The Awoken Dragon: China on the Rise
Upon studying China in order to understand what it would take for France to become a united and powerful empire, Napoleon claimed that “China is a sleeping giant. Let her sleep, for when wakes she will move the world.” Such words echo today when discussing the challenges the United States faces in light of Chinese economic growth and increasing global influence. As China makes significant advances in its foreign investment within the American economy, it is also escalating political influence throughout the Global South, as well as increasing its military strength. As America begins to descend from its economic and military peak, China is on the rise to its own. To this, America has responded by putting tariffs on Chinese exports, increasing its political influence in developing countries, and continuing to increase its already incredible volume of military spending.
China possesses the second largest economy in the world, standing just behind that of the United States. It has committed to significant economic strategies such as collecting portions of America’s $21 trillion debt, holding approximately 18 percent of it as of January 2018. Moreover, the value of the American dollar has been in slow decline since 2010. Comparatively, the Chinese yuan is achieving record value rates, and by 2032, China is expected to surpass the US economy. Since 2005, China has invested over $70 billion USD into everything America, including American housing, finance, energy, technology, and especially infrastructure. The newly installed eastern span of the Bay Bridge, linking San Francisco and Oakland, was outsourced and constructed almost entirely in Shanghai’s industrial sector before it was sent to the west coast of California.
There is no doubt that China’s growing economic power is soon to rival that of America’s. In 2017, America suffered from a $375 billion trade deficit with the Chinese. Further, in the face of Chinese economic growth, combined with the widening of its worldwide trade deficit by 12.1 percent to $566 billion last year, America is currently experiencing what the New York Times calls a “decline of American manufacturing and a troubling reliance on foreign goods.” In the wake of American conservatism, President Donald J. Trump has recently imposed strict 25 percent tariffs on approximately $50 billion worth of Chinese products. These products include about 1,300 technological, transportation, as well as medical goods that China has made a profit on in trading with the United States. President Trump has made it clear that his administration’s new policy is an effort to reduce the trade imbalance between the United States and China, aiming to reinvigorate American manufacturing power and envision America as “a much stronger, much richer nation.” However, it was not more than a day later that China responded aggressively, imposing 15-25 percent tariffs of its own on $3 billion worth of 120 American imports, ranging from fruit, pork, nuts, and alcohol, indicating that it isn’t scared of flexing economic muscle either.
The United States is the most influential country in the world. However, with China on the rise, the United States faces a significant threat to its relative global influence. While most other countries can be found happily drinking Coca Cola and eating cheeseburgers, Pakistan has become China’s “best neighbor,” sipping cheap Chinese beer and eating dumplings made in China’s Anhui province. With both countries sharing similar feelings of distrust and wariness to the United States, Pakistan has become a powerful cultural ally to China. While enjoying dumplings, Pakistanis can be found reading Urdu-Mandarin newspapers like the Huashang Weekly, created by a multicultural group of both Pakistani and Chinese authors. The Huashang Weekly distributes over 30,000 copies per week to the major Pakistani cities of Lahore, Islamabad, and Karachi. The rising Pakistani-Chinese partnership is also creating and rebuilding new infrastructure while improving existing transportation and power institutions. It is estimated that China’s influence in Pakistan is creating over 8000 new jobs for both China and Pakistan and will end up costing Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif over $90 billion over the course of the next 30 years to China.
Similarly, China is investing incredible amounts into Kenya’s infrastructure. China has created 90 percent of a 472-km long railway stretching from Kenya’s capital Nairobi to Mombasa, an initiative costing over $3.8 billion. The railway project employed a total of 25,000 Kenyans and will expect to carry 50 percent of freight between the two cities, thus facilitating the transportation of goods in Kenya. While some African workers are ready to call China “Santa Claus,” financial analysts claim instead that China is doing nothing but making “a return on their investment.” Similarly, Rex Tillerson used his power in his final months to build relations with certain African nations, and warn them about China’s growing political presence in the area. According to Tillerson, although it may prove beneficial for African economies in the short term, China’s political presence will no doubt lead to debt, unemployment, and the “endangerment [of] Africa’s natural resources and its long-term economic political stability.” Tillerson paid visits to key American allies in Africa such as Djibouti, Chad, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and even Kenya — of which both the United States and China hold a strong political and military presence, and not to mention strategic interest. Tillerson met with several ruling figures in these countries to downplay the rising Chinese influence while simultaneously trying to rebuild America’s reputation in the eyes of Africans, particularly in light of Trump’s foul remarks about developing nations and travel bans. However, these diplomatic ventures seemed to harm the United States more than anything, given Tillerson’s subsequent firing and replacement by CIA Director Mike Pompeo.
China is also the second largest spender in the Security Council, spending a total of $810 million after America’s $2.2 billion (Saifi, 1). The Chinese are developing a stronger military presence abroad, having dispatched a number of troops into both the war zones of Mali in 2013 and South Sudan in 2015. Although the United States remains unparalleled in terms of naval strength with a total of 19 aircraft carriers compared to the rest of the world’s combined mere 12, China has launched its first domestically built aircraft carrier in April of 2017. Under the Trump administration, however, it is expected that the United States defense budget will increase to $716 billion by 2019. Backed by Congressional approval, the defense boost will entail an increase in “weapons, troops, training and for nuclear arms programs…by more than $74 billion, a 10 percent increase over current spending levels.”
As America gradually falls from the political, economic, and military peak that it enjoyed in the latter half of the past century, it now faces a worthy challenger in China. The United States has penalized China with harsh tariffs, a more aggressive diplomatic presence, as well as increased military spending, in response to China’s growing collection of American debt, its expanding geopolitical presence, as well as its increasing military achievements. Given China’s rapid—and threatening—rise, it is vital that the US re-evaluate its economic, political, and military efforts before China rivals them as a true global superpower — a situation the United States seems to have forgotten since the Cold War.
Jake Gouchie is an Education student at McGill University.
Edited by Shirley Wang.