest of the story (as Paul Harvey used to say), see this by guest author Young J. Kim (former Captain in the US Army, served 2 tours in Iraq; currently a PhD candidate at Korea University in Seoul).

Guest article by Young J. Kim


Pei is not discounting what China has accomplished, many notable inventions and scientific discoveries range from the Chinese be the first to develop gun powder weapons and the first to discover planetary motion 500 years before Brahe and Kepler. However there are reasons that China didn’t expand into world influence. These are the same factors that had China not expand beyond itself unlike Europe, despite having built ocean-going vessels that could sail half way around the world, predating Columbus by almost a century. China simply has too many internal problems for it to ever commit to a path of global influence.

All of the problems listed by Pei are in fact nothing new to the Chinese experience. Central to all of this is what to do about the hundreds of millions of peasants. Ever since the first Chinese imperial dynasty this problem has plagued the central government. China as a civilization could function as a civilization but as a country it is simply too large and too centralized to govern and manage effectively.

China’s history, and its problems today

Nearly every single dynastic change was the result of peasant revolts; foreign invasions for the most part toppled what was already unstable. Even as recently as the final dynasty of the Qing the Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864) saw more Chinese dead during this period than the Japanese ever inflicted, with estimates up to 30-40 Chinese million dead. Throughout Chinese history nearly all of its bloodiest conflicts coincided with dynastic changes. The CCP (Chinese Communist Party) of today has not negated these same factors that plagued Chinese civilization repeatedly throughout history. We should not expect that the Chinese could escape their history anymore than we could.

So the question is asking why does China seem to want to assert itself now? That I believe is tied to a centuries long transition that only recently the Chinese had caught up. Wealth no longer comes from trade along the trade routes of Central Asia but through maritime shipping. This has only made geopolitical conditions for the Chinese even worse off.  Policies attempting to push economic development into the interior of China won’t work due to unnecessary transportation costs to the coastal regions. Their infrastructure in those regions is still undeveloped. China can’t develop them unless they build up a strong domestic economy to support its construction. For China to do this will require that they make that transition from export to a domestic economy. Japan is the only country in the regions with a sizable domestic economy that self-generates its own development. Japan as well as some other countries in Asia had to make this rather painful transition where some even now have not completed.

Also China has internal ethnic tensions, over-centralization of federal government, massive corruption, massive pollution — I can go on and on about why China won’t become a superpower.

China and its neighbors

China may be a security concern for the countries in Northeast and Southeast Asia, but nothing they cannot manage on their own.  These countries can hold China at bay within their respective regions.

In Northeast Asia alone the Koreans and Japanese combined have more than enough assets for deterrence. If only the Japanese eliminate their outdated stance on pacifism. There is no need for the US to continually subsidize their security at our expense. Northeast Asia has the technological and economic base to build and develop as a regional security bloc, but there is no incentive so long as the US remains — especially if we continually allow for access to our markets at an advantage.

China poses no existential threat to India. Why try to invade and conquer, only to rule an additional billion or so people when you are having great difficulty ruling your own billion or so citizens?

Southeast Asia? That is an area of interests for nearly all the countries in Asia. We already have the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force {see Wikipedia} sending ship deployments from the TGT Triangle (Tokyo, Guam, Taiwan) with no fewer than 65 vessels to SE Asia and as far away to East Africa.

For Vietnam, Communism was the vehicle for anti-colonialism and independence as against the French and later American. China has subjected Vietnam to various pressures for centuries. Vietnamese history is littered with many rebellions for independence and direct state-to-state conflicts consistently throughout its history. The Sino-Vietnamese War repeats old conflicts, when Vietnam refused Chinese reassertion into their region.

That being said the Chinese never penetrated into SE Asia beyond Vietnam.  China has never successfully invaded Thailand, Cambodia, Laos or even Burma (Burma repelled China’s small invasion force in 1765).  Vietnam was successfully invaded; this had much to do with Chinese interests of Hainan Island — ajacent to Vietnam, Chinese territory for many centuries.  During the Ming Dynasty China made its farthest penetration into Vietnam.  Even then China didn’t penetrate much beyond Northern Vietnam, leaving the previously mentioned SE Asian countries pretty much alone. China’s interest has always been around Hainan Island.  The conflict over the waters in that region date back centuries.

Today other SE Asian countries watch China’s efforts to secure the ocean trade routes to which it is absolutely dependent upon. Previously there had been no problems between Malaysia and China, or Indonesia and China.  Now they will in all likelihood develop a shared interest against China (aside from ethnic Chinese being so dominant in the commerce within those countries). Just as it is the case in NE Asia, SE Asia having a shared security interest is also economically capable. ASEAN combined would have the 8th or 9th largest economy in the world. Shared interests with Japan and Korea for securing their commercial access makes all of the countries pretty much on board with how to deal with China.

China and the US

China is not an existential threat to the US, nor will it ever be. Honestly the preferred strategy should be to end the China threat industry and all of its nonsense, scale back and reduce our forces, but seek opportunity to sell and co-develop weapons with those countries. Our position should be to never get involved with their disputes, rather trade with them. We can always tailor what we sell to whom we sell and with that finally balance our deficits in trade, our governmental budget, and our diplomatic reputation.


The point is that in SE Asia no Asian continental power could subdue that region fully not even the Mongols succeeded in their attempts to invade. The relative power positions of China now is not that much different than in the past. The only major and permanent change to Asia is that Japan became and still is a major power and that’s it.

Response from FM to one paragraph of Minxin Pei’s article

“has all the requisite elements of power – an extensive industrial base, a strong state, a nuclear-armed military, a continental-sized territory, a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council and a large population base … {AND} the capabilities of a superpower: a technologically advanced economy, a hi-tech military, a fully integrated nation, insuperable military and economic advantages vis-à-vis potential competitors, capacity to provide global public goods and an appealing ideology”

This sets the bar very high. What are the odds of any nation retaining all these things on a sustained basis?   The US is the only nation in the history of the world to meet all of these criteria (although there have been many regional powers).  That’s probably a historical accident.

  • Europe’s evolution wrecked by the 1914-1945 horror show.
  • Russia and China vaporizing themselves (1917-1998 and 1949-1976).

For more information

Other articles about China’s path to becoming a superpower:

  1. China’s Quest for a Superpower Military“, John Tkacik, Jr., Heritage Foundation, 17 May 2007
  2. China: The Mythification of it being an emergent superpower“, Dr. Subhash Kapila, South Asia Analysis Group, 1 May 2008
  3. The China Superpower Hoax“, Steven Hill (bio here), TruthDig, 23 September 2010
  4. China as a Superpower“, Joschka Fischer, 3 October 2010 — Fischer was Germany’s foreign minister and vice-chancellor from 1998 – 2005, and a leader in the German Green Party for almost 20 years.
  5. China in 2020: A New Type of Superpower“, Hu Angang discusses his new book, Brookings, 1 June 2011
  6. Henry Kissinger: China Won’t Be Next Superpower“, The Canadian Press, 18 June 2011

Other posts about China:

  1. Power shifts from West to East: the end of the post-WWII regime in the news, 20 December 2007
  2. China becomes a super-power (geopolitical analysis need not be war-mongering), 9 July 2008
  3. Words to fear in the 21st century: Lǎo hǔ, lǎo hǔ, Lǎo hǔ, 14 July 2008
  4. China – the mysterious other pole of the world economy, 22 July 2009
  5. Another big step for China on its road to becoming a great power, 27 July 2009
  6. Will China collapse?, 5 August 2009
  7. A revolution is not a dinner party. Thoughts about the future of China, 19 August 2009
  8. Update about China: a new center of the world, 13 December 2009
  9. Fertilizer overuse destroying Chinese soil, 18 February 2010
  10. Rare earths – a hidden but strategic battleground between the US and China, 5 May 2010
  11. Today’s example of the inscrutable mystery of China’s economic statistics, 13 May 2010
  12. How China builds its commercial empire, 12 July 2010
  13. The West has power, but often little self-insight, 19 September 2010
  14. A look at the future (it’s already here, but it’s not in the USA), 29 September 2010
  15. Why China will again rise to the top, and their most important advantage over America, 11 November 2010
  16. Two pictures show an important difference between China and America, 2 February 2011
  17. China and America have several similar weaknesses.  Our hubris prevents us from seeing this., 12 April 2011

64 thoughts on “Will China become a superpower?”

  1. How are historical impediments to chinese progress offset by modern technologies? Do 18th century precedents still matter?

    1. I think his point is that China had the capacity to expand into Southeast Asia, but did not do so — except to maintain frontier zones on their borders. Their disinterest in following up the voyages of Zheng He. They could have become imperialists in the Pacific — as the European powers did centuries later with a slightly higher level of tech.

  2. It is more complex than that but nevertheless straight forward to simplify, I would say that it is both cultural and geographic.

    Remember European civilization expansion was based on commerce and imperial competitions. China was for the most part a monolithic type civilization that controlled an entire continent. No one power since the Romans dominated the entire European continent for long periods of time and uncontested. Since the Romans it was war over territory, succession, wealth, etc. China though had its cyclical dynastic changes which were essentially civil wars always had the outcome of a unified empire that often closely matched the border of the previous dynasty resulting in maintaining control of a continent.

    Europe also had much more access. It had access to trade from the East, North and South America, Africa to which a triangular trade and room to expand. China is flanked with deserts expanses to it west, inhospitable steppes to the north where no agriculture can take place, a huge vast empty space of ocean to its east where access to the New World is entirely uneconomical even if they wanted to go there, impenetrable mountains to its southwest which only left pushing east and directly south into Korea and Vietnam as the only options. China simply saw no reason to expand or trade with civilizations with nothing to offer them. There only access to Europe was along the Silk Road and even then they wanted nothing from Europe except for silver and gold. This trade imbalance was one of the reasons why there was a European interest in China. One that only when the industrial revolution came about could Europe do anything about.

    The Koreans held the Chinese at bay from numerous incursions the most memorable is the during the Korean Koguryo dynasty repulsion of Chinese Sui dynasty forces at the Battle of Salsu in 612 AD. In this battle pit about 300,000 Chinese vs 30,000 Korean troops. The result was that nearly the entire Chinese army was destroyed with only 3,000 survivors. The yearly exercise Ulchi Freedom Guardian (formerly Ulchi Focus Lens) was named after the Korean commander of that battle, Ulchi Mundeok. Vietnam have also similar histories of repelling Chinese incursions. Ultimately Korea saw benefit from access to the continental economic monopoly of China by submitting itself to the tributary system. Yet never would allow for foreign troops into their territory. Even now North Korea keeps and has kept China at arms length.

    So it is not to say that China didn’t expand, they could only try to expand where it was viable and worthwhile and really they were never good at it. We need to remember that the dynasties where China expanded its territories were not Chinese dynasties at all but rather Jurchen, Mongol, or Manchu. The current borders of China that we see today where they incorporated the Xinjiang, Mongolia, Manchuria and Tibet was during the Qing dynasty ruled by Manchus. The Manchus are a people very similar to the Mongols with a very similar disposition towards conquests. During this period the Chinese never saw the Manchus as anything but a foreign dynasty ruling China.

    All this said China was in a perpetual state of imperial overreach which is true even today. When you have about 300 million living a modern lifestyle but about 800 million living as if they were 200 years ago, that is a serious problem and it is not an accident that dynasties lasted no more than 500 years at longest and 100 years at their shortest.

