To do a complete stoplight review of China’s Diplomatic, Information, Military, and Economic levers/influencers of national power is much more than one post on a blog, but you can broad-brush a few things.

In the last couple of decades, China’s “Diplomatic” and “Military” areas are a solid green with up-arrows. Though I would give “Information” a yellow with an up arrow, I will give a nod to those who would give the Communists a green.

Economic? That is a lot trickier than people think. I lean towards the demographic-wonk mantra, “China will get old before they get rich,” – but if you want a good look at another view on China’s “Economic” that you won’t get from Thomas Friedman, a nice primmer would be Reihan Salam’s latest at NR.

Without a sound economy … the dragon may not be as large or as scary, as some think – but it may be more dangerous for other reasons.

… across a wide range of economic, technological, and military indicators, the United States is actually, in the words of political scientist Michael Beckley, “wealthier, more innovative, and more militarily powerful compared to China than it was in 1991.” As Beckley explains in a recent article in International Security, China’s growth in per capita income, value added in high technology, and military spending is impressive primarily because China is starting from such a low base. That the United States has continued to grow across all of these dimensions is making it exceedingly difficult for China to catch up. Beckley thus concludes that China is “rising in place.” That is, while China is improving its economic and military position in absolute terms, it is stagnating relative to America, even in an era of sluggish U.S. growth.

While we can expect China at some point to have an economy somewhat larger than that of the United States — after all, China has four times our population — the country is plagued by pervasive corruption and bad debts that are already undermining its growth prospects.

China’s population is aging rapidly, and soon the country will have to carry the weight of tens and eventually hundreds of millions of retirees. … China’s growth is already slowing as a result. Since 2001, China has grown at an annual rate of 10.1 percent. This year, however, Chinese GDP is expected to grow at 7.5 percent. Further, the official statistics almost certainly conceal the extent of the decline.

The real threat from China is not that it will grow so economically strong that it will bestride the world like a colossus. Rather, it is that it will become so weak and vulnerable as to collapse, or to lash out at its neighbors.

When you build the next military – do you ponder how to deal with a near competitor in 25-years, or how to handle the violent collapse of a nation 4-times your size in 25-years? How would they look different, and how do you hedge one outcome vs the other?

Posted by CDRSalamander in Foreign Policy, Hard Power
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  • it may be wise to think of 12-15 years instead……..

  • M.Vieira


    An interesting point. Another one that is often overlooked is also what will happen when China starts to transition from an industrial export-based economy to a post-industrial one? How will China be able to maintain internal stability if it can’t provide constant growth? Additionally, China, much like Japan, looks at itself in terms as a homogenious group – the concept of what it means to be Chinese hinges on a racial factor, not so much a naturilized one. Countries that cannot bring in fresh ideas, and that shut themselves off from the dynamicism of immigration, often stagnate. Interesting times indeed!

  • Conflating many skull sessions/lectures/presentations:
    – China is one pandemic away from civil collapse;
    – w/in the next 5-10 years the number of Chinese over 65 will exceed the total population of the US;
    – If you think there is a gap in American political leaders between those who have served and those who haven’t, there is one present and growing in the upper echelons of Chinese leadership and a corresponding heavy reliance (some say obsequiousness) on senior military leaders for advice in all matters of national security;
    – While rolling out many “interesting” and “intriguing” weapons systems they still face basic production challenges in key industries (e.g., aircraft engines) that mere replication/ intellect theft will not assuage or mitigate and;
    – “Let me pass on to you the one thing I’ve learned about this place: No one here is exactly what he appears” (bonus points if you can ID the source of the quote)

    w/r, SJS

  • Matt

    From a deeply closeted nerd:
    Babylon 5. G’Kar.

  • Diogenes of NJ

    Well I think that this might be a short term clue to China’s intentions:

    Not too sure how long China could hold out on the banana embargo as their population ages (humor). Something could pop soon (not humor) and there isn’t much of a Philippine Navy to sink.

    – Kyon

  • SJS, I cheated by searching for the second sentence, but I did find it. I’d always meant to start watching that show. Maybe I’ll add it to my Netflix queue….

  • Well done Matt and the particular episode is appropos to the topic at hand (“Mind War”)
    w/r, SJS

  • Dee

    I read an interesting article today:

    World edges closer to deflationary slump as money contracts in China

    Bottom line no matter what the pundits and vested interests tell you, debt-deflation as described by Irving Fisher is at hand.

    And then there was:

    Stocks faded in the final hour of trading Tuesday to finish lower following news that Greek depositors withdrew 700 million euros from the nation’s banking system and after Greece’s leaders failed to agree on a coalition government.

    And finally we see that the notional losses from synthetic derivatives by JPMorgan were about 2 billion, but that the lose $15 billion in market capitalization loses affect their existing mark to market contracts.

    I remember when: Sakurauchi said American workers are too lazy and that about a third can’t read. American factory managers, he said, therefore can’t give written instructions. That was during the bubble when Japan believed that their real estate bubble and expansion in debt was growth.

    I have no idea what China will say when the bubble of debt masquerading as growth implodes on them. It takes an even more advanced perspective to understand why Dilma Rousseff is upset.

    But bottom line it is an age of mercantilism and a Navy is needed.

  • Derrick

    Sadly but necessary, a strong US naval presence in the Pacific backed up by a working nuclear deterrent will be required to keep the peace, either with China or anyone else. China’s issues should only be used as additional justification for a continued strong naval presence in the pacific, but NOT the only justification.

    Ultimately, to protect US access to international markets a strong US navy will be required across all oceans on this planet.

    The real challenge is: how do you maintain conventional force levels at a reasonable strength so that the US won’t have to fall to nuclear weapons after 2 weeks of fighting?