The Road to China

President Obama has been in Asia the past few days.  His trip has widely been seen as an effort to “shore up” American interests in the region.  Containment of China’s growing power appears to be the name of the game.  The trip was capped with a a somewhat surprise meeting between Mr. Obama and the Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao.

To understand the worries and discussions surrounding this trip (and in many ways the constant unspoken in world politics), take a look at this chart:

What it depicts is simple and stunning.  Unless things change rapidly, the United States (like Britain before it) will be overtaken as the leading world nation.  The direction of the chart isn’t even subtle.  China’s rise seems steep and our decline equally so.

Hence the concern and potential return to Cold War actions and language like “containment.”  From a very real point of view, nascent Chinese imperial endeavors could become quite dangerous to the United States in the very near future.  The situation is a fluid one with a constantly changing set of variables.

If both the Chinese and we Americans continue on our current path, it seems clear that China will overtake us a the most dominant global power by mid-century.  However, this is dependent upon much of what is happening now continuing on in the same fashion.  If the economic situation in Europe completely deteriorates, the effects would be catastrophic…and somewhat unpredictable. If China goes through a revolution (always a possibility in a repressive state), there are questions to be asked as well.

We’ve all heard fears that China seeks to take over or dominate the entire globe, and perhaps this is the case.  Yet, as I once heard said, there is also the force of history here–something very powerful in the Middle Kingdom.  China, quite simply, has never been aggressively imperialistic in its long history.  It has been content with securing its borders and interests and getting everyone to leave it alone.  Fears of imperialism may then be overblown.

But in a world of growing population and dwindling resources, China’s desires for self-support and protection often mean looking beyond its own borders.  Intentional or not, China is a global power.  How we interact with them will important.

There’s always the Austin Powers approach:

For more on American power and our emerging world, Slate’s blog The Reckoning.

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