    Which left the Chinese a question that since they already control an entire continent that is full of arable land (from two great rivers and estuaries) and vast resources (even today China has a near monopoly on rare earth metals), what is the benefit for expanding its territories? There isn’t any. China wants to secure its access to trade which put it in direct conflict with SE Asia over the South China Sea. They do not want to invade those countries to incorporate them into China. They are having a hard time with Altaic peoples already as it is (Uyghurs, Tibetans, Mongols, etc). The only exception being Taiwan but Taiwan is already occupied by Chinese and up until recently always felt by the mainland that the GMD (KMT) would launch an invasion into the mainland. Remember that Chiang Kai shek offered to invade China during the Korean War. When the US turned down that offer the troops along the coasts guarding against a possible invasion from Taiwan were redirected into Korea. These were the ‘volunteers’ that the US and ROK forces confronted in the Autumn of 1950.

    So in based on the historical pattern, expansion would simply bring about diminished returns for a lot more effort and a lot more cost in blood and treasure. Maritime trade routes existed but never at a level seen by Europeans as trade without was not nearly as large as economic activity within China. The voyages of Zheng he were not commercial centric but rather for the glorification of the Chinese Emperor. Upon that emperor’s death the successor saw it as simply too expensive and so let the fleet literally rot. Today China’s interests is still Korea and Vietnam but also Taiwan and the South China Sea. China has no interest in pushing a Sinocentric world order upon the world. It just wants to make money which is vital to maintaining the stability of the Communist Party. It has become something that it wasn’t in the past which is commercial focussed. It has not changed from what it was not, and that is a great military power.

    1. I mostly agree with your response here. I think you characterize well the historical problems that faced Chinese expansion, internal and external, along with the commercial dynamics of Imperial China. I just have a few disagreements.

      From my reading, I believe the gist of your argument is that Chinese historically has been militarily poor and non expansionist. You believe this will persist. However, many of the factors that used to limit China’s military no longer hold true. China’s military weakness was due to two factors: its located next to the steppe, and its lack of horses. In premodern times, cavalry was the greatest military force, the tank of its era. The nomads of Mongolia and Central Asia may seem poor and harmless today, but during their time they faced no equal. History is full of examples of strong, sophisticated, and technologically superior empires falling to smaller groups of nomadic horseman. This list includes the Roman Empire, Muslim Caliphate, Byzantine Empire, and Song/Ming Empire. Groups of people that were hitherto unrenown and insignificant such as the Ottoman Turks erupt from nowhere to topple established empires. Unlike Europe, which was strongly insulated from the central asian steppe and collapsed during the only great nomadic intrusion, China continually battled against these nomads for thousands of years in a battle that could not be won. One Ming official noted that the Chinese could win a hundred battles against the nomads but could never eliminate them, because the Chinese could never extend control over the steppes. China did not have enough horses to do so, and its ppl could never settle the lands, b/c the steppe could not support agriculture.

      Therefore, Chinese expansion was always limited by its threats to the north. But even so, China was still able to build a large empire. It is true that China reached its greatest territorial extant during the Qing. However, even the Ming dynasty created one of the largest empires ever seen, that would still rank in the top 5 today. And the Tang dynasty was even larger, able to temporarily extend into the steppe and into central asia, based on its ability to extract horses from trade routes. And the Qing’s success in doubling the size of China was also due to its adoption of musket and cannons, technology that was not as well developed during the Ming. So was the Qing’s great expansion due to its ‘warlike nature’ or b/c of muskets? And was the Ming’s smaller size because of its incompetence in waging war, or due to the constraints of technology?

      Today, modern technology allows military to overcome geography. The PRC’s military record is not that poor. In the 1960s, it was able to go toe to toe with the US in Korea. You insinuate that both Korea and Vietnam have the ability to repel China, but in the Korea war the PLA easily defeated the South Korea military. Today’s technology means military power is directly correlated with economic power, unlike before. Nationalist education allows the country to invest massive power to the military without fear of a coup. So I believe that economic development will allow China to eventually field a modern military. I can easily see many areas that a developed China may be tempted to expand it, Central Asia for its resources, and Southeast Asia for its arable land and water.

  3. I think historically, China had several reasons for its relative disinterest in Southeast Asia. 1st off, throughout time, China’s greatest threats always came from the North. the Zheng He expedition, along with the colonization of Vietnam were discontinued after renewed threats from the North. Remember that at this time, remnants of the Mongol Yuan dynasty still remained. It was only a hundred years ago that the Mongolians had overrun a good majority of Eurasia. Officials decided to discontinue maritime navigation to reconcentrate resources towards the North(rebuilding the Great Wall). These fears were well justified for the Ming dynasty would fall a few hundred yrs later to renewed threats from Manchuria.

    Secondly, the greatest defense that Southeast Asia posed against China were its diseases. The Chinese emperors saw Southeast Asia as a place of barbarism and disease. If you read about the Qing invasion of Burma, they failed not due to technological or military inferiority but b/c of malaria. 1/4 of the troops fell pray to these diseases. Southeast Asia was nowhere as hospitable as North America was. Even Europeans had difficulty colonizing these areas, and it was until the advent of vaccines that the French were truly able to extend control into these areas ( and even then they did a pretty miserable job at it).

    I haven’t even begun to address all of the other pts, but I think this demonstrates how its dangerous to make assumptions based on the past. 30 yrs ago, it would seem that ‘culturally’, the Chinese would never be able to modernize. China has never had borders as secure as it does today, and technology has forged a path straight into Southeast Asia. It is myopic and naive to presume that societies cannot transcend their past.

    1. Societies do not transcend their past or their culture. At best they can subsume it. The Neoliberal view that people of the world will transcend their past and culture not only naive and myopic but utterly absurd. The Cultural Revolution was one such attempt but in the end did not destroy or replace the Chinese past with so called ‘modern’ thinking.

      It is that kind of thinking to which we think that Arabs would embrace Western style democracy. They won’t, we forget that Western civilization has many precedents to Roman Common Law to which English Common Law would descend, the Thirty Years War that brought national sovereign governance, the Industrial Revolution, etc.

      An example of which is to expect the Iraqis to suddenly “transcend” thousand of years of their history is quite absurd. The Iraqis even now do not have a democracy but in name only and that age old tensions between Shia and Sunni have not gone away. Peoples don’t transcend their culture it stays with them as long as that people exist.

      Why did the Hungarians have a resurgence of nationalism that would ultimately see itself separate from the Austro-Hungarian Empire? Why do we see elements of Aztec and Mayan culture seemingly resurface itself in Mexico? The answer is that it never went away in the first place.

      The Arab world along the coasts of the Arabian peninsula being mostly a slave society for much of its history has transcended this, right? Wrong. The Arabs simply import migrant workers from South Asia to do the manual labor. Nothing has changed.

      Russians have transcended the kind of governance of harsh Czarist rule? Wrong again. Their history has seen them only be strong under a strong and often harsh ruler. Why is Putin seen so positively? As is now Stalin. The Russian at his core has not changed.

      Why was there conflict in the former Yugoslavia? Why are we seeing new countries form over ethnic, racial and cultural divisions. The Republic of Kosovo and South Sudan are just two new examples of this. Peoples do not escape their culture or transcend which to me is a euphemism of getting rid of its culture to adopt the Neoliberal utopian view.

      As for China’s modernization, we need to remember that modernization in Asia began in Japan and all after copied from that model. Japan only modernized because it has always had and still does a cultural propensity to adopt cultures and transform it to suit their needs. First Korean, then later Chinese, then Dutch, German and later the rest of the world. Sam Huntington is absolutely correct that Japan despite its modernization is not along the lines of the West. China didn’t embark on its modernization until the old imperial order was deposed. Its modernization didn’t begin 30 years ago but farther back but in the end the ruling CCP behaves in a similar manner of the old imperial institution. China is not ruled by laws but by people as in the old Confucian tradition. Their civil courts are not adjudicated by a judge making a decision for the plaintiff or defendant. Rather the judge acts more like a mediator trying to bring the two parties to a compromise. Underneath Chinese so called modernized civilization is the Chinese culture intact. At its core China has not changed.

      Regarding the Qing and Zheng he and his fleet, yes incursions did contribute but it did not overshadow the fact there was no reason for it to ever expand when there was nothing much to gain by going beyond its borders. European struggled to maintain their colonies even during periods when they were at war with each other. It would only be until a sense of nationalism among the conquered peoples did the European finally leave. China had no established colonies or need for any. China acted in its core interests driven by domestic considerations. Something that the US will have do eventually. We have nothing existential threatening us and nothing so compelling for us to maintain a permanent presence of troops overseas. NATO will effectively end, the Middle East and their so called Arab Spring will effectively depose any autocratic government that was supportive of the US. Even regimes that were against us does not equate that new regime will ever be pro-US. We should have learned this lesson with Iraq and Afghanistan.

      Culture doesn’t change, it is only subsumed at best and in the end will always resurface itself. Say what you will but the past is prologue to the future. For China, it has reached its imperial overstretch a long time ago and further expansion will see its breaking point.

  4. There is a problem with the argument that technology centered argument. The advantage of technology is an advantage that temporary and does not replace skilled military acumen.

    Regarding the Northern barbarians, they didn’t pose much of a threat to China for most its history except or the occasional raids. They were a problem but not an existential threat until they became unified by a single tribe or ruler.

    We need to remember that China was much more advanced technologically weapon wise then the Mongol invaders. Yet this did not provide the Chinese victory. The inherent strategy of Chinese warfare was to do as little damage to the enemy in order to incorporate their territory. It was a strategy of fighting other Chinese provinces. The Mongols fought wars of annihilation much closer to Clausewitz. Technology is important in war but by no means the ultimate determining factor.

    Regarding the Chinese during the Korean War, the Chinese could take on the ROK military simply because the ROK Army were completely lacking in anything but small arms and light artillery. There was not a single tank that the South Koreans could use. However in one instance The ROK 1st Division commander Paik Sun-yeop upon advice by his American division artillery commander requested a single battalion of tanks. This sped up the Korean advance so much that it saw the ROK Army being the first to arrive in Pyongyang and lay siege to it before the US 24ID and 1CAV. If you look up the Battle of JipYongNi you would see the kind of damage that an armored regiment could do to lightly armed Chinese infantry.

    Really China had to throw bodies upon the Americans. Bodies that were formerly part of the Nationalist GMD army whose loyalties may be questionable, at least that was what Mao thought. Mao simply wasn’t concerned with casualties. If you look at the Sino-Vietnam conflicts, one can hardly say that the Chinese record was anything close to good.

    So while technology will change an armies ability to inflict damage it does not nor will it change its ability to change its fundamental utility other than to kill and destroy an enemy force.

    China’s military is mostly a giant job corps program most of its soldiers cannot fight in any capacity except for regional defense. Only a core of an estimated 400,000 are capable of use for in a major war.

    A technological army or nationalist education will not erase the ethnic tensions of non-Han Chinese populations namely the aforementioned Uyghurs, Tibetans, Mongols, etc. The reason is simply that you cannot indoctrinate Han nationalism with peoples that see the Han Chinese as essentially occupiers. Nothing short of genocide will military power have any use on these non-Han Chinese peoples.

    Lastly there is this presumption that China’s economic expansion will continue forever. It won’t. It is essentially a massive bubble. Now this is not to say that there is no real growth but rather much of the growth is artificial. China has to make the difficult but necessary transition to a high end economy as their current path of export of low end goods will see diminishing returns and growth. Not only that the Product Cycle Model of economics. Greater wealth is generated by the innovating country and while it will eventually lose in competition to the imitating country, the total wealth generated always favors the innovating country. China is disadvantaged in the long term by being the second tier in both of these areas. One cannot assume that the China’s growth will perpetually grow any more than Japan in 1989 or even the US in 2008.

    While a strong economy is necessary to develop a strong military it does not guarantee a strong military only perhaps the potential for one. One look at our military where despite spending the most money produced the least output according to a study by McKinsey.

