Will China Become the Unipolar Superpower?

Nowadays, many countries seek to become a new superpower. However, one of the most rapidly developing countries that may acquire this status is China. This paper will examine the chances of China to compete with the US in the global market and to become a new superpower in the near future. This issue is very complex because even world economic and political experts cannot clearly answer the question whether China will become a superpower or not. Thus, both points of view on this issue will be considered in the paper to make more or less clear statement. Conclusion will be based on statistics and opinions of different experts.

To begin with, it is necessary to formulate a clear definition of what superpower is. For the first time, this term was used by William Fox in 1944 in his book Superpower while he was talking about the countries of the “Big Three.” He mentioned that

Superpower is a very powerful state, with huge political, economic and military potential, that has superiority over most other countries which enables it to carry out hegemony not only in the region but also in the most remote parts of the world (Fox 1944, p.4).

Until recently, the most appropriate country fitting this definition was the USA, but it has to be mentioned that China has many chances to become a new superpower.

There is a diversity of opinions about China and its ability to become a new world’s superpower. They considerably differ from each other because some of them claim that China will become a superpower in 2049, while others deny this statement and claim that China will not become a superpower because of many problems in economic and political spheres. However, it is important to mention that a great number of Chinese people dream about creating a powerful, civilized socialist country. Thus, this fact has to be mentioned because one of the most important things in developing country is people’s patriotism. Due to it, China’s heavy industry shows an incredibly fast pace of development.

The first point of view is that China will become a superpower in XXI century. There are many reasons to think in that way. China is often mentioned in the press as the main applicant for the status of a superpower, and some experts and journalists already call China an economic and military superpower. The movement of China to superpower status was the most read news in 2002. What is more, China has the world’s largest population and it is the third largest country in size outperforming USA, but conceding Russia and Canada. In regard to the economy of the country, it has to be mentioned that China has already become the first economy in the world by gross national product at purchasing power parity in 2014, while predictions were made up to 2020-2030 years. Although economic growth cannot be infinite and always slows down, China shows an incredibly fast pace of development in various directions. As one of the world's two largest industrial and agricultural countries, China is a leader in terms of the indicators of industrial and agricultural production. In addition, China has the fastest growing economy compared to other potential superpowers. The country has a very large positive balance in foreign trade and half of the world's foreign exchange reserves. What is more, it is the largest exporter in the world. “Foreign capital tore peasants from a plow and put for the factory machine. So, China has sent on export its most important natural resource - cheap labor” (Paulson 2015, p.31).

China is also a permanent member of the UN Security Council and a major nuclear power. China has nuclear weapons and manned cosmonautics. It also has the largest army with all kinds of armed forces and a huge mobilization potential due to its population. China has recently surpassed the US as the world's main supplier of technologies and, in the 2000s, China became the third country in the world that excel in innovations. In 2009, the country was a world’s leader in green technology, so it is thought that China will become a superpower in terms of technological and innovative development. However, China still cannot compete with the USA in this direction at the same level.

Barry Buzan, a specialist in international relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science, maintains that China will certainly be the most advanced country in all spheres. "China is now the most popular potential superpower and the degree of alienation from the international community makes it the most obvious political opponent" (Buzan 2004, p.43). However, he admits that this task is hindered by some problems related to political development. In addition, he states that China's growth may lead to the formation of the opposing coalition in Asia. By the way, it is said that the G-20 London Summit helped to strengthen China as the emerging superpower, allowing it to clearly show its leadership. China will have an opportunity to overtake the US and become the largest world’s economy in 2038 if current tempos of growth do not slow down.

It should be noted that in the second half of XX century, the opposition of "communist" (USSR-ATS) and "capitalist" (US-NATO) worlds was viewed in literary and cinematographic works. However, after the collapse of the USSR, many Western novels, video games and especially movies started to present China-United States summits and other diplomatic events, espionage, armed and other special operations and incidents up to the mutual exchange of nuclear attacks. In 2010, the American establishment announced an idea that was addressed to the Chinese leader. The idea was in the registration of the US and China as "Big Two" superpowers, but China remained faithful to the concept of a multipolar world and rejected the proposal.

