File photo | Flags of the US and China fly along Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington | D.C Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
File photo | Flags of the US and China fly along Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington | D.C Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
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There is an ongoing discussion that China is emerging as a new superpower and replacing the US from the global power structure. China emerging strongly from the growing global economic crisis due to the Covid-19 pandemic and Donald Trump’s ally-alienating policies within NATO for the last four years have pushed this narrative forward considerably. There is no doubt that China has already become the global powerhouse economically, and is expected to surpass the US as the world’s biggest economy by 2028. China is still behind but on its way to surpassing the US in military power with increased spending on weapons technology and developing several secretive weapons.

There is no doubt over China acquiring economic and military strength superior to the US sooner than later, but the question is, can the Communist Party-led China be ever as formidable and complete a superpower as the US has been for the last eight decades? When the Soviet Union competed with the US to claim superpower status during the Cold War period, it somewhat matched America’s strength in leading alliances and military power. However, at the height of its power, the Soviet Union was never a match for US domination economically or culturally.

Like the Soviet Union in the past, China now faces several geopolitical and cultural challenges before it can reach global superpower status similar to the US. China can’t aspire to get the same respect and acceptance worldwide, even if its economic and military power overtakes the US. A democratic US will always have ideological, political, and cultural superiority compared to a Communist China.


Also read: ‘Prepared to use full array of tools’ — Biden team hints at keeping tough line toward China


One-party Communist country

Although China has developed a hybrid system to grow spectacularly on the economic front, it is still a one-party Communist country. Politically, it has become further closed and centralised than ever before. The Chinese Communist Party is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. In 2011, when it was celebrating its 90th anniversary, I was fortunate to attend an invite-only meeting of the Chinese Political Science Association in Shanghai. Many top Chinese political scientists openly discussed the possibilities of China opening up to a multi-party electoral system. That sort of discussion is almost impossible to imagine in Xi Jinping-led China now.

No doubt, China is a strong state with a powerful party bureaucracy, but its politics is potentially very fragile. Under a closed system, it is almost impossible to predict when that spark will arrive to ignite a political upheaval. This is a country where the Interpol chief or a globally famous billionaire can disappear without any official explanation. Hundreds of Chinese millionaires have been living abroad to protect their wealth from future uncertainties and to avail the opportunities of open societies.

China has become rich, it is spending heavily on its university education, but 600,000 Chinese students go abroad for their higher studies every year. China’s economy might be booming for decades, but 10 million Chinese have traveled to other countries to find jobs while 51 million people from all over the world have moved to the US for better work and improved living.


Also read: World is warming up to China for trade. But India is left with just a handful of minilaterals


Tough neighbourhood

Despite its ongoing political troubles, there is no doubt that the American political system is resilient to any attack from destabilising forces. But that sort of trust in the system continues to elude China. Though China has been enjoying political stability for long, the Chinese people don’t have similar trust and confidence in their political system as the Americans have in theirs. This will not help China command the respect of other countries in its competition to become the global superpower.

Geopolitics also does not favour China as it has the US. Unlike the US, China is surrounded by several powerful and competing countries. Among them, at least two, Russia and India, see the dream of becoming superpowers. China has also fought wars against them and continues to have several border disputes. China is neither safe nor secure in its neighbourhood to freely engage in political and military projects in other parts of the world as the US does.

Besides China’s location in a tough neighbourhood, it also lacks trusted, powerful allies. On the one hand, the democratic US has established strong political and military cooperation with many regionally powerful countries like the UK, Germany, Japan, and Australia from the Cold War days. It continues to keep those allies, while getting new ones like India. On the other hand, China’s only significant ally in the world is Russia, but that alliance suffers from many contradictions and has not passed the test of time. It will be hard to imagine China gaining the upper hand militarily, economically, and politically in the future, vis-à-vis the US and its allies’ combined forces.


Also read: How China won Trump’s trade war and got Americans to foot the bill


The US stands firm

The US has been and will continue to be the global cultural superpower, and there is minimal possibility of China posing any serious challenge to that status. Not only does its democracy and freedom provide ideological superiority to the US, its cultural influence through movies, media, music, and literature also extends across the world. The US is a country of immigrants, and it represents and enriches the cultures and ideas of the world. But China has remained a closed country for long. While English remains the world’s language, it is almost impossible to imagine Mandarin taking up that place.

