It’s conventional wisdom amongst some of the commentariat and the chattering classes that China is poised to become the new global hegemon, eclipsing the US to dominate the 21st century (or was that Europe?)
But China’s intelligence agencies aren’t buying it.
The Beijing-based Chinese Institute for Contemporary International Relations, something of a think-tank for China’s intelligence community “made an unpublished assessment of the various components of US power,” says one analyst, noting its “reputation for unvarnished analysis.”
“It found many more entries on the positive than on the negative side of the US balance sheet,” the FT’s Philip Stephens reports:
Some of these strengths speak for themselves. America’s military reach will be unrivalled for decades. It has a stable political system. The country’s demographic profile is significantly better than that of any potential rival. Washington sits at the centre of the world’s most powerful alliance system. Its intelligence capabilities are unmatched. The US has huge advantages in technological prowess and intellectual resources. Around the world it exerts a strong cultural draw. It has a global outlook.
The Chinese identified some counterpoints: an underperforming economy, rising public debt and deficits, social polarisation and political gridlock in Washington.
“What’s striking, though, is the qualitative nature of the pluses and minuses,” Stephens writes:
The advantages are mostly permanent. The security afforded by geography is not something the US can lose. The same can be said for abundant natural resources and relative resilience against climate change. Compare this with the identified weaknesses. With a measure of political resolve, they are all more or less tractable.
Tractable in large part because of democracy’s proven capacity to adapt, innovate and mobilize resources to address and overcome crises with citizens’ voluntary consent and active participation.
Of course, as Frances Fukuyama noted in a recent issue of the Journal of Democracy, China’s authoritarian development model “represents a huge challenge,” largely because, as in Singapore, it has been such an economic success story.
But how stable and sustainable is it?
The West’s democracies face real problems, but nothing like the [historically unprecedented?] challenge for China’s ruling Communist party which, as Stephens notes, “faces the immense task of adapting an authoritarian political structure to the demands of a rising middle class.”