Ryan Avent adds a word of caution about the allegedly looming era of Chinese hegemony:
I also think it’s far too easy to oversell China as the next superpower. Obviously, a developed nation with 1.3 billion people will wield immense economic, military, and cultural power. At the same time, it will be difficult for China to be clearly dominant. India, growing rapidly and with a billion people of its own, is practically next door. North America and Europe combined have over 800 million people (excluding Russia and Mexico), and it will be a long time before per capita output in China rivals that in North America and Europe. Asia has over 1 billion people in countries other than China and India. Latin America will likely continue to become richer and more influential over the next century, and so on.
I think that’s right. I also think that a lot of analysis of this issue is weirdly complacent about the idea that if China can go from a per capita GDP of $2,000 to $6,000 that there’s nothing stopping them from getting to $12,000 or $24,000. But there are lots of countries that have managed to become far more prosperous than present-day China without being economic dynamos clearly racing ahead. It’s perfectly plausible that China could reach a Jamaica-esque level of prosperity and then stall out. Not necessarily stop growing, but stop super-fast catchup growth.
The interesting thing is that because China is so big, it doesn’t actually need to get that rich in order to become the #1 economy on the planet. That wouldn’t make it “dominant” but it’d be unquestionably important. Possibly the most important. But also very poor. And the simple fact of having a poor country also be the most important economic power on the planet could have a lot of interesting impacts on the nature of the international agenda.