  5. I have 3 comments.

    First: one of the main arguments against China’s ability to project power is that it has too much internal instability.

    It is certainly true that instability has held China back in the past, and will hold it back in the future — but this is also certainly true of every single society on every single continent throughout all of history. Destructive instability moves in cycles, and no society is immune to it. It is inevitable that China’s weaknesses will eventually lead to her decline– but is that important now, while she is in the upswing?

    Second: societies can’t transcend their history?

    Things never change? Really? 1,000 years ago Europe was a densely-forested backwoods inhabited by illiterate nomadic tribes. The Norse who once raped, pillaged, and slaved throughout Europe and beyond are now, both in their homeland and in the many countries where they settled as rulers and mercenaries, incomparably meek. Some historical structures are inevitably carried over from one age to the next, especially if they are reinforced by geography, but to say that things never change? This is a plain denial of history.

    Even within China and East Asia ethnic categories have been fluid — the Han are only one group of Chinese, and their ascendance emerged gradually. And if identities within East Asia have been relatively stable, identities within Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East have been anything but. Dynamism is the main feature which has separated the history of these less-insulated parts of the globe from from more-insulated areas, such as India and East Asia.

    Third: who says China even wants to be a superpower?

    Aside from enabling a certain measure of vain chest-thumping, has it really done the US that much good? This is not to say that China will not attempt to expand its influence globally and secure its interests through means fair or foul. But shouldn’t we expect that her leadership, equipped with a fresh interpretation of their own long history and careful observation of American triumphs and follies, to pursue their ends in a somewhat more flexible and understated manner? If China will be strong, this is inevitable, and we will have to deal with it one way or another. But if China will be strong, our biggest fear should be that she will also be stupid– and we may be spared this menace, at least for the time being.

  6. Ok I lied, one more comment: Why does China need Vietnam or Japan, when she already has half of Africa, Central and South America?

    1. When I was in europe recently, there was an acute sense of outrage amongst well educated international business people (with leftist sympathies) over chinese business expansion in africa.

      1. Probably true, but almost meaningless. Every rising power arouses “an acute sense of outrage” among the other powers. To list just a few of the modern examples from history: UK when US rising, US when Japan rising. , now US with China rising.

    2. the europeans are concerned about chinese expansion in africa because the chinese are expanding in africa. specifically, the expansion is dislocating traditional small farming operations, repacing them with mechanized agriculture (agribusiness). africa is the “last frontier” in which large scale mechanized agriculture can expand on a continental scale. but of course you and most of your readers already know that???
      FM reply: Yes, I believe we all know these things. Certainly the readers of the FM website know these things, as the posts in the For More Information about China section discuss all this in detail — from several perspectives.

  7. This audio stream contains an extensive discussion about the origins of western vs. eastern geopolitical domination, and various methods used to understand the topic”: “Why the West Rules – For Now”, by Ian Morris, at The Long Now Foundation, 13 April 2011. Introduction:

    Malaysian lawyer told a British journalist: “I am wearing your clothes, I speak your language, I watch your films, and today is whatever date it is because you say so.” Do chaps or maps drive history? Human brilliance and folly, or geography? Or maybe genes, or culture? Ian Morris goes a level deeper than Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel to determine why the standards of Europe and North America now prevail in the world when it was the East that dominated for the 1,200 years between 550 and 1750 CE. Why did that happen, and what will happen next?

    Ian Morris is an archaeologist and professor of classics and history at Stanford. His splendid book is Why the West Rules — For Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future.

  8. The Chinese are a remarkably intelligent and energetic people, and Chinese civilization has reached a number of high points worthy of our awe and admiration. But, having power and projecting power are different things. Historically, the Chinese have not been a particularly expansionary power; and culturally, the Chinese have been fairly complacent, an inward-looking Middle Kingdom preoccupied with themselves and their own internal matters.

    In the present context, the only distinctive factor I see is China’s relationship with “overseas Chinese” as we might meet in the Chinatowns of San Francisco, New York, or Yokohama. Unlike the Japanese (who seem to cut off those who emigrate from Battleship Yamato), the Chinese maintain a welcoming attitude toward overseas Chinese, and such settlements might form a model or platform for China’s projection of power abroad, not militarily but commercially in our turbulent new age of geo-economic strategy.

    Nevertheless, I believe political legitimacy will be the big upcoming issue for China, just as it will be for the United States. (Especially if world economies enter a second precipitous slide, as they seem poised to do.)

    BTW, it might be a good idea to examine the validity or exact meaning of the word “superpower.” The notion that America today is a “superpower” seems to be a mix of both comedy and tragedy. This whole idea may be a sort of historiographic superstition.

    1. Minxin Pei gives a precise definition:

      In world history, only one country – the United States – has truly acquired all the capabilities of a superpower: a technologically advanced economy, a hi-tech military, a fully integrated nation, insuperable military and economic advantages vis-à-vis potential competitors, capacity to provide global public goods and an appealing ideology.

      Missing from the list: economic strength. Great powers are creditors in their prime. Becoming debtors shows deterioration, often from over-militarization, uneconomical explansion, or just imperial overstretch. Clearly the US today has all of these, a display of remarkable incompetence.

      “Sooner or later, everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences.”
      — Robert Louis Stevenson, no source (perhaps apocryphal)

    2. Is it accurate to say that China has not been an expansionary power? Perhaps it is all a matter of perspective. Does it make sense to define expansion as happening only outside of established national boundaries? For if a nation is large, how could it have gotten to be that way, without being expansionary?

    3. @Stefan

      You are correct in your observation of the Japanese exclusion of overseas Japanese versus inclusion of Chinese with overseas Chinese. This perspective is based on their respective histories and cultural outlook. This is part of an aggregate of factors as to the point that I am making in the the Chinese were never expansionary but mostly inward looking. Reasons for this introspective aspect was identified as by works that analyze culture in my readings of Oswald Spengler. Even Quincy Wright noted in his two volume work A Study of War (1983) of the relative non-expansionary nature of the Chinese.

      Any threat that comes from China is not a military one where we can expect an extensive buildup of force of arms as a means to seek a political end. It was the economic monopoly of the Asian continent in the past that was the primary means to their hegemony. It is one that they think could be repeated given their current economic condition. The Chinese will to power can only be achieved in this way.

      It is for this reason that the US must focus on economic restoration not build up of arms against a perceived Chinese military threat. With economic restoration the potential for military power can be restored at anytime thereafter.

      We need to be clear and identify the correct set of priorities.

    4. I’m still not sure it is accurate to say that the Chinese have not been militaristic or expansionary. The use of ordinary military conquest to subjugate territories inside the Chinese mainland is very well-documented. The “Chinese” mainland is similar in size to the Roman empire at its greatest extent. If Rome was able to build an empire over a large territory though expansionary military conquest, what is the fundamental difference that would lead us to conclude that successive Chinese empires, some of which were much larger than the Roman empire, were not militaristic or expanionary?

      What would you say to someone who thought that Chinese imperialists and imperialists in other parts of the globe are driven and constrained by goals and obstacles which are fundamentally similar, and that the differences can largely be explained by the fact that imperial power in the Chinese sphere was uni-polar and the center of gravity moved very little?

      For example, Rome only fell once– Italy has never since been the seat of a dominant imperial power. Chinese seats of empire have risen and fallen in the orbit of the same two rivers for the past several thousand years, and Beijing was the capital of several distinct dynasties at different times during a span of nearly a thousand years before becoming the capital of the modern state. What are some of the reasons behind this difference?

  9. @ Matt D

    Societies like I said don’t transcend their history but only subsume it. What you have described is relative power. The Norse raped and pillaged at a time where the Roman Empire collapse and Europe was plunged into the Dark Age. Power does not equate to cultural disposition. Also while the Nordic people did plunder, they also were skilled seafarers. They raided based on the simple geopolitical fact that they could not be an agricultural developed civilization.

    The Altaic peoples such as the Huns, Turks, and Mongols were also in similar dispositions and thus also raided. So now they don’t raid due to shift in power but does that mean that they fundamentally gave up on their past culture and the outlook associated with that. They did not. A good read of Quincy Wright’s book A Study of War (1983) points to the fact that states even today are still compelled to pursue these same kinds of interests.

    1. That’s an interesting point of view, Young. So that I can understand better, could you explain more precisely the difference between an opportunistic behavior and one that is culturally-determined?

  10. @Matt D

    To clarify the behavior of states is determined by many factors to include that of culture. Let us take the example of the Mongols.

    The Mongols are a people that being in the frozen and harsh environment of the Eurasian tundra were a people that could not rely on agriculture or really any other means to develop. At best they could only become nomadic herders and raiders. It was an environment where these people could only migrate and the competition for survival was so great that it pit tribes against other tribes. They had a rudimentary written language which for the most part was unknown to most it their people. Their religion is largely shamanistic in theology and practice.

    Well along came Genghis Khan who we know changed everything. He united the tribes, formed a nation and conquered along with three generations of his descendants most of the known world.

    The empire he founded didn’t last as without the high level cultural condition for civilization the Mongols devolved back into tribes.

    So in the end the Mongols didn’t really change but something was added on to their cultural tapestry. Today the Mongols are not able to raid into China or Russia and with the exception of their capital city, Mongolia remains pastoral.

    Now let us look at a similar people that were originally Buryat Mongolic/Tungusic settled around the Lake Baikal area but now known as something else by a different name, to which I will mention later on.

    These types were peoples that were originally nomadic but found through a higher civilization adopted many of its traits and formed a kingdom. These people that I am mentioning are the Koreans. Basically the Korean is a Buryat Mongol/Tungusic people that adopted Chinese culture but did not become Sinofied by absorption.

    If we look at the Koreans today we see the elements of Chinese culture but underneath that is a strong connection to the Northern Altaic link of the Buryats. Just yesterday during Kim Jong Il’s visit to Russia he went to Lake Baikal as it is the origin of the Korean people. Guess which people are still there? The Buryat Mongols!

    This the cultural pattern that exist throughout the world. Christianity as we know it in Western Civilization has take on a fusion with variants of Roman, Northern European, Celtic, or Slavic. Santa Claus wasn’t there during the time of Christ nor is he mentioned in the Bible now is he? We look at Easter and see the resurrection of Jesus Christ along with Celtic Pagan elements of the Easter Bunny. Halloween didn’t get rid of the Pagan tradition but was co-opted into the larger pattern. If you looked at the Hillbillies of America Appalacha whose ancestors are descended from Scots-Irish you would know that they were and many still are clannish, distrusting of government, fond of drinking the water of life, tend to eschew educational institutions, and very much into defending ones honor. The Hatfields and the McCoy feud is an example of that cultural remnant that existed. You go to Applacha today and you will still see those characteristics. Mexicans are essentially Spanish speaking Native Americans. The Arabs, have they changed from clans based society? They haven’t. This doesn’t discount that for a long while they were able to create an advanced civilization while Europe was mired during the chaos of the Dark and Middle Ages. I can go on and on.

    The development of a civilization is based on ones culture and that modernization is simply an advancement of that culture with the impact that industrialization imparts. The rich Arab states are still a slave based society so to speak rather than buying and owning slaves they import a lot of workers from South Asia. They still treat them like slaves. Chinese still see themselves as the most highest of civilization yet fused modernization into their old cultural landscape. The Japanese being the most adaptive culture that I know do this most easily. As said by Huntington Modernization does not equal Westernization. This is the important point that many Americans, mostly Liberal, don’t understand.

    1. @ Young K.