China will always be struggling to catch up to the US and take the lead position in the global power race. Like the Soviet Union, its superpower status will be limited and confined to certain aspects of it. The US has everything to hold its own long in this competition if it doesn’t often engage in self-sabotaging acts like it has in the last four years.

Ashok Swain is a Professor of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University, Sweden. Views are personal.

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29 COMMENTS

  1. I will cough cough at this suggestion that china is 5000 years old civilization,when han dynasty started with han dynasty in 1000 bc.also hellenic,Iranian and Egyptian culture are still alive and fresh.it is ridiculous to hear that now china claims india,pak,Indonesia,Brazil are poor.first india is the real secular democracy atleast in theory.also,the reason of poverty in these reason is corruption,past dictatorship and bad governance.as for success in Korea,Japan and Singapore democracy has a big role in this.without democracy,there won’t be enhanced workers’ rights,and economic and personal liberty which facilitated their growth.also Chinese culture was already decimated in Qing and mao china.after Liberalization,most of the Chinese are westernised.china do not have superpower skill,and no one is learning Chinese.

    • Speak for yourself. Most of the westernised Chinese are learning Chinese. And they have high innate talents. The phoenix is the westernised Indians who villas the Chinese at every opportunity because they think they are superior than the Chinese.

  2. I am tired of reading China a super power about to surpass USA in Indian news papers. EU has 350 millon habitants & 19 trillon GDP, USA almost equal, China 14 trillon GDP with 1300 millon habitants, Germany 5 trillon GDP with 82 millon habitants. ¡ Gotcha ! China has a long long way to catch up in science , discoveries , civil freedom, NHS and pension scheme , this is a gap China cannot overcome alone which the chinks ignore.

    • Speak for yourself. Most of the westernised Chinese are learning Chinese. And they have high innate talents. The phoenix is the westernised Indians who villas the Chinese at every opportunity because they think they are superior than the Chinese.

    • Wow. What a racist. Then you must be the global world terrorist. Have you got to sort out your own ducking oxygen tank which incidentally are also donated by China, you Indian ungrateful racist Soch douchbag.

  3. This people talking about China ever becoming a superpower are trying so hard with so sound arguments to plead a case so for ever lost in its own nature, China just never be a superpower

  4. Very good article.
    The US has many more things than population and industry. That is what China has.
    China has done nothing while the modern world was being built for centuries.
    Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan also had lots of industry(taken from Britain or US) and a strong military. But that’s not what make you THE superpower.
    Copying is very easy, but where were the Chinese when all their technologies and industries were invented?
    Why the Western Liberalism that creates those things is absolutely opposite to Chinese Communism…

  5. China never can pass US in any terms china at last will be destroy like soviet unioin isee thr comments here somestupid chones think they can surpass US but they know they never can do that
    USA will be always superpower in any terms

  6. Ashok Swain writing is akin to saying 5,000yrs of Chinese/ Asian cuisine can never match 200yrs of American fast food taste, no way because its Oriental.

    1) Culture
    Culturally, Oriental is deep and rich beyond US 200yrs fast food civilization comparison. This is esp for Chinese that is only nation still preserving its 5,000yrs civilization, while other Great Civilizations like Egypt/ Greece/ Roman had all disappeared.

    Hence China will dominate the world culture once again like it did for last few thousands years when it regains economy, military and technology lead.

    2) Chinese language
    If even all China hawks like Trumps & Oz ex-PM Turnbull also ensured their grandchildren learn Chinese from small, Ashok Swain thinks Chinese language can never regain its past glory that comes with China’s growing might.

    Today most of rich and powerful are sending all their offsprings to study Chinese. These people knew where the future lies.

    France, Germany & Japan were all once competing with US-UK over global language dominant since 1970’s. They all have much rich & longer civilization, heritage, high technology, powerful economy, and cultural influence over a young USA. But its US economy might that trumps all eventually.

    Reason is simple, if you want a good paying job, you gotta learn English. This will happen for China by 2030 too.

    3) Allies
    These will all come with China’s economy & military rise. There is no permanent friend or enemy for any nation, only common interest.

    Japan invaded entire Asia cruelly and still refused to repent, with ambitious to re-militarize itself again. Why nobody is killing them on sight? Its Jp economy power influence, backed by USM.

