The 21st Century Belongs to China
2014 was an auspicious year, but not for reasons you might think. Sure, an Ebola outbreak in West Africa, Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the rise of ISIS all made headlines. But those headlines missed the biggest story. In 2014, for the first time since the eighteenth century, a non-Western country was the world’s largest economy. While many pundits charge President Trump with ceding American global hegemony, the unfortunate truth is, regardless of what the United States does, the 21st century belongs to China.
The numbers are truly mind-boggling. China produces the most cell phones, the most cars, the most cotton, the most tobacco, the most beer, the most coal, and more than half the world’s steel. Boasting the world’s largest population, between 2011 and 2013, China poured more concrete than the United States did in the entire 20th century. Of the top ten most populous cities in the world, five are in the massive East Asian territory. Las Vegas is no longer the world’s gaming capital; casinos in Macau bring in seven times more revenue. While China’s economy is slowing down, its GDP still grew at 6.9% in 2017, racing well past that of the United States.
While President Trump dreams of resurrecting an economy of coal and steel, his counterpart across the Pacific is building an economy of circuits and silicon. China is spending $10 billion on quantum computing, dwarfing the United States’ meager $200 million investment. They plan to lead the world in artificial intelligence by 2030. The People's Republic is already the world’s largest producer of scientific articles and will soon surpass the United States in annual patents. In an apt metaphor, China has the world’s largest floating solar farm. It sits atop a collapsed coal mine.
Furthermore, while the U.S. is isolating itself, China is extending its power across the globe. Their largest foreign policy campaign is the Belt and Road Initiative. Launched in 2013, the plan has ballooned to $4 trillion of investment in 65 countries, which contain 70% of the world’s population and 75% of the world’s energy resources.
Aside from making China the nucleus of global commerce, this investment gives China tremendous influence. In the mold of American Dollar Diplomacy, China loaned billions to Sri Lanka to construct a port. Today, that port is China’s. After Sri Lanka failed to make payments, China repossessed the port and, in typical imperialist fashion, holds its lease for 99 years. The world's most populous state acquired its first overseas military base in 2017 and shows no signs of reversing course.
For the time being, the U.S. has not completely surrendered the top spot in foreign influence. The dollar is still the world’s go-to reserve currency, English is still the lingua franca, Hollywood still dominates global box offices, and America’s domineering military is still preeminent. But these facts obscure the broader picture.
The United States has embarked on a campaign of geopolitical suicide. With crumbling infrastructure, a broken political system, an atrocious educational system, and collapsing alliances, America is growing increasingly helpless and sclerotic. The U.S.’s public finances are so bloated that by 2024, it will be spending more on merely the interest on its national debt than on defense. In response to China’s mammoth and multifaceted ascent, America has done little more than sit on its hands.