Throughout history, many superpowers that dominated the world politically and economically came and left, the Roman empire, the Byzantine empire, the Umayyad empire, the Abbasid empire, the Mongol empire, the British empire. In today’s world, the hegemon that can be said is the world power that dominates the world not only politically and economically, but also culturally such as by movies, media, music and literature is the United States.
The United States became the new superpower after world war 1 when the British Empire lost that position due to the economic and political damage the war had cost. The Americans filled that space by entering and ending the war, helping Europe recover by financing projects to rebuild war-torn Europe, and spreading its muscle around the world.
Today many believe that in the 21st century the world will experience another shift of world hegemonic power. Many believe that China, a growing economic and military power will soon replace the United States hegemonic role. For the past four decades, China was growing economically at a very high pace.
Since the 1980s, China has been the fastest-growing economy in the world, with an annual average growth of 10% from 1978 to 2005 based on government statistics. China has also expanded its world influence, according to Aid data, between 2000 and 2014 China gave about $75 billion and lent $275 billion in aid.
During the pandemic in 2020, China donated medical supplies to 150 countries and sent medical teams to 27 countries. China is also increasing its influence in Africa, at the 2018 China-Africa cooperation forum, China pledge that it will provide $60 billion in financial support. China currently has the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) on its hands, a $1 trillion global infrastructure project to invest in 70 countries to promote economic development.
China is an economic and military power that has a huge influence in the international arena that cannot be underestimated, but can China truly become a superpower? Does China have the characteristics to become a world superpower and replace the United States as many believe? Can China afford to maintain that status?
For China to become a superpower it has to address many issues and change its status-quo which China is currently unlikely to do.
One of the main factors that prevent China from becoming a superpower is its ideology and political system. China is a Communist state with a one-party system, political participation is narrow. Its rival (if we can call it that) the United States is a democratic and liberal state that’s political participation is wider. These two can’t compete, a Communist China can’t compete with a democratic America, democracy will always have the upper hand in the international arena.
Another is the cultural influence, the world has become so globalized that it seems the whole world is in one room. With the help of technology and globalization, the United States transferred its culture around the world through movies, music, literature, etc. This caused the world to sympathize with the United States. As for China, its cultural influence hasn’t even reached its neighbors.
Another issue China faces is it has many disputes and unstable relations with its neighbors. There’s a border dispute with India and Japan, the South China Sea, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. A superpower must control and influence its neighbors and also be in harmony with them. For example the United States, there are no border disputes with its neighbors and has good stable relations with them.
Becoming a superpower may be possible for China, but the question is can China maintain that position, can China afford all the cost that is required to be a superpower?
To maintain being a global superpower, a considerable amount should be spent on important areas such as defense, education, social security, health, etc.
The United States spends around $705 billion on defense to maintain its 800 military bases around the world and its military superiority. To prevent unemployment and poverty from destabilizing the county, the United States spends $1 trillion on social security and $3.8 trillion on health (medicare). China also spends a significant amount on these areas, it’s estimated that China spends $252 billion on defense, $1 trillion on social security and $1 trillion on health, these figures that China spends are not efficient to maintain the status as a global superpower.
Many experts believe that the United States can’t even afford the cost to maintain being a global superpower let alone a rising China that is well behind the United States in crucial areas such as technology, artificial intelligence and innovation. China is a powerful and influential nation, economically China is the second richest country on earth, China is the second country that spends the highest on defense. There is no doubt that China will play a crucial role in the future and take part in shaping the world, but China needs to do a lot to become a global superpower, which is unlikely to happen soon or at least in this century.