The United States “is no longer qualified to speak to us from a position of strength”, sung the imperious senior diplomat of the People’s Republic of China, to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at a particularly frigid meeting in Anchorage, Alaska.
To the credit of Joe Biden’s administration, it appears he is taking the potential threat China poses to the United States more seriously than it did during the controversial 2020 presidential campaign.
Yet one must ask an uncomfortable question: what if China’s representatives are right? As my colleague David P Goldman reports, “US influence is fragile in several key Eurasian nodes and China has the capacity to injure the US in retaliation for US efforts to build an alliance to contain it.”
In other words, as America spasmodically pivots towards Asia, China shifts sensibly to its west – and the reason China even attracts powers along its western periphery is China’s growing power. .
Part of the problem is perception. The way that American policymakers measure national power is insufficient for the 21st century. Chinese academics, in my opinion, have developed a much better method for analyzing the competitive power of a nation state.
Known as “Zonghe gouli”, or the assessment of “Comprehensive National Power” (CNP), China’s methodology for measuring the nation’s power against that of its competitors helps explain how China has become a serious challenger to the United States and of its allies over the past 30 years. US analysts should study the CNP methodology and apply it when weighing US power against that of its competitors.
During the Cold War, the Soviets used a similar methodology, which they called “correlation of forces. “This type of analysis would help policymakers design better strategies to respond to the societal challenges emanating from China (and elsewhere).
A notable version of the CNP comes from a Chinese scholar Huang Shuogeng. Huang’s variant includes an “index of material or hard power (such as economic wealth, natural resources, science and technology, military might); index of spirit or soft power (such as political power, foreign affairs, culture, education); index of coordinated power (such as line of command, leadership in political decision-making); and finally, the environmental index (like the international environment).
Beyond that, Huang’s version of the CNP’s assessment has an “assessment index system,” which includes national strategy goals, political stability, and decision-making capacities.
Huang has long argued that the United States will remain the world’s largest power from 2000 to 2020. He predicted that by 2020, China would be the second. It certainly seems to be a premonitory analysis carried out over many years by Huang and his fellow national power scholars at the Chinese Academy of Military Sciences (AMS).
Notwithstanding the CNP model, since 2014, China has become the greater economy in purchasing power parity (PPP). In terms of GDP, China is currently the second economy, although it is expected move the United States as the biggest economy this decade.
Although China is the primary source of Covid-19, China was the only economy to grow in 2020. In addition, the International Monetary Fund assess that the Chinese economy will overtake that of the United States in terms of growth in 2021.
American tech entrepreneurs like Elon Musk believe that China will become the world’s largest economy this decade. We are a long way from ten years ago, when many Western analysts warning of the coming collapse of China.
There is certainly disadvantages China’s rapid development which could weigh on long-term growth, although these negative effects have not yet been fully felt, as evidenced by China’s continued growth.
And, as recent events have shown, the United States itself is not immune of internal collapse.
It all comes down to relative national strength. Yes, the United States has an extremely powerful army … on paper. With less than 1% of the U.S. population serving in the Fully Volunteer Force (AVF) at any given time, and with the capabilities of rival powers increasing each year, the question must be asked: How reliable will U.S. military supremacy be at the over time?
Moreover, what power can America’s global national power remain?
The US military itself relies heavily on technology to amplify its relatively small size. It requires constant additional funding to modernize its technological equipment, and the relatively small expeditionary force is always under strain.
Despite the size of its budget, the army can’t keep up current strength requirements, not to mention the possibility of facing a large and burgeoning competitor like China – or, God forbid, a coalition of authoritarian Eurasian powers. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates was right when he warned that any future American leader who wants to wage a ground war in Eurasia “should have his head examined”.
But as China’s overall national power grows – and ultimately overtakes – that of the United States, and if the United States is to maintain its dominant position in the world system, that is precisely what can happen.
The Chinese population is becoming more educated in strategically critical areas (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) than Americans. Chinese are much more patriotic than their American competitors. Chinese infrastructure is more advanced than that of the United States.
In the hit series Game of thrones, the treacherous character Littlefinger admonish the villainous Cersei Lannister that “knowledge is power”. Yet Littlefinger’s real power, despite his vast knowledge, is insignificant. Cersei responds to her quip with a veritable show of military force in which she explains that “power is power”.
In the 21st century, however, it is clear that knowledge is the basis of abilities … and greater abilities allow greater power over rivals. This is the basis for the CNP’s assessment and why the rise of China over the next decade should worry Americans today.