      I think you have described a very important aspect of societies’ historical development, one that many people overlook. Personally, I find it fascinating how many cultural artifacts you can find in things that people take for granted every day, which have origins that are completely different from what most people imagine. Saint Nicholas is a great example. I think the Mongol-Korean connection is very interesting– taking a blind guess, I’d say that might have something to do with the origin of Korean barbecue. Even larger-scale patterns which many people think are brand new actually have echos going back thousands of years– and I think that this is very important to notice

      Yet, even as we can see that some things stay the same or at least stick around, I think we also have to acknowledge that some things change. Would you agree that the Korean culture as it exists today in the Korean peninsula is significantly different from the culture of the Mongol tribesmen who originally settled in the area? And while we can pick out some elements that are clearly Chinese, and other elements that are clearly nomadic/Mongolian, wouldn’t you also agree that there are some uniquely Korean elements which the Korean people themselves have added, as a response to their own particular environment?

      Indeed, even as we acknowledge the durability of old culture, don’t we also have to accept the reality of new culture? For if there was never any new culture, then where did culture come from to begin with?

      I like your hillbilly/Scots-Irish example, but I would offer a slightly different interpretation. The similarity between the values and lifestyle of historical Appalachian mountain-dwellers and historical highland clansmen is striking, but is ancestry the whole reason for this resemblance? A second look will reveal another similarity between the two groups– their environment.

      So I would explain it like this: hillbillies and Scots-Irish clansmen both exhibited the traits of clannishness (aka group solidarity) and an unflinching commitment to revenge and personal honor (aka “taking the law into your own hands”), because these are successful survival strategies in a harsh, undeveloped landscape with no state-imposed law or order. So the Scots-Irish who settled in Appalachia changed relatively little, because their culture matched their environment. Scots-Irish who settled in other areas changed more.

      Does this interpretation make sense to you?

  11. @ WTF

    Without being derivative here is an excellent article regarding China’s moves into Africa: “The myth of the ‘China model’ in Africa” By Jian Junbo, Asia Times, 14 September 2011

    In my opinion, much of the alarm we see in the US and Europe regarding Africa is that China is moving into markets where Europeans through colonialism and post colonialism had dominated. When this article says that there is nothing new that the Chinese are doing, there really is nothing new.

    As the the Japanese economy developed in the post War era they shifted their increasingly nonproductive and uncompetitive productions to Korea and Taiwan. Korea as a developing country and Taiwan is doing the same thing now but with China and Vietnam. The ‘Rag Trade’ or textiles started strongly in Japan shifted to Korea in the 1970s to the 1980s but now Korean production has moved on to semiconductor and electronics again originally started off in Japan.

    This is the pattern that we see on that China being a huge economy cannot shift to just is underdeveloped western provinces. The problem is that for China its western provinces making up of Turkic Uyghurs and Tibetans are sparsely populated that are not too keen on further ethnic Chinese dominance. Even then it will require a massive infrastructure development to reach those areas. If you look at which countries that the Chinese are doing business with they tend to be countries along the coasts of Africa ocean such as Tanzania, Congo, Senegal, Cameroon. Ocean maritime trade is vastly cheaper than building up land infrastructure. Africa has no real production except for raw materials. The Chinese need raw materials it is almost that simple.

    Then there is the catch as to why these African countries are doing business with the Chinese. The Chinese pay for fair market prices for these goods and the Chinese don’t care what kind of regime is in charge. The Chinese are not judgmental on whether a country is ruled by a dictator with a poor human rights record. As long as they can bargain freely with without coercion these African countries are making money too. That is not to say that this relationship is perfectly smooth as there were complaints of shoddy Chinese counterfeit products but overall the Chinese offered these African countries an alternative to Europe and the West and it was in the eyes of the African a very good deal.

    There is much to be said for engaging the world through commerce rather than military invasions.

    Maybe we in the US should try that.
    FM note: for more about this see these posts:

    1. Another big step for China on its road to becoming a great power: building a “string of pearls”, 27 July 2009
    2. How China builds its commercial empire, 12 July 2010
  12. @ Matt D

    New things are added but like I said they subsume meaning that they simply add layers to what is already existing culturally. Often when people mention change it implies advancing beyond the old to which implies that they done away with what was old. The enduring aspects of culture is the reason why China under Mao attempted a ‘Cultural Revolution’ to which Mao believe that until aspects of the Chinese culture that are not conducive to Communist thinking is eradicated then the revolution cannot be complete. In the end this so called revolution failed. Culture flows and influences each other but not at the rate and impact that Neo-Liberal would like to think that it does. Even in this era of globalization culture doesn’t diffuse as fast and in some places even see a complete rejection of it. Spreading democracy as believed by Neo-Liberal and their Neo-Conservative cousins has failed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Democratic institutions that we see in places like Japan will be rolled back to something that is more functional in accordance to their culture. What works for the US won’t necessarily work for others and vice versa. New culture is largely through the slow exchange but can be generated within by a ruling elite. This ruling elite is the only way to diffuse culture but even then it cannot do so unless it is already compatible to the already existing culture. This leaves only coercion to change but again this can only be done internally. Mustafa Kemel Ataturk, Peter the Great, the Japanese clans of the Tosa, Satsuma, and Choshu made radical additions to their culture but had to do with coercion and bloodshed. But again they did not get rid of their old culture. Such things are ever present.

    With regard to the environment that is precisely my point but expanded. Geography plays a great deal in the political outlook of states. The British and the Japanese being island nations have a very different outlook compared to the those from their respective continents. The mechanics of geography affects trade, cultural diffusions and exchanges, and security. It is the geopolitical and the geostrategic relationship that has made the greatest change to the conditions of states. Japan for example were no longer at the mercy of a continental economic monopoly of China once they had full access to the continental economy of the United States. However security wise, they will always be ever wary on any developments on the Korean peninsula where Yamagata Aritomo, stated that Korea is a dagger that points directly to Japan. The impact of the rise of maritime trade as the cheaper and faster method for trade has pulled dominance away from central continental powers. If the Ottoman Empire no longer had Europe’s only access to trade with China, its influence would inevitable decline, to which it was did as a factor. Rapid changes come from border changes certain vulnerability can be erased through them, and often war is the only way to do it.

    Finally with the Hillbilly Scots/Irish example even though many have come off the mountain elements of the clannish aspect of their culture still exists but less so but again it is subsumed not entirely erased. The Ku Klux Klan for example was created with many elements of Celtic culture infused in their rituals. Cross burning for example came from the tradition of the ‘Fiery Cross’ with the intent to alert and temporarily unite clans to an external threat. No need to go into where what that group perceives the threat to be. On a less controversial note, Country Music, where did it come from? It came from old Celtic music that had its origins from those peoples. Of course there were some infusions but again was not something new that was created.

    Often what we see as new is actually an evolution and perhaps some fusion to what was already existing and ever present with origins that go way, way back into the past.

    In these contexts China has not changed to which fundamentally they were not and still are not an expansive power. They never force the spread of say Confucianism under the sword as we seen with Christianity and Islam. With trade they always seen themselves the core. China’s economic preeminence is to them perceived as a restoration to their past status and glories where even then at their heights were not expansive or invasive. That said their goal is not to invade to conquer or subjugate peoples but rather focussed on the protection of their economic dominance to which the if they chose could determine who to include and who to exclude. That is where a US conflict with China is, economic, not military.

  13. @ Young K.

    While I think it is important to recognize the durability of many cultural artifacts, another aspect of history which I think people often mis-perceive is just how much of sainted “culture” is really just window-dressing that helps people divide themselves into categories: in other words, “identity”. This is not to say that arbitrary markers of identity cannot have serious practical consequences: if half the people in a country believed firmly in driving their cars on the right, and the other half had an equally strong belief in driving on the left, there would be ceaseless chaos on the roads and streets until some system of accomodation was devised, or a segregation was enforced, or one side gave up their claim entirely. Fortunately not too many people have strong feelings about which side of the road they drive on, so Britain motors along her way and the rest of the world motors along their way and neither side accuses the other of being culturally incapable of having an orderly traffic system.

    Indeed I think there is a strong argument to be made that the role of culture in forming identities is much more deterministic than its role in guiding practical decisions. You yourself have acknowledged the powerful influence of environment in shaping societies. Is it not possible, then, that two societies with radically different cultural backgrounds, if placed in similar circumstances, could develop, in time, in very similar ways? Behold the hummingbird and the hummingbird hawkmoth– two creatures with completely different lineages, but whose shape and habits are nearly the same.

    This is why when predicting future behavior, past events are only important to the extent that they can inform us of current disposition and current opportunities. History is littered with the corpses of prognosticators who boldly declared that such-and-such a group could never possibly do such-and-such because their “heritage” prevented it.

    This is why I am very distrustful of any predictions that say the modern state of China will or won’t do this or that thing because of what historical imperial dynasties did before. After all, what is China’s heritage today in the here and now? It certainly exists, but only as a mental construct shared between the many people who call themselves its citizens. It is certainly very important and very real to them, but they can’t plant seeds in it to grow grain, they can’t float it on the water to carry goods from far away lands, and they can’t hurl it against their enemies to protect themselves from attack. It can only help to guide them as they confront the concrete realities of life in the here and now; and these realities may well cause them to follow paths which are only faintly if at all pre-figured in the map of their cultural heritage.

    As for the charges of non-militarism and non-expansionism that have persistently been leveled against China, I still declare her not guilty on all counts. Were Qin pacifists? I think the confusion on this point centers around the fact that Chinese empire has been so successful and relatively stable that its entire territorial expanse is now considered to be natively “Chinese”– but the fact is that China could never have become Chinese without expansion and consolidation through military conquest. The fact that the Chinese imperial dynasties at their respective peaks exhibited little drive to conquer or settle outside the territory they already possessed is unremarkable– this is a pattern exhibited by imperial dynasties at their peak in all ages in all parts of the world.

  14. @ Matt D

    You completely miss the point and what you are repeating is simply the failed idealism of the Neoliberal argument.

    Let us use your example. The impact of culture is that once it had been established that cars are to be driven on the right side of the road, then everything is built upon it. Now that everyone drives on the right side of the road those that simply wish to drive on the left will be faced with a vast majority that now out of habit and practice drive on the right. Not only that the infrastructure such as on ramps and off ramps, streetlights were all built up to enforce this. That is how culture is enduring and why there is almost no radical changes that can be brought without through violent force and bloodshed. Even then is successful mostly by internal conflicts. Bloody civil wars make changes not by discussion and dialogue, the impact of the latter only comes at the end of bloody conflict. The bloody Thirty Years War settled the matter of religion and state and how it has effectively separated the two but the Sunni and Shia Schism also bloody did not settle that conflict and we still see its impact today.

    History and culture are in fact excellent tools to which to predict political behavior. It was for this reason that George C. Kennan through a thorough study of Russian history and culture could formulate the containment strategy. That the actions of the Soviet Union and the interests that it sought were simply an extension of rooted Russian paranoia and vulnerabilities of the past. Russia after the Soviet Union will always have keen interests in Poland and the Ukraine? Considering that these are two territories are the key invasion routes into Russia where having no natural defensive terrain features can only rely on sheer distance as the only defense mechanism. Why the Ukrainians are split between pro West and pro Russian is determined by how the Western Ukranians are essentially aligned with the Polish while the Eastern Ukrainians fell under Mongol control. How the impact of the Mongols affected the Russian cultural landscape where by only having a strong ruler can Russia advance and be strong.

    The old Sunni vs Shiite conflict in the Arab world still rages on and we see in Iraq. The ‘Surge’ did nothing, there is no reconciliation, all the US has done was set up a Shia Arab state that has close ties to Iran. It was both ignorance, foolish idealism, and arrogance to believe that the US is fundamentally changing thing in the Middle East. Those that adhere to this misguided belief are the same kinds of people that think that the Arab Spring has ushered in a new age of democracy and freedom and other such nonsense. Egypt has not changed except for the fact that a US backed dictator has been deposed.