    US & EU had invaded and colonized entire world to plunder them, killing 100s of millions. Why do they still have many allies globally, including most of their victims? Why India is closely alliance with Brits that had enslaved it for over 200yrs? Its the common interest.

    Yet new China has never invaded nor colonize any nation after overthrowing occupying Manchu Qing Dynasty. Chinese was not known to colonize others when they were hyperpower like Tang & Ming dynasty

    So China has virtually no bad blood with anyone, except Nehru’s poisoned India out of his 1962 humiliating defeat. It will gain allies according to its rising power.

    4) Democracy
    This is the most stupid argument to think West invented “democracy” is the only highest ideology for mankind. Just look what happen to the current chaotic state of West now, esp US as democracy highest light house. When their past colonial hegemony power to plunder entire world no longer can sustain their lifestyle, society of widely divided rich & poor start to crack.

    Look at every democratic & capitalism nations that are not part of West who have enriched themselves via colonialism. Has any one is well developed today?

    No, every single one is poor, backward, corrupted, chaotic and over populated. India, Pak, Bangladesh, Mexico, Philippines, Brazil, Indonesia, whole Latin, Africa…you name it.

    Only exception is Japan, SK & Singapore. May be Taiwan too. But they had all developed not due to democracy. It was during iron fist ruling of their dictatorship leaders that these nations enter into fast development.

    Moreover, Jp, SK and Taiwan were intentionally groomed by US as bulwark to communism during cold war. They were all given free access to West capital, market and technology.

    Singapore was due to its exceptional seaport location and powerful dictator leader Lee Kuan Yew.

    5) CPC legitimacy
    All West pollsters have year after year pointed to growing Chinese trust for their gov, the highest in world at over 90%. Whereas in West, esp US, have all fallen to rock bottom. Many Westerners are starting to doubt their long cherish system.

    Moreover, latest survey found Chinese is now the happiest nation in the world, far ahead of West & US, with India at bottom.

    Thus China great success in its socialism with Chinese characteristics is now attracting many developing nations, esp in Asia & Africa.

    This writer seems to perceive his whole world through his own narrow hatred/envy of China rise. Perhaps he is still harbouring dream of India becoming superpower surpassing China as the “Largest Democracy”.

    In 1998, Prez Kalam had written a book to predict India will be poverty free & superpower by 2008. Prez Rao echoed that in R’Day.

    In 2008, Economist Swarmy even tweeted: “India will surpass China to challenge US by 2020.”

    China will not be superpower, because it will be sole Hyperpower, like Tang Dynasty by 2040.

    • China never can pass US in any terms china at last will be destroy like soviet unioin you are so fool to think china will surpass us litle copycat china has nothing and just grow with help of europe sn us companys you said every thing wrong chnia is nithing and never can surpass us in any term accept that little copy cat

    • You destroyed this western loving sell out that wrote this trite dribble passed off as journalism. Bravo, great arguments.

    • How can China substitute the US.
      If the market, the technology, the business environment… Everything is copied from the US.

      But in the other hand, they refuse to adopt the values that made it possible.

      Instead, they systematically opposed them. And keep the totalitarian values of when they were a collapsed superpower and underdeveloped under their last dinasties and Mao.

      If you rise reading books of the US and learning of their businesses. But refuse to have the same cultural environment and ideology.
      You can’t keep rising.

    • Naturetruth,you just have to make sure that ccp keeps behaving,as it has been doing for the last several decades.That is all we need from you.Thanks in advance.

  7. My thoughts are a bit different from the admin here……I think China is surely gonna pass US in every aspect and it is true it cannot take over cultural dominance over the Europeans and Americans although they will surely get acceptance …….the cultural dominance will only be with south east Asian countries which is the next global superpower hub…….. There will be a big power shift from NATO to ASEAN I’m sure about this and if they continue to stick to mandarin then they will live dominantly over south asia easily. Only if they continue to grow at the same pace they have been through this decade . of course it won’t be a total power shift but it would be like 2 different societies living dominantly in their places . China doesn’t really want to “conquer” the world its just not practical in any scenario but they want to secure their interests and gains . also US can come back to power if Americans don’t ” self sabotage ” themselves ….like really that line was the best in this full post the admin has written . who knows things can turn real fast its just a possibility .

