If you’ve tuned in to any presidential debate or paid attention to a sliver of this year’s political cycle, then you’re sure to have heard something about China competing with the United States. If you have purchased any commercial product in the last week, there’s a more than likely chance that it has a “Made in China” sticker attached to it. Many, however, wonder what role this country plays in the world today. With a rising economy and rapidly growing military, the question must be asked: Is China slowly transforming into the new America?
China’s Economic and Military History
In the late 1600s and early 1700s, China’s economy was booming. With mass amounts of fertile land and an extensive supply of human capital, harvests were producing almost three times as much as those in Europe. Throughout this period, China led the world with the largest economy. However, the Industrial Revolution soon gave headway to countries that had been quicker to adjust to modernization, which sparked the meteoric rise of the United States.
After the brutal Civil War, America entered a stretch of reconstruction. During this time, it seized the prize of becoming the most dominant economy in the world. Because of access to industry, the United States had soared past China. However, the industrial advantage that the United States had secured did not carry over to the military in the short-term. Both China and the United States began to modernize their military in the late 1800s. While the United States best utilized its industry to produce massive quantities of military equipment, such as battleships, tanks, and firearms, China relied upon its best resource: its people.
China’s Current Economic State
Fast-forward a century later to 1979, and China has overhauled its foreign investment policies and has put new free market reforms into place. This sparked a boom in the rise of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). According to a study by Wayne M. Morrison, a specialist in Asian trade and finance, “From 1979 to 2014, China’s annual real GDP averaged nearly 10%. This has meant that, on average, China has been able to double the size of its economy in real terms every eight years.” Although this has slowed in recent years, China’s economy is still experiencing economic growth that dwarfs many of its competitors. A Forbes contributor, Mike Patton, reports estimates showing that China will surpass the U.S. economy by as soon as 2018. China has had a tendency over time to preserve a high rate of savings, which has assisted in the ability to allot funds for investment, both foreign and domestic.
Because of the rise in GDP, and massive amounts of human capital and land, China has been able to rapidly increase military power. With access to large pools of funds for capital investment, China has been able to annually increase its defense budget. As seen in its early history, China made extensive use of its best resource: its people. This continues today. The Chinese military, formally known as the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), consists of 2.3 million active members, making it the largest army in the world. However, this should not lead one to conclude that China is lax in regard to researching and developing military weapons and techniques. In a 2012 feature, The Economist dedicates an entire section to the rise of China’s military. It explains, “The Pentagon’s planners think China is intent on acquiring what is called in the jargon A2/AD, or “anti-access/area denial capabilities. The idea is to use pinpoint ground attack and anti-ship missiles, a growing fleet of modern submarines and cyber and anti-satellite weapons to destroy or disable another nation’s military assets from afar.”
When measuring greatness, it is critical to include freedom as a contributing factor, both on an individual and communal scale. Each year, Freedom House releases an annual evaluation of each country’s freedom. This is measured by an accumulation of political rights and civil liberties, with sub-categories including the “Electoral Process”, “Rule of Law”, “Freedom of Expression and Belief”, etc.
The rankings operate on a scale of 1-7, 1 being the most free and 7 being the least free. In the 2016 report, China scores a 7 on Political Rights, while the United States scores a 1. On Civil Liberties, China musters a 6, while the United States pulls a 1 again.
One only needs to look at the governmental structures of the two countries to gain an accurate idea of the stark contrast between the freedoms of the two countries. While China operates on a Communist base, allowing for little to no liberty, the United States boasts the greatest democratic republic system that this world has ever seen, with the longest surviving constitution in the world.
Although greatness can only be measured through arbitrary means, the factors that have been evaluated offer a glimpse into what might compose what makes a country great. While it is clear that China’s economy is rapidly growing and will soon surpass the United States, it cannot be ignored that America continues to uphold what its founders valued most, liberty and equality.