    We see the impact of a clash of cultures where Muslims in Britain has forced upon the UK the right to its own Islamic jurisprudence. German chancellor Angela Merkel has admitted that multiculturalism has failed. Why did the Hungarians press for independence during the dying days of the Austro Hungarian Empire? It was ethnic nationalism. We tend to forget that much of European history centered around ethnic conflicts where Europe with a previously checkered pattern of ethnicities spread throughout has over time created migrations, absorptions, etc of peoples to the current borders we see today.

    Culture, history and geography is the reason for behaviors of not only individuals but also entire states. That is what Huntington was trying to impart and to discount it or interfere with it creates consequences. The Chinese cultural preference for male children has now created a skewed ratio of boys to girls. Confucianism calls for human judgements over rule by law has created civil courts where the judge doesn’t decide on who wins or loses but rather forces the parties to come to a compromise.

    Finally it is the cultural drive to we see China constantly returning to empire again and again after each dynastic collapse. It speaks to the fact why the Chinese simply repeated this pattern again and again while Europe evolved away from that. The Chinese pattern of the ‘Great Unification’ that began in the Qin dynasty in 221 BC is the pattern that they followed. The answer is again rooted in the difference of each others culture. For this reason we see why China is intent on Taiwan to come into its fold but will never consider doing such things to Japan.

    The past is prologue, culture is destiny. It would be absurd to discount that fact.

  15. @ Young K.

    Actually, our involvement in Iraq wreaked a quite considerable change in that society. We created a situation in which her infrastructure and her middle class were destroyed and a large number of her bravest and most energetic young men died violent deaths, some of them with their whole families, many of them by our own bombs and bullets. This has changed a whole lot of things, though perhaps not in the way we wanted. But I don’t need to tell you that.

    I’m familiar with the path-dependency argument you’re making here, and while I have already praised those points where I think it informs and illuminates, I think that when it is used in a Samuel P. Huntingdon context it is really just pseudo-scientific cover for Westerners to exalt their specialness and deprecate the ways and customs of the barbarians that surround them. This kind of attitude is present to a certain extent in every self-aware society, but this particular flavor of argumentation, along the lines of “no one else could possibly ever be as grand as we are”, is especially typical of previously victorious societies that are now on the decline. In the end it is of no matter. History is older than the West, and history will outlast it.

    You mention that Europe has “evolved away” from empire. I am not entirely sure, but I think you must be referring to the second half of the 20th century. While I understand your awe with the remarkable prosperity which blossomed in American-dominated Europe during that period, surely you are also aware that it has been barely more than half a century since Europe’s last genocidal total war, and less than that since the last explicitly imperial war waged between a European nation and one of its colonies. Personally, I’d give them a bit more time. Especially because we both agree that history is long and old habits die hard.

  16. @ Matt D

    No, remember that Iraq was destroyed by a force far more devasting in the past. The Mongol Invasion of Baghdad in 1258. The Mongols didn’t impact their culture. The 1st and 3rd Parthian Legions were forward deployments of Roman forces against the Sassanid (Persian) Empire. The Roman historian Cassius Dio expressed sentiment that the Roman occupation of Middle East was “expensive, unproductive, and even dangerous”. They were forward deployed near what today is known as Fallujah. The Iraq Arabs even then were not impacted by Roman culture and civilization.

    Also again you completely miss the point of Huntington. His work the clash of civilization dispels any notion of exceptionalism and universalism. He even states that societies when they are dominate tend to think like that even and especially China where ‘Han Chavanism’ is the term often used for their sense of superiority just as we have the term ‘American Exceptionalism’. In either case Huntington attacks the notion that Western Culture is universal and that Modernization equates to Westernization. He clearly makes that point that the two are not the same. One can even glean this from ‘Clash of Civilizations’. The Neoliberal argument believes that Western values are universal, they are not they are simply different and incompatible with other cultures though varying to the degree. It is this same Neoliberal argument that believes that societies can ‘advance’ beyond itself. There is no such thing. What we are seeing today are which cultures have adapted or accepted modernization and which have not. Remember modernization is a process that centuries for Europeans but less than 30 years for Turkish and Japanese through bloody internal revolutions and imposed dictatorially. China took about a century and again was not lacking in bloodshed. Even then if you read the part in Clash of Civilizations that societies that modernize do accept some Westernization to modernize but in the end roll back the Westernization but keep modernization. He even visualized this in a graph that looks like an upside down letter U. Please look over and read his book if you have not done so or read it again if you have.

    Well my point regarding Europe is just as you summarized. Europe has not fundamentally changed. Europe has only evolved away from empire simply but not because of some a self awareness of a need for advancement. To clarify, empire was expensive to maintain. Second, nationalism and rebellion from their colonies made rule no longer legitimate. Third mercantilism is dead. That being said Europe is all the more likely to return to some form of imperialism even though it is no longer useful or advisable. A look into Libya will be the folly of Britain and France. This and Iraq are the last of imperialism where as a system is defunct. The bloody conflict in Algeria and Vietnam were conflicts that resisted French reassertion. Britain wisely gave up its empire, though with the Suez Crisis it took the US to force both Britain and France out of Egypt, only to later see it come under US influence and empire. The Arabs and their resistance is something that we are just now beginning.

    I did not imply that there will no longer be ethnic conflicts in Europe. Ethnic conflict and imperialism are two separate things. It is the former that is why we see the split up of countries and empires and why can expect the European Union to dissolve. Germans are not the same Greeks. French are not the same as Italians. Poles are not the same as Spaniards. So on and so forth. The institution such as the EU was doomed from the beginning. Now the reason that Europe will not see ethnic conflict between themselves is because the borders of each country is now set based on ethnicity not royal family holdings. France is full of French, Germany is full of Germans, etc. Only the problems of immigrants don’t assimilate in Europe and further splitting of countries is left. I am still waiting for the Beligans to split into lands where the Flemish and Walloons will have their own lands, Italy to split into two different countries, and even potential Scottish irredentism. My point of China as to why does it constantly try to reestablish its empire where it should very well be nine different states due is aspect of culture that is enduring where if all practicality is considered would do well for the Chinese not to continue but they do. And every time that the Chinese do that the reached a point of imperial overstretch that endured until the collapse of that dynasty only to see it reunified again and again and again. That is why China cannot be expansionistic just holding that much requires them to use much more dictatorial force. Decentralization it is feared would only see provinces split away at the earliest chance it can get.

    Again this is why China cannot become a superpower. It doesn’t mean that it will be impotent. In fact China will be a great power and that is where the world is heading towards, there will be no superpowers only a multitude of great powers. With that there is no dominant political order that will be imposed on the world as the US could do following the destruction of the major power to which the US being late to the conflict was unscathed. The rest of the world has caught up and the US will no longer have the monopoly. This is why we are having such discussions now. The US needs to accept that fact rather than trying to maintain its dominance of a political order that will only disappear.

  17. Simon Johsnon asks "Who Will Eclipse America?"

    Who Will Eclipse America?“, Simon Johnson (former chief economist at the IMF), posted at Project Syndicate, 19 September 2011 — Conclusion:

    External challenges do sometimes bring down states. But, more frequently, the big problems are internal – the regime cannot deliver growth, its legitimacy fades, and people start to head for the exits (or at least get their money out).

    If the US is eclipsed any time soon, this will more likely be due to its loss of social cohesion and its dysfunctional politics. China might well step in to fill that vacuum, but that is quite different from being able to elbow America aside.

  18. Again I think we tend to give the Chinese too much credit. China will not be a superpower. The US becoming a superpower resulted from the fact that when the whole world destroyed itself in conflict in World War II with the US left standing, had naturally see the US take up that role.

    Today the rest of the world caught up with no clear and distinct power advantage over the other. In other words the world balance of power will not see any dominant power and we won’t see another one unless we have another world war where the last one standing due to sitting out much of the conflict until the every end will dominate.

    Below is an article stating China’s own growing subprime bubble crisis. “China ‘faces subprime credit bubble crisis’“, Telegraph, 17 September 2011 — “Monetary tightening in China threatens to pop the $1.7 trillion (£1.07 trillion) credit bubble in local government finance and expose the country’s simmering “subprime” crisis, according to the Communist Party’s economic guru.”

    1. Western views of China have gone from “inevitable superpower” to “about to sink like Atlantis.” Excluding the Pentagon, for whom China is the inevitable cause of ever-iincreasing funding. This is the not place to debate the future of China’s economy, well covered elsewhere. However, here is a brief recap.

      The doubters began their rise (to pick an arbitrary point) with Gordon Chang’s The Coming Collapse of China (2001), which forecast imminent social and economic disaster. After a decade of 10% annual GDP growth, China’s GDP is 2.5x higher (in ral terms, from memory), wages are rising at double-digit rates, and they have large-scale programs to address the inevitable problems associated with their fantastic growth rate. Envious westerns (and those fearful of a new rival) list these problems, as if continued poverty was a superior alternative.

      More recently, Wall Street types have joined the China doomster chorus. Such as hedge fund manager Jim Chanos (see his 8 January 2010 interview in the New York Times). Most of their theories lack a factual foundation (some of Chanos statements are little mut misinterpretation of Chinese data and trends). However, China’s critics have simplistic theories that get ample coverage in the news media. The rebuttals by experts tend to be limited subscriptions. Such as those by GaveKal, Bank Credit Analyst, and Jonathan Anderson of UBS.

      There is another dimension to this difference of opinion about China. The west increasingly runs by the myopia of bean-counters. America was developed by bold investments with short-term costs but long-term gains. The Louisianan Purchase, the transcontinental railroad, Steward’s Folly (Alaska), the interstate highway system, the California University system. Now we’re in austerity mode, competing with China buy firing teachers, letting our infrastructure rot, and burdening college graduates with vast (probably unpayable) debts.

      Of course we are not the nation like we used to be. China builds superfast trains and our bean counters laugh: look at those wasted dimes! But those trains will pay dividends to China for the next century or more, esp as they are built when land and labor is inexpensive (unlike mind-numbing cost of the Big Dig in Boston, or the San Francisco – LA train).

      Ditto for the “empty cities.” Bean counters laugh at building cities until they’re needed. Why not do as other Thrid World nations do, letting rural immigrants build vast slums to ring their cities — breeding grouds for crime and poverty. Then, after all those social ills are baked in, call upon Western experts to prescribe solutions (calling on our experience with Detroit)! What a waste of dimes to build the cities first, getting ahead of the curve.

      China risks much in its rapid drive to industrialization; there are so many things that can go wrong. Western experts recommend caution. Let a few generations rot in poverty, and millions of children live without enough to eat — following the experience of the Latin American government who listened to our experts.

      It’s sad to read this stuff. Fortes fortuna adiuvat! Fortune favors the bold! We used to know that.

  19. Agree with you Fabius Maximus on most points but the reason that economics is mentioned here is that military power’s foundation is inextricably linked to economic power. This is especially true with regard to the domestic economy.

    Gordon Chang’s book has been criticized because he predicted the collapse to happen in 2006. His arguments are still relevant. The problem with predictions is that they are deemed accurate if the made prediction is relatively close the actual occurrence.

    We need to identify the source and reason for economic rise and collapse for that will determine whether China will be a superpower or not. China’s double digit growth at 10% for a decade needs to be put into the context of a low initial base and recent economic takeoff. Lets not forget that Japan in the 1960s posted double digit growth and did South Korea in the 1970s. China’s economic pattern is no different. But again given the larger population base it will take much longer for China to reach a economic sustainable level.