  8. I’m dropping this comment even reading the article. The header used here is like saying “second could overtake first in a race but still won’t be first”. How sensible is that?

  9. Keep lying to your people.

    We have 5000 years history, and we will keep living in our land for 5000 years, but I really expect to see if America still exists after 50 years.

  10. Surely China does not really want to be a superpower. Chinese people just want to live an good life and no one else dare to touch them.

    • Hey are you a Chinese person? (No racist) BTW your viewpoint sounds like every normal person of any country that’s seeking to be a superpower…governments think a lot differently they wanna secure their country’s interests and want to be always push ahead their limits that’s when sole superpowers are formed that’s what China is gonna be in 2050 if they don’t start a war which is not gonna happen anyway. I get distracted a lot lol…… Coming to point what does dare to touch them mean in your comment? Everyone has equal respect in dignity in every country …..if someone only the Chinese govt itself beats up its citizens at most …….If you’re talking of countries and worldwide geopolitics you guys ain’t gonna get bullied rather will prolly start bullying other countries for self-interest which is totally fine lol . its what every country would want to do at that position

  11. Ashok is a person to tell the realities in true sense while andhbhakts live in fictional world of Bollywood. So he is considered to be anti India in the eyes of these fairy tale believers

  12. On grounds of media, language and culture the us would lead. But in terms of economics, development, science, military China would become super power. Sun rises over every nation and sets again. Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, British, mongols, Turks, Persians, Arabs, USA and many more came and went.

  13. It’s true that China can match or overcome USA in terms of economic or military power, but culturally it will remain distinct and there can never be people to people contact between the Chinese and the non-Chinese. So building strategic partnership with any other country is out of question. The little friendship that exists between China and Russia, is purely on the presumption that “enemy’s enemy is a friend”; both China and Russia are enemies of USA. Take the case of China-Pakistan friendship; Pakistan may say “China is its all-weather friend”. But the reality is, Pakistan is living by the alms from China and whenever China wants it can screw Pakistan (in fact it does that). The case is India-Russia friendship: Both respected each other and there is a very strong partnership. But has there been any people to people contact? Any cultural acceptability? Except there is military partnership, there is nothing else.

  14. Has Ashok Swain been living under a rock? The funny part was where it said “Americans have more trust in their gov than the Chinese in theirs”. Has this guy missed the numerous independent studies which say the opposite – and by a big margin? Americans simply don’t trust their gov, Chinese do.

  15. This fellow is a regular anti-India ranter, and you’ve given him oped space. Mr. SG regardless of good is Cut The Clutter, you ain’t getting a penny from me.

    • OK then. However, what has that got to do with him talking about how China could not be able to become a superpower even if it surpasses the US? Also, if you feel that this person is an ‘Anti-India ranter’, then why don’t you come up with ideas that can be used to improve the country that requires your field of occupation and share it with your colleagues? The nation would be so much better if its people came up with ideas to solve the nation’s problems instead of complaining about its problems. Even our PM recognizes this ‘Yuva Shakti’ … why can’t you?

      • I’m in my own way making India stronger – in technology, apart from that I pay taxes which fill coffers of anarchists and low productivity people like Punjabi farmers. I had an option of taking H1B but irrational patriot in me decided to stay back and serve motherland. However today I’ve absolutely no doubt that we will never regain vishwaguru status, given the clay feet this government has shown regarding so called farmers’ protest.
        I understand you want to be positive but this is no ABV’s India anymore, I’ve lost hope.

        • I feel like anarchists have their rights to choose whatever they wany to say and believe in right? Its a free country and democracy that why every person has a voice and opinion that matters so never disrespect that …..is that sarcasm on calling Punjabi farmers low productive …..I mean you would want to take a look at some stats bro….yes I agree it will take a decade of good and stable govt to get India a global superpower but that idea is never dead with the fall of US this decade is very crucial deciding factor for superpowers ……I personally hate this govt but won’t neglect the fact that they did a good job in first 5 yes I mean at least they were maintaining that 6-7% growth rate off everyone hates him from demonetisation. What my point is we should never lose hope theirs always place for hope in this world. gg ……BTW I really might’ve been too harsh and bias bcoz i kinda hate patriots and the recent mentality of people going around . I mean if you get a chance its always better to get that H1B it’s a golden chance man like 500k people get that opportunitiy each year bro from India

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