China wants to provide an independent policy and some countries do not support it. When talking about the future of different countries, Parag Khanna, an Indian American author and an international relations expert, said that by investing in the economies of Latin America and Africa, China has established its presence as a superpower on a par with the European Union and the United States. “China's rise is also demonstrated by the growing share of trade in its gross domestic product” (Khanna 2008, p. 74).

Khanna believes that the China’s consultative communication style allows it to develop its political and economic ties with many countries, including those that the United States considers rogue states. It is a great advantage of China compared to the United States. Another factor spurring growth of China is its government. The Chinese government is able to cope with the challenges of development and eliminate consequences of the crisis faster than democratic governments in Europe and India. Thus, summarizing all these facts it becomes obvious that China has all chances to become a new world’s superpower in 50-100 years.

On the other hand, many experts have some doubts about these predictions and present another point of view on this issue. For example, George Friedman believes that it will be difficult for China to become a superpower because of its geographical location. He says that “China is isolated by Siberia in the north, the Himalayas and the jungles in the south, while the majority of its population is located in the east of the country, so it will be hard for China to expand” (Friedman 2009, p.78). Also, the fact that China has not been a sea power for several hundred years supports his position. It will take much time for China to build a strong and powerful fleet.

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In his book China: The Next Superpower, Geoffrey Murphay argues that, despite the fact that China has a huge potential, it is necessary to get accustomed to the risks and challenges that China experiences in the management of its population and resources. He also pays attention to the political system of China and mentions that China will not become a superpower because of misunderstandings and internal conflicts of the country. “Economic system of China is a state capitalism, which pretends to be socialism, with strong corruption, which still cannot be defeated” (Murphay 2008, p.34). Therefore, it cannot be denied that economic system of China is not perfect. Nevertheless, Chinese government tries to solve this problem and struggles with corruption.

According to Susan Shirk (2007), the political situation in China can become extremely unstable to turn the country into a superpower. “Other factors that constrain the transformation of China into a full superpower are: limited supplies of energy and raw materials, questions about the possibility of innovative development, social inequality, corruption and the risks of social instability and environmental pollution” (Shirk 2007, p.41). Thus, Chinese government has to solve many domestic problems, like corruption and social inequality.

China will overtake the US in terms of its economy, but it will not be a superpower. America will provide itself with energy. The world will be multipolar. Instability will increase due to climate change, terrorism and the confrontation between India and Pakistan. Although America will lag behind China, it will retain global leadership partly due to the fact that it will reach independence in energy supplies. The power of Russia and other countries whose economies depend on oil revenues will decrease. "In the world there will be no hegemonic power. The world will become multipolar. The power will go to networks and to coalitions" (Meredith 2008, p.22). This statement is true because this tendency can be easily seen in modern policies of many developing countries.  

One should not talk about China as a unipolar superpower. International relations can accept different configurations, such as bipolar, three-pole, and multipolar. Thus, nobody knows for sure whether China will become a unipolar superpower, but every expert has some doubts about it. However, China will certainly become a polar power in a multipolar global power structure. A single-pole world is the type of structure in which one state has ultimate power. Such alignment of forces is called hegemony. Nowadays, the world aims to become multipolar. Multipolar world order is a system in which at least three countries have approximately equal economic and military potential. In theory, it is considered the most stable structure. On the one hand, throughout history, multi-polarity implied war rather than peaceful co-existence of equally powerful states. On the other hand, multi-polar system is the most stable one and may exist an indefinite period of time. At the same time, in the bipolar system, there will be a winner eventually, while the unipolar system inevitably comes to degradation and collapse over time. However, it can only happen for specific reasons, each of which can be explored. Multi-polarity became global since the beginning of XXI century. Nowadays more than three countries have a great influence on the world. Therefore, China certainly will become a polar power in a modern multipolar world.