    You are absolute right about bean counter analyses being over deterministic in China’s so called rise. That is why I inject historical patterns, geopolitics, and culture as to show why that rapid economic growth has not made China into a superpower or an expansionist power. Chinese economic booms and bust cycles have always occurred throughout their history. All of these factors created this condition and nothing has fundamentally changed. Modernization itself has only given certain societies and an advantage but over time these advantage are gone now that the most relevant societies have closed the gap. That is the core of my argument.

    As for US expansions and investments we cannot discount that these investments were not part of a grand master plan. It came from a gradual expansion into areas where commerce was made possible in a form of geopolitical determinism. The Mississippi River valley is the source of American economic power in the geographical sense. The Louisiana Purchase was an excellent strategic decision. Yet if you look into the China we see the same thing with its two great rivers. The US has a sparse population in the Rocky Mountains and China’s western territories the same. However the US has the Pacific Ocean to where we see the settling and growth of California come about as a result that permeates economic activity in the western regions of the US. You mention San Francisco. The Bay Area of San Francisco is a huge natural port. Ports naturally draw people to settle there. China does not have this and will have great difficulty and a lack of market incentive to push economic development into its western regions. Here the market and geography dictated activity. Alaska itself had it not been for fossil fuel resources was irrelevant territory. The Arabian peninsula was worthless had it not been the luck of the discovery of huge oil resources. The Saudis didn’t choose or strategize this, they were simply shoved off into the empty dessert because all the useful lands taken by Europeans.

    As for the building of cities again which rural peasant can afford to live in them? Why go to the cities if there are no jobs for them? There is a reason why small town in the US are dying what is the point to build up those small towns if there is no economic generating activity to bring them there. The Chinese sub-prime bubble that I posted earlier is simply free market mechanics that was created as a result of their cheap credit. Cheap credit creates economic booms but always followed by economic busts. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? The Chinese are not exception to economic principles and if you look at everything in perspective it should be obvious as the reason why the Chinese could never expand beyond their region and why they followed a predictable cycle of dynastic changes. Now there had been changes but not any that China that can fundamentally escape this condition.

    There is no such thing as Chinese Exceptionalism any more than there is such a thing as American Exceptionalism.

    1. I think we’re crossing our lines of communication. I don’t believe that China is yet a superpower. Nor is it exceptional.

      “China’s double digit growth at 10% for a decade”
      That understates their accomplishment, China’s real GDP grew 9.9%/year from 1979 – 2010, until interrupted by the global slowdown. As you note, that is typical for East Asian nations in their takeoff from third world status. most forecasts expect GDP growth to slow to aprox 8%/year for a generation, then slow to 3-5% typical of developed nations. China’s one-child policy has accellerated their evolution through the demographic transition, making long-term forecasts even more unreliable than usual.

      “As for US expansions and investments we cannot discount that these investments were not part of a grand master plan”
      The historical record clearly shows that it was a grand plan, at least in broad terms. Manifest destiny, with aggressive efforts to displace the Indians and colonize the land. Programs such as the transcontinental railroad were financed in order to tie together the nation, despite being uneconomic over the usual time horizons of private investment.

      “was made possible in a form of geopolitical determinism.”
      I think that theory is difficult to support. Most importantly, the acquisition of the western US through the Louisiana Purchase and Mexican-American War may have been historical accidents. Some of the extraordinary good luck the US enjoyed — and made the most of — during the 19th century.

      “Gordon Chang’s book has been criticized because he predicted the collapse to happen in 2006”
      IMO Chang’s book deserves criticism because a decade has passed and there is no sign of his predictions coming true. There are few or no signs that most of them will happen in any reasonable time frame.

  20. @ Fabius Maximus

    I see where you are getting at and I don’t think that we are fundamentally in disagreement but here are more points to support my position.

    China right now needs double digit growth in order to absorb the masses of Chinese that coming into the work force. While the one child policy has slowed that population growth rate it will take some time for them to completely see a net zero growth. Right now there is approximately 2 births to every death in China. Here again we also need to consider that the Japanese and Korean as well as our own population experience a population boom commensurate with economic growth. China has the cart before the horse and its rapid growth is still concentrated with the areas where it was always affluent, along the territories to its east and core of the two rivers.

    With regard to ‘Manifest Destiny’ it was term created after there has already been mass migrations of Americans into the West, that was not strategized. Americans moved into Texas and California long before the term even existed. The zeal for conquest came about much later. Manifest Destiny is not any more strategized any more than the mass influx of Hispanic migration into the American Southwest that we see today. It is not part of some kind of grand strategy by the Mexican government for reconquests of lands. Regardless the potential for irredentism is real but never one that was strategized. The TransContinental Railroad started off with a military purpose that is strategizing but bear in mind that the economic incentive and potential was not strategized. The Siberian Railroad also originally built for military purposes didn’t have the same effect.

    This leads to the point on geopolitical determinism. There is a reason why we still see vast area in the Rocky Mountain States that are still unpopulated. Cities that did sprung up coincided with gold mines, rail road switching linkages, etc. The free market capitalism and enterprise has a cultural root as well that we inherited from British and Northern Europeans. Free market capitalism is what built up the towns into cities and free market capitalism is what is causing the decline of some cities. If the US no longer manufactures then of course Detroit will decline, people will leave to go elsewhere leaving nothing but crime and decay in its wake. Much economic behavior does not have a uniform principle of acceptance and implementation. Both Japan and the Philippines are island nations but why is one great economic power and the other not? Why is the US so much different than Russian in economic engagement and activity? Britain could be the best and fore most experts on free market capitalism but without a continental size population, resource access, and such, it can never be a superpower without colonies. This is what I mean by geopolitical determinism, it does not mean predestination but still identifies key constraint and advantages. The geopolitical aspect does not change unless the borders of the state changes.

    With regard to Gordon Chang most of what he says about China is in fact happening. The trends are clearly visible as I mentioned and sourced with an example of a huge sub prime credit bubble in China. Remember the US Housing bubble was identified in some sources as early as the the 1990s. Just before it burst so called financial experts were still touting the financial markets as ever growing, few people ever predicted such it would finally happen. People like Peter Schiff from Pacific Capital was warning even as late as 2007 that this was happening. He knew it was coming just he couldn’t predict exactly when. Chang’s points are also that but he went the extra step to predict the year. Paul Kennedy predicted the decline of the Soviet Union in his book Rise and Fall of the Great Powers but didn’t know when all he could see was the macro trends that it will come. George Kennan also predicted a future Soviet collapse where he stated that Communism would implode on itself and therefore containment and time will bring about ultimate victory he didn’t known when it would happen but still he knew based on factors and principles that it would.

    China has a great deal of internal problems all of which are nothing new from past experiences throughout its 4000 year history. All Gordon Chang did was really highlight some of the same problems that it faced in the past. If the collapse of China will happen say in 2020 based on the factors that Gordon Chang pointed out, then the only criticism that I can levy is that his timing was off.

    1. I agree in general with your views. Here are a few quibbles.

      (1) China’s subprime lending
      The comparision of China’s local governmental enterprises and the US subprime lending scandals is absurd. The latter was private lending for what was in essence consumption (not generating any public or private cash flows). The lending by China’s local governments is public and largely for commercial purposes. Even if a large fraction of that lending proves uneconomic, that does not mean the cash flows will not repay a substantial fraction of the loans — and even unsuccessful commercial ventures can generate long-term public gains. Examples are legion, from the many transportation bubbles in 19th century England and America to the 1990s overbuilding of optical fiber networks — all generated large economic gains for society despite losses to the investors.

      (2) “‘Manifest Destiny’ it was term created after there has already been mass migrations of Americans into the West, that was not strategized.”

      Not so for both points. I dislike citing Wikipedia, but don’t have time to pull up better sources. From their entry on Manifest destiny:

      The 19th century belief that the United States would eventually encompass all of North America is known as “continentalism”. An early proponent of this idea was John Quincy Adams, a leading figure in U.S. expansion between the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and the Polk administration in the 1840s. … Adams did much to further this idea. He orchestrated the Treaty of 1818, which established the United States-Canada border as far west as the Rocky Mountains, and provided for the joint occupation of the region known in American history as the Oregon Country … He negotiated the Transcontinental Treaty in 1819, purchasing Florida from Spain and extending the U.S. border with Spanish Mexico all the way to the Pacific Ocean. And he formulated the Monroe Doctrine of 1823, which warned Europe that the Western Hemisphere was no longer open for European colonization. The Monroe Doctrine and Manifest Destiny were closely related ideas: historian Walter McDougall calls Manifest Destiny a corollary of the Monroe Doctrine, because while the Monroe Doctrine did not specify expansion, expansion was necessary in order to enforce the Doctrine.

      … John L. O’Sullivan coined the exact term “Manifest Destiny” in the July/August 1845 issue of the United States Magazine and Democratic Review in an article titled “Annexation.” It was primarily used by Democrats to support the expansion plans of the Polk Administration,

  21. Same here. Here are my quibbles.

    My response with regard to subprime lending in China whether it is private or public the results will be the same so I don’t see how China will be of exception to this. Their largest mall in Shanghai is largely unoccupied. That being said investing into infrastructure is another matter where it can facilitate some economic growth but overall cannot nor will not generate what has no potential in the first place. Japan for example during the 1980s made liberal use of construction to which a lot is hardly ever used. To build infrastructure does require strategizing but even then it is with the constraints of what is feasible and profitable to do so, otherwise we will get ‘bridges to nowhere’.

    Regarding Manifest Destiny, I don’t like sourcing from Wikipedia because I don’t want to be thought of as less credible. That being said it can be an excellent source for well written and well sourced information. The wikipedia article could very well be correct. One would have to check.

    Here is where my thinking goes. The Republic of Texas was not founded until 1836 (Being that I come from Texas this was drilled into our heads in elementary school). The migration of peoples to Texas from the then US was not part of some kind of strategy embarked upon by the government or US military. The California Republic not until 1846. So migrations to those regions took place before none of this strategized. It is just that Americans at that time been migrating westward since the first settlement on North America.

    Let me put it this way. The Huns didn’t strategize moving into Europe, neither did the Avars and Magyars. The Seljuk Turks didn’t strategize into Anatolia and I don’t believe that Americans did so either. They moved to settle new territories and conquered peoples along the way. Now the Mongols did strategize their expansion but it was one that was planned as did the Ottomans into Europe and these were deliberate military conquests with the aim to conquer territories. Which moved first peoples or armies? Strategy must have intent to which there must exist an intended political goal and endstate. Americans were expansionist very early on due to an agricultural culture to farm and settle lands. To me manifest destiny or its expansion was already happening and only to areas where there was hardly any population and weak resistance. And again there is a reason why the current population centers of the US all happened to be built on arable land or access to commercial trade.

    So based on what you presented as evidence I can accept that there could very well be a vision but again there is nothing to say that the US government or any authority has pushed this agenda. The American peoples into those territories without direction, why they did again has to do with some aspect of Anglo American culture as mentioned before, I believe. Which is why present the counter point is there a strategy by the leaders of Mexico to intentionally retake the American Southwest or will there be by natural population growth and migrations that will have the natural byproduct of irredentism, the reverse of what the Anglo American has done over a century before?

    Simply put on how I see things I arrive at the conclusion that there was no strategy that involved the growth and migrations of English speaking peoples. Growth and expansion was determined first by commercial and economic incentives. The American journey overseas driven my mercantilistic imperialism and then replaced by the Wilsonian idealism. These two being what much of our post War foreign policy seems to be based on. China was never like that it already had a sizable territory even without the territorial annexations by the non Han dynasties.

