China is a rising power, or so it seems based on a lot of what we read and hear. It’s definitely rising but is it actually a power? And how strong is it? Frankly it’s not that strong in a lot of areas, but don’t take my word for it. This impressive article by well-known China scholar David Shambaugh makes a convincing case for why China is not so formidable by going through a lot of areas like military, economy, diplomacy and culture. It’s a long read but very direct – Shambaugh doesn’t hold back on his arguments (but the article is not a diatribe or rant by any means).
Shambaugh does something that many people don’t seem to do when looking or talking about China – judging in terms of quality rather than quantity. What Shambaugh says about China’s economy – ” As in other areas, it is quantitatively impressive but qualitatively weak.” – can easily be said for many other aspects of China. When it comes to statistics, China is indeed the undisputed champion – its 1.3 billion-strong population, its 7-percent plus economic growth (even in bad years like this one), its giant army, its insatiable thirst for natural resources etc. But behind the numbers are a reality that show a different picture, as Shambaugh’s article illustrates. As will spending some time in regular society on the mainland.
About China’s military, this feature article boldly calls it “a paper dragon” and then goes into detail to explain why so. It has several strong arguments including the antiquity of much of China’s planes and tanks, the lack of professionalism in much of the ranks and the lack of strategic allies. Just like Shambaugh’s article, this one goes beyond the numbers and looks at the PLA in terms of quality and capability.
This doesn’t mean China is a weakling but that it is nowhere near as powerful and close to being a superpower – I do think it might be an economic superpower – it is no. 2 in the world and has much more room to grow- but it has many serious defects and burdens that prevent it from being as dominant and powerful as many would think.