Unfortunately, many people in China live below the poverty line. “As poor people buy relatively few products, a critical issue for China becomes export” (Constant et al. 2011, p.112). To improve the competitiveness of their products abroad, China has been holding the yuan undervalued for many years, buying tons of gold and billions of dollars, which are deposited in its international reserves. In addition, a high savings rate played a key role, thanks to which a constant redemption of dollars did not lead to excessive inflation.

Therefore, the main factors of growth in China are the low cost of labor, high savings rate, measures of financial pressure and strong demand for Chinese goods overseas. Some of these factors are no longer active, but the others will interfere with the growth in the near future. The government has to make great efforts to improve the current situation because a country cannot become a world’s superpower until it has good and strong political system with no inner shortcomings.

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There is also a demographic problem in China. “China faces the dual threat of a rapidly aging population and a declining birth rate, one that now falls below replacement level” (Office of the Secretary of Defense 2013, p.26). This is one of the biggest problems the country trying to become a new superpower faces. Some researches show “that by 2050 more than 25% of citizens are older than 65 years, which may slow down economic growth by 5%” (Hu 2011, p.53). As a result, it can influence the pace of development of heavy industries because there will not be enough workers in the country.

Comparing China to the USA, the country fitting the definition of superpower the best, the most serious problems of China become clear. America's influence on the rest of the world is likely to be reduced, but no one else will take its place in the foreseeable future. The United States became a superpower because of its economic power as well as five more important aspects. First important aspect is financial. US markets are more open and transparent than most markets in the world. The second point is information and entertainment industries. American companies, including Hollywood studios, Apple, CNN, Google, Microsoft, Youtube, Nike, and others, keep leading positions all over the world in the sphere of entertainment and information. Without doubt, the largest companies and entertainment organizations are situated in the United States. The third aspect is energy. In his book The Economy of China, Shu Shin Luh (2014) says that production of shale oil gives the US an economic stability, which no one else has. Meanwhile China is forced to use oil supplied through the most dangerous zones in terms of piracy - the Horn of Africa and the Strait of Malacca. The fourth component is education. 70 of the top 100 world universities are located in the United States. Such companies as Google and Apple do not appear out of nowhere. When it comes to landing on the moon, the development of the Internet or high-tech military equipment, educational benefit is necessary. As it was mentioned before, the United States is in the best position for the production of modern military equipment because most of the major companies operating in the field of information technology are located on their territory. The last aspect is the most important one. It is military expenditures. “In order to come even a little closer to current military expenditures and the number of US allies, China will need a lot of time” (Nathan & Scobell 2013, p.427). Of course, China will need much time to rise such power as American army because it is known that the United States spends the large sums of money on defense than the rest of the world combined.

In conclusion, it is important to say that China is a potential world’s superpower. It has all chances to compete with the USA in different spheres and directions like economic growth, heavy industry development, number of natural resources and their export. However, China still experiences many domestic problems. It will become a superpower in the next 30-50 years if the pace of its development does not slow down. As one can see, the growing influence of regional and world powers led to the collapse of US hegemony and to the beginning of the formation of a multipolar world, where the main poles are China, Russia, India, Brazil, the United States and the European Union. China pursues a foreign policy that promotes the strengthening of the role of China in world politics, while sticking to a relatively neutral position. Therefore, such position suits China, and it will help it become a superpower and a great world’s leader. The sphere of education has to be mentioned as well. Chinese Academy of Sciences is engaged in the development of mathematics, physics, chemistry, medicine, earth sciences, information technology, biotechnology and others. Chinese Academy of Engineering is engaged in engineering, metallurgy, construction, agriculture, light industry and heavy industry. Thus, in the near future, China will have a great number of highly-qualified specialists due to high level of education. Taking into account all these facts, one can state that China has chances to become a new world’s superpower in a modern world.

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