    1. (1) China overbuilding

      Annec-data is useless for economic analysis. There are always failed projects, everywhere and always. The question is current incidence vs. average for that economy. GaveKal has done some excellent work estimating numbers for China, and they are not — NOT — as high as those in the US. Per the US Census Housing Vacancy Report, in the 2nd quarter there were 18.7 million vacant housing units in the US; 14.3% of all units. For comparison, the rate in Q2 of 2000 was 11.8% — 14.4 million units people could point to any say “bubble.”

      Update: estimates of the urban housing vacancy rate in China range from 9 – 13%, in a nation better able to absorb vacant housing stock (i.e., rapid wage growth, many people in cramped/old housing, high household savings rates, high rates of rural to urban migration).

      (2) Cultural and governmental strategies

      This is too complex a subject to discuss in comments. I look at this question in The Myth of Grand Strategy , 31 January 2006. I’d appreciate seeing your thoughts on this.

      (3) “The migration of peoples to Texas from the then US was not part of some kind of strategy embarked upon by the government or US military. The California Republic not until 1846. So migrations to those regions took place before none of this strategized.”

      I don’t know what strategized means in this context. But the westward movement was both planned and faciltiated by US public policy from the earliest days of the Republic (eg, Jefferson’s Lewis & Clark expedition). As shown by the actions of John Quincy Adams, and many others. Hence the term “continentalism”, long predating the Republics of Texas and California.

  22. Here are my points.

    (1) There is a China bubble IMO to the tune that is equivalent of $1.7 trillion and this is from Chinese government audits. At this point this can be debated on and on whether there is a bubble or not. Prior to our bubble there was debate whether there was a property bubble or not. Until it happens can one be proven right or wrong. I stand firmly that there is a bubble in China and it will burst but when this will happen, I don’t know.

    (2) Agree this one for a later post.

    (3) I don’t agree and the term ‘continentalism’ predating the Republic of Texas or the California Republic, see below:

    3. the belief or doctrine that the U.S. and Canada should merge into a North American nation, especially for mutual economic benefit. Origin: 1850–55; continental

    According to dictionary.com it would seem that the origin of the word is much later than Adams. I don’t know for sure and this leads me to suspect the wikipedia article.

    Again, I argue that there was no strategy. Americans were moving and settling westward even before there was a United States. There is another crucial point that I think I remember from John Eisenhower’s book ‘So Far From God’ a history of the Mexican American War where John Q. Adams was against the annexation of Texas and against the War with Mexico.

    1. This is a minor point, but continentalism as a doctrine appears frequently in works about the first few generations of America. I see dozens of references. The Oxford English Dictionary gives no examples, just this mention of the earliest usage:

      In American History, an advocate of the federation of the revolted colonies after the War of Independence.

      To pick one of the other references, from A College History of the United States (1991):

      {JQ} Adams took great pride in his country’s military and diplomatic victories during these years. The law of nature had intended “our proper dominion to be the continent of North America.” It was our national mission to expand westward to the Pacific and north and south as well. Adams disliked European colonialism, with its commercial monopolies and its pretentious claims to “fragments of territory… fifteen hundred miles beyond the sea, worthless and burdensome to their owners….” As secretary of state, Adams deliberately sought to make an “American Continental Empire.”

      Also, from James E. Lewis Jr The American Union (U of NC Press, 1998): “For Adams’s continentalism, see”

      1. Stanley J. Underdal, “John Quincy Adams and American Continental Expansion.” Journal of the West 31 ( July 1992)
      2. Weeks William Earl. “American Nationalism, American Imperialism: An Interpretation of United States Political Economy, 1789-1861.” Journal of the Early Republic 14 (Winter 1994)
      3. Samuel Flagg Bemis, John Quincy Adams and the Foundations of American Foreign Policyy. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1949.
      4. Samuel Flagg Bemis, John Quincy Adams and the Union. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1956. and
      5. Richard R. Stenberg , “The Boundaries of the Louisiana Purchase.” Hispanic American Historical Review 14 ( February 1934)

      I have not looked at any of these, but they’re part of a long list of references.

    2. “the tune that is equivalent of $1.7 trillion”
      That number may come from these stories: “China Auditor Finds Irregularities in $1.7 Trillion Local Government Debt“, Bloomberg, June 2011. China has a GDP of roughly six trillion. Whatever the loses on that $1.7T (not likely to be 100%, nor taken in any one year), it is not necessarily a severe problem for the economy (although bad news for the institutions taking the loss). Modern US and UK history since 1800 consist largely of repeated credit bubbles — with large losses. What matters to the long-run health of the economy is the nature of the investment financed (as I mention below). China is investing in structures (infrastructure, housing) for which there is strong long-term demand. Not like building homes in the Central Valley of California, many of which stand vacant — eventually to be destroyed (vacant homes are stripped by thieves, inhabited by squatters and meth labs).

      Also, bad government lending is not a “bubble” in the usual sense of the word. China may have a real estate bubble. If so, it’s an odd bubble — marked by shortages of supply (high demand for low-end housing), near-zero leverage of the end buyers (ie, few mortgages, with high downpayments), strong demand (from migration) and rising prices. These conditions are roughly the opposite of the US housing bubble with which so many make such facile comparisons.

  23. I will take the time to read the listed sources on John Q. Adams and see if the presented evidence make this point valid. I mean that is the point of research and debate.

    With regard to China’s bubble, bubble come in all shapes and forms. The first bubble and collapse recorded in modern history was over the speculation of Tulips in the Netherlands in 1637. Here again investment in infrastructure is only useful if they link areas of economic activity.

    Here is one article from the WSJ that discusses their bubble: The Great Property Bubble of China May Be Popping, Wall Street Journal, 9 June 2011

    1. Yes, there are hundred of articles alleging that there is a property bubble in China. I doubt anyone disputes the existence of these articles. My point is that the very few people doing actual research in the field find little evidence supporting these lurid stories. Magnitudes matter — indeed are everything in economics — and the size of the over-investment in their real estate sector is difficult to determine.

      Nor is it operationally useful to say that bubbles come in “all shapes and forms”. This quickly slides into bubbles becoming — as they are in much US investment talk today — little more than the “stop” button on the analytical machine. Meaning nothing. Bubbles in the professional finance literature have a specific meaning.

      What we do know is that even if these stories are correct, the Chinese real estate boom lacks the specific features associated with destructive investment bubbles — most especially high leverage in the end owners (leading to panic sales and bankruptcies) and investments that generate little or no social value.

      BTW — citing tulip mania as the first bubble is not a good place to start. This tale became popular relatively recently from the surge of interest in the almost-forgotten book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, by British journalist Charles Mackay (1841). It is not a reliable source (however entertaining), and his account of the tulip mania is considered by historians to be somewhere between exaggerated and fiction. There is little data from the era, and almost nothing supporting his tale of a large-scale bubble.

      For more about the Mackay’s “extraordinarily low repution among historians” see “Charles Mackay’s own extraordinary popular delusions and the Railway Mania“, Andrew Odlyzko (U MI), 14 September 2011. This is also an excellent introduction to the history of bubbles — showing how they make sense at the time, until their underlying assumptions prove wrong over the short-term — even if they prove to be correct over the long-term.

  24. Wall St Journal: "Is China Eclipsing the U.S.? Hardly"

    Worthwhile reading from someone with an excellent track record: “Is China Eclipsing the U.S.? Hardly“, Jonathan Anderson (economist at UBS), Asian Wall Street Journal, 20 September 2011 — “Beijing can’t afford to make the yuan an international currency.” Opening:

    The title says it all: Eclipse: Living in the Shadow of China’s Economic Dominance. Arvind Subramanian’s new book is a good example of a more aggressive line of argument regarding China — that it’s not a matter of whether it will take over economic leadership of the world, but merely when. However, while the case for sheer size is strong, China’s road to real financial influence promises to be far longer and rockier than the GDP numbers alone would suggest.

    The argument for dominance has two prongs. The first is that China’s economy will very soon be larger than either the U.S. or the EU. And second, as this happens the yuan will also naturally replace the dollar as the global reserve currency of choice, with profound consequences for international markets.

    On the first issue, there is little debate since it’s a matter of simple mathematics. China already has a $7 trillion economy, roughly half the size of the U.S. or the EU. If it can continue to grow, not at 10% or 11% as it did through much of the 2000s, but even at a more prosaic 6% or 7% in real terms, then in five years’ time the Chinese economy could easily pass the $15 trillion mark, where the U.S. is today. Fast forward a few more years to the end of the current decade and China should already be larger than the U.S. and equal in size to developed Europe.

    However, when we move on to the question of China’s financial role the outlook is much murkier. In fact, in 10 years’ time the yuan will probably play only a marginally more important role in global affairs than it does today. It will certainly not take over from the U.S. dollar as the world’s reserve currency, and it may not even be challenging the Japanese yen or the pound sterling for the No. 4 slot.

    Why? It’s one thing to hold the yuan for trade invoicing, but if you’re going to hold it as a liquid “safe haven” portfolio investment choice, you need free and unfettered access to deep domestic fixed-income markets. This is what the dollar offers, the euro offers, and essentially what the yen and other G-10 majors have offered as well.

    But not China. …

  25. An excellent debate, gentlemen, it has made for good reading. I like the way Fabius laid out the range of Western views on China and brought to the surface some likely subconcious motivations (envy especially seems probable to me). I also like Young’s thoughts on the movement of peoples, and the parallels he draws between American expansion and the movements of Central Asian nomads, and I look forward to his upcoming post on planned versus un-planned expansionism and the (un-)reality of grand strategy.

    Now that I have a bit of time to write, I would like to briefly return to some of the points that Young and I were discussing.

    @ Young K.

    I think we are seeing many of the same trends in history, but a major point on which we may be diverging is the basis for the generation and maintenance of patterns. Personally, I do not see how it is possible that large-scale social patterns such as culture can be held constant over any considerable stretch of time without some mechanism of reinforcement. A key reinforcer of many patterns is geography, so to the extent that geography does not change we will see variations on these patterns popping up over and over again. Hence Russia’s strategic interest in the Ukraine. Hence Mesopotamia’s recurring status as the fault line between competing imperial interests. But when we see these patterns re-emerge, it is not because “culture” does not change, it is because the patterns that existed before were reinforced.

    And sometimes geography does change. The technological and climatic developments which allowed intensive agriculture to be extended into northern Europe are one prominent example.

    I’ll also borrow a line from Mozi and say that all old things were new once. All the old patterns were at one time unprecedented, otherwise how could they have ever been established? 400 years ago, a fatalistic geographic determinism which holds that all political formations are defined and constrained by their predecessors could never have predicted the rapid expansion of the British Empire. I can imagine an observor with this attitude looking at the state of things back then, patiently explaining that English dominion had expanded and contracted within the British Isles time and time again over the centuries, starting with the first Roman conquest; that the farthest it had ever reached before was the northern provinces of France; and that it would always be too undermined by Scottish, Welsh and Irish separatism to ever extend its influence very far outwards.

    So while I am very sympathetic to your ideas about the constraints on Chinese power, the argument that “they’ve always been that way and they aren’t going to change” isn’t going to cut it for me. I think that other posters have pointed out some valid examples of reinforcers of the old Chinese patterns, especially technological constraints, that have shifted significantly in recent times; and I am not sure if you adequately addressed these points in your responses to them.

  26. @ Young K.

    Re: your comments on Iraq, you have selected a great quote from Cassius Dio which has some resonance in light of recent events, and it is interesting and relevant to know that Mesopotamia has been on the front line before. I am not sure exactly which elements of Arab culture you are referring to which “have not changed”, but I am going to guess that one of them is tribalism. In this case, I think that a closer look will reveal that Iraq’s current state of devastation is actually having a decisive cultural impact by reinforcing this pattern.

    While the phenomenon is poorly understood by the general public of developed nations, the tribal system in essence is a low-maintenance, stable institution that helps people govern themselves in the conditions created by a weak and/or hostile and/or failed state. Strong, inclusive states inevitably weaken the tribal system– and indeed, during the period of relative stability and prosperity in Iraq from roughly the 1960’s until the first Gulf War, the tribal system was dramatically weakened across large sectors of Iraqi society. When the state’s position became weak during the 1990’s, Saddam selectively strengthened the tribes as a low-cost way to keep the country under control.

    Under the current conditions of de-facto anarchy, the tribes now play a significant role in the lives of many Iraqis even in the largest cities. In addition to offering a venue for resolving grievances that in some cases can be more reliable and equitable than state-sponsored courts, tribes also offer social services such as life insurance. In this way, they have some parallels with the system of civil society organizations that existed in the United States around the turn of the 20th century.

    It is significant that the tribal system was always strongest in the populations which were alienated from the Iraqi state, i.e. the south and Kurdistan.

    It is also significant that in Egypt and Turkey, countries in the same region with historically tribal populations but enduring, relatively inclusive states, the tribal system has grown very weak during the course of the 20th century. It lives on in the Kurdish areas of Turkey: the Kurds are an alienated population.

  27. @ Matt D

    You can discount it but clinging to the absurd notion of Liberal Universalism is the folly of American Foreign Policy. Culture is immensely important and to continue to discount this aspect will continue to lead the US into foreign policy disasters.

    To ignore it brought us into the mess we call Iraq. Where the belief that the Arab world could model themselves off the West while ignoring the impact of the Shia and Sunni divide is utter folly. Why the Russians are so different from Poles and how that split affects the Ukraine today. Why elements of Islam plays in the rise of Neo-Ottomanism. Then there is Afghanistan, absolutely nothing has changed.

    All of this explains the roles of people and their culture into politics. Oswald Spengler made particular note of this.

    Some point out the Japanese as the example of cultural changes but even then the so called transformation of culture by the Japanese during the Meiji Era is not without precedent. The Taika Reform of 645 was a period of massive and sudden import of Chinese culture but transformed and modified into something that made the Japanese version quite distinct. Japan did an even earlier import from Korea. Japan during the Meiji Era of 1868 was a period of importation of Western culture and institutions but modified again into something different and uniquely Japanese. Again this is their pattern that has not changed.

    Back to my main point. This what is old was once new is blatantly obvious but again all this does is add new layers to something on top to what is much older and enduring. Technology is not culture. This is not Star Trek the Next Generation and neither will the world move towards that ridiculous utopian vision. The issue with technology has only caused a disruption to the economical interaction and military power. But technology is only a relative factor. The British Navy now is much more advanced and powerful than the British Navy 200 years ago. But the British Navy of 200 years ago was absolutely dominant. China was far more advanced in weaponery 500 years ago to nearly all that surround it but again technological advantage didn’t make them an expansionist power. To put too much into technology is making the entire argument a single issue factor.

    On a broader issue of culture. Culture is enduring and for that reason the Communists made the point to destroy it in the belief that until they can destroy the old culture, the ideals of a Communist society cannot take root. Key to this is the elimination of religion in that kind of society. Well after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russians saw a return to the Orthodox Church. The Cultural Revolution by Mao did nothing. You add layers of something new but that doesn’t change or remove the old. If you can understand this mechanic you will understand why the Arabs will not adopt a system or culture that is radically alternative to their own. It simply won’t happen. The Neocon-Neoliberal argument is moribund and without any substance other than ridiculous idealism and belongs to the ash heap of history along with Communism.

  28. @ Matt D

    I been to Iraq and interacted with many of the Sheikhs. The tribal system was alive and well even during Saddam’s rule. Remember there is a reason why most of his elite circle all came from his tribal region of Tikrit. Though it was ironic that Saddam tried to abolish the system, it endured, and now resurged. Even in so called modern Arab states tribalism endures. Saudi Arabia’s name sake is from the ruling family that controls the state and government. Other customs such as marrying of cousins and such are again old practices. The Arabs have not changed and US foreign policy should not expect that nor their outlook to change.

  29. @ Young K.

    To be precise, I’m pretty sure that tribalism in Iraq resurged when a the weakened Baathist state selectively promoted it during the 1990s, and that it was seriously weakened during the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, though it stayed relatively stronger in many areas of the south and among the Kurds. As far as Saddam taking Tikritis to Baghdad, one could compare this to Bush taking Texans to the White House. But I am willing to cede the point– Iraq certainly retains many tribal structures, including the use of the tribal name as a surname, and this is in contrast to other Arab countries such as Egypt, who have abandoned this practice along with tribalism.

    By the way, I completely feel where you are coming from. I also have spent time in Iraq and my thinking has been heavily influenced by the struggle to construct some rational explanation for the disheartening failure of US policy there. So I completely sympathize with your motivations I think we are in agreement on many matters of substance. Also, I really don’t feel like an idealist on these issues.

    One figure who is certainly not a Neo-Lib/Neo-Con is Ibn Khaldun, considered by many to be the father of “History as a Science”. Below are a few quotes from his “Prologue” or “Prolegomenon”, offered here as food for thought. Taken from the section titled “Prologue on the Merits of the Science of History”, the first quote may seem to contradict the latter two, but they each occur in slightly different contexts and represent different aspects of a coherent vision.

    (Quoting a proverb.)
    “The past is more similar to the future than water is to water.”

    “And among the much-overlooked errors in history is the ignorance of changes in the circumstances of nations and generations that occur with the change between eras and the passing of the days. This is a deadly deficiency which is very well hidden because it does not come to pass except after the passage of long periods of time, and it does not tend to be understood except by the sharpest among the people. The circumstances of the world and the nations and their customs and creeds do not persist in a single path or a stable order, but indeed the order changes with the days and the times and the transition from one situation to another, as is also the case with people and seasons and cities; so it also happens in far lands and near lands and with eras and states.”

    “And if the circustances are changed completely it is as if all creation had been changed from its root and the world wholly transformed. It were then like a new creation, an unprecedented sprouting, a renewed world.”

    These translations are my own. A full-text English translation of the book can be found here.

  30. `Young` seems to be using a false name and is an indian by nationality.
    I figured that out while reading his opinion’s.

  31. China is expanding (economically, of course), but it probably isn’t going to be a long-term sort of thing, you know like U.S. You see China is a manufacturing nation, not an innovator. It doesn’t create it’s own ideas (noticed why there are few I.T companies in china, mostly manufacturing ones). Check this out {on my website}, if you disagree:

  32. {responding to deleted comments about the IMF}

    The IMF lends money to countries when they get in big economic trouble. like, say, mexico or Argentina in the 90’s, now Greece etc. That is what they do. It’s big money but different from regulating any kind of rates.

    Currency exchange rates are set either by the market, or by governments (who actively participate in the market, soaking up excess supply or demand to keep their currency rate steady vs the Dollar, for example).

    Interest rates are set by the markets for long-term loans (for example 10-year Treasury bond) loans, and by central banks (such as the FED) for short-term (for example, overnight loan to a big “primary-dealer” bank) loans.

    There used to be an organized centrally planned system of exchange rates but that’s been gone since 1971.

  33. From the original Associated Press via the Independent. All that read this post. Notice that China as I said all along is not structurally going to become the superpower that we think it will. It is all just hype.

    The reason for China’s economic woes is that like in the past an export led industrialization economy has an intrinsic weakness of relying only on exports for growth. It needs to become a domestic based economy if it ever wants to become the superpower that many of you think it will become. To date only Japan has made that transition successfully but such a transition took time and a lot of pain on their part but are now better off for it.

    That said China has not been successful in making this transition and with that comes a looming economic malady that will come. Korea is another country that has also not made the transition and despite predictions of their rise will also not come to pass.

    Add to this the intrinsic geopolitical, historical, and cultural reasons as to why China cannot become a superpower, then it becomes very clear.

    Economists had been wrong in the past especially about the past and the IMF is not an exception. The thinking is such that it ignores all other factors and thus makes predictions based on parochial evidence. It is not to say that economics is not important just that it is not the only one that matters.

    Ladies and gentlemen, the only real power in Asia is Japan. China cannot be the superpower and will all likely face a major upheaval. China can come out of this better off but it will require them to break from their traditional pattern of old imperial China trying to rule too much from an over-centralized government.

    If the Chinese cannot break from this pattern then they will only repeat this cycle or rise and fall as they had been doing for millennia.

    Cheers, Young J. Kim

    China worried about unrest as economy flags“, AP, 3 December 2011

    The Chinese leadership’s law-and-order chief is warning that China is ill-prepared for social unrest generated by changes in the economy, in the latest sign that the government is worried about the consequences of flagging growth. The government needs better methods for dealing with “the negative effects” of the economy, Politburo member Zhou Yongkang told provincial officials.

    Zhou called for innovative approaches to social management – a euphemism for a clutch of policies as diverse as stepped-up policing and unemployment insurance meant to dampen unrest. “Especially when facing the negative effects of the market economy, we still have not formed a complete mechanism for social management,” Zhou said. How to do so, he said, “is the great and urgent task before us.”

    Zhou’s remarks underscore growing government uneasiness about an economic slowdown and the social unrest it might bring. In the past week, a much-watched index showed manufacturing contracting sharply, and the government lowered controls on bank reserves to encourage more lending.

    Meanwhile, strikes and other job actions have increased recently as factories retrench to confront higher labour costs and reduced demand for exports from Europe. … In another instance of frayed tensions, Xinhua reported that hundreds of people overturned four police and government cars on Friday in the central city of Xi’an after a truck hit and killed a girl and police did not arrive at the scene for two hours.

    1. “China as I said all along is not structurally going to become the superpower that we think it will. It is all just hype.”

      While I agree that China has large structural problems (but then, who doesn’t?). But this article refers to garden-variety ecnoomic cycles. Recessions, even depressions, are inevitable and unaviodable aspects of free-market economies (even highly controlled ones). China’s government worries about social unrest should they have a severe downturn. As does the US government (note the coordinated and harsh response to the OWS protests). As do many European governments (eg, Greece).

      1. Oh not argument from me here. I posted it here just because of that. China is not immune to what is economic reality and the several postings. Made plenty of mention of the structural problems and noting that the severity of what is coming due to a growing housing bubble in China has also affected worker and sparking an uprising among the Uighurs. The point is that ethnic tensions become full scale violence in the collapse of public security and/or the economy. Even during the good economic times we seen ethnic groups resisting Han Chinese cultural imposition and we shall see more of it in the following years during this mother of all global economic depressions.


    1. Russia is not a superpower either. Right now its military is very weak and its economy is dependent on a single commodity. It produces nothing much else to trade and won’t anytime soon.

  34. WaPo: "Challenging everything you think you know about China"

    Five myths about China’s power – Challenging everything you think you know“, Minxin Pei, op-ed in The Washington Post, 26 January 2012 — Opening:

    As China gains on the world’s most advanced economies, the country excites fascination as well as fear — particularly in the United States, where many worry that China will supplant America as the 21st century’s superpower. Many ask how China has grown so much so fast, whether the Communist Party can stay in power and what Beijing’s expanding global influence means for the rest of us. But to understand China’s new role on the world stage, it helps to rethink several misconceptions that dominate Western thinking.

  35. Pingback: What Kind of Superpower Will China Be? |

  36. Change is coming to China, the C. C. P. notwithstanding. No one-party state survives the ten years after hosting an Olympics as the residents of Berlin, Moscow and Sarajevo will attest.

    Let’s just hope the powers-that-be in Beijing manage a smooth regime change – for once in their history!

  37. Pingback: Mumaith Khan History Of Halloween Wikipedia Nederlands | Bollywood Atress

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