Home > China, History, India, Pax Americana, Politics > Superpower China: Emerging From 60 years Of American Shadow?

Superpower China: Emerging From 60 years Of American Shadow?


The last 150 years has seen the rise of four world powers. Interestingly, in the same period four world powers were also eclipsed.

With the collapse of Soviet Union, the US became the single global power. With that position came adulation from client states.  |  A 1992 cartoon By David Horsey  |  Published December 27, 2011  |  Click for image.

With the collapse of Soviet Union, the US became the single global power. With that position came adulation from client states. | A 1992 cartoon By David Horsey | Published December 27, 2011 | Click for image.

Rise and Fall

In the last 150 years, we have the rise of four powers – Germany, Russia, Japan and USA. In the same period we have seen the eclipse of four powers. The Ottoman Empire, China, Spain – and India.

Some may want to include the Austro-Hungarian Empire – but it was an empire in eclipse by 1850 itself – plus its demise has had little effect.

Remarkably, Germany, Russia and Japan have been through many wars, defeats – and are nowhere near eclipse as yet. Though they have not achieved the ’eminence’ of the USA, their seat at the global power league is still not taken by any other power.

In a cloud of hubris

USA may congratulate itself in the demise of the USSR, but Russia has seen abolition of monarchy, a painful process in Russia also like in most countries. A 10-year civil war followed the abolition – with Kerensky leading the White Faction supported by the West, against the Communist Red Faction, under Lenin. Communism survived in Russia, from 1930-1990, surviving the German invasion during WWII.

After the break-up of USSR in 1990s, the last 10 years has seen Russian ship regain some sense of direction.

The best thing for Russia

In hindsight, the loss of the Russian Empire in Central Asia, Eastern Europe may have been exactly what Russia needed. Russia’s Empire in Central Asia and Eastern Europe was a huge drain on Russia. When commodity prices collapsed in the 1980-1990 decade, Russian earnings based on raw-material exports also collapsed. The cost of the Russian Empire brought down the USSR.

Without the burden of an empire, the world may see a more powerful Russia. It may even outlast the American Empire.

In the meantime, overcome with hubris, Americans have been thumping their own backs and chests in self-congratulation.

we have forgotten how countries behave as their power increases. We have been living so long in a world where one power has been so much more powerful than all the others. The existence of the American hegemon has forced all other powers to exercise unusual restraint, curb normal ambitions, and avoid actions that might lead to the formation of a U.S.-led coalition of the kind that defeated Germany twice, Japan once, and the Soviet Union, more peacefully, in the Cold War.

The Chinese, as good historians, are acutely aware of the fate that befell these others and have worked hard to avoid a similar fate, following as best they can Deng Xiaoping’s advice to “keep a low profile and never take the lead.” As relative power shifts, however, that advice becomes harder and harder to follow. We saw some early signs of what the future might hold in China’s increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea. The response of the United States, which swung in behind the nervous powers in the region, has possibly convinced the Chinese that their moves were premature.

They may have themselves bought in too much to the widespread talk of America in decline. Were that decline to become real in the coming years, however, it is a certainty that Chinese pressures and probes will return. Greater relative power on China’s part might also lead Beijing to become less patient with Taiwan’s lack of movement toward acquiescing to the mainland’s sovereignty.

A situation in which U.S. power were declining, China’s power were rising, and the Taiwan issue became fractious is practically a textbook instance of how wars start — even if neither side wants war. That is why some have referred to Taiwan as East Asia’s Sarajevo. (via The Rise or Fall of the American Empire – By Robert Kagan, Gideon Rachman, and Daniel W. Drezner | Foreign Policy).

Is this what the Chinese think?



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  1. jumpingpolarbear
    June 6, 2012 at 5:38 pm

    They are taking over economically, but can the do it culturally like America too?

  2. June 6, 2012 at 6:32 pm

  3. balai_c
    June 7, 2012 at 10:45 am

    Russia never went down. The big difference between USSR downfall and the forceful castration was that Russian federation, the successor state never experienced any forced reduction of weapons manufacturing( like in Germany), or more like foreign policy and key issues of national interest dictated from abroad (like in case of post imperial Japan). So, we can rest assured that Russia will rise again like a phoenix in a multipolar world ( provided the low demographics issue is taken care of). Russia has also produced some of the smartest and most creative people in the world , so the question of “soft power” is downright facile and puerile.

  4. A fan of your content
    June 9, 2012 at 3:26 am

    I’m not sure of Russia- in a generation or two,it seems problematic given it’s demographic woes.It is meaningless to have a large territory and not have the means to protect that. After all, it’s not all about money. Example: US,Europe.

    To actually be a superpower one needs geographical reach. This rules out Japan. Japan is an economic powerhouse, not a politico-military one. It has been entirely defanged by the uS and made a captive poodle.China certainly aspires to be one, but I foresee structural problems which seem messy. If they re-work their political system, it will take a few more generations to get there. With their current jackboot state, it is doubtful how long true freedom can be muzzled. Hence the hold on power of the current structure seems tenuous.

  5. June 9, 2012 at 6:34 am
    Demographics – The whole whole world has a demographic problem. And it is related to the fact that these societies are not fully committed to universal marriage – like in India. Some of these societies, like the US, border, in fact of being anti-marriage.

    The answer to the demographic problem has been immi-grunts.

    Immi-grunts – All societies today are competing for Immi-grunts, because they all have a labor problem. West and Middle East apart, even nearby Malaysia has a labor problem, and they are importing Immi-grunts.

    But the best-managed Immi-grunt attraction story is the USA.

    The US, even before it became the USA, in the initial stages (1500-1650) enslaved the Native Americans and worked them to death. When the Native American revolted, African Slaves were imported (1650-1850). When African Slaves revolted, European Immi-grunts were attracted (1850-1950). But Chinese, Japanese, Indians (read on State vs Thind) were discouraged from immigrating till WWII.

    After WWII: With European populations in doldrums, suddenly the US opened up to Asian Immi-grunts. Civil Rights were enforced. Discrimination started getting de-legalized. And the US which was led by a narrow-minded, bigoted WASP leadership, suddenly became a liberal, broad-minded, open society.

    So, the lesson from USA, is to attract Immi-grunts without letting ‘dem-The Immi-Grunts know how desperately you need them. The US has done spectacularly well on this metrics. Europe in the last 40 years has caught onto that ‘learning’ fast. Look at the way they treat African and Islamic Immi-Grunts.

    In fact, my mind even wanders to hypothesize that the disturbances created in the Middle-East and Africa has been done not only for oil and other raw material resources – but also to drive out the populations from these countries into the West as poor, desperate Immi-Grunts.

    Russia and Germany: Are exceptions to this model – at least on the Immi-Grunt count.

    I don’t see Russia as the pre-eminent power that the US has been for 60 years now, but as an independent power, like France has been for 200 years now. After Napoleon to now. Russia may be close to the French model. So, while Britain dominated the French for about a 100 years, the British have been left behind, biting on dust. Europe today is led by a Franco-German duopoly.

    The important thing to see in all this are time frames. Modern journalism and history makes us believe that these things can be done in a few years. As I see it, (thanks to the Pauranik historiographic model) that these politics and developments play out, usually, over generations.

    But can leaderships change their behaviour.

    Let us look at a Japan scenario.

    The aggressive Japanese: Who industrialized between 1870-1970 have been submissive for the last 60 years. Will they change? Starting with Immi-Grunts. Probably Japan will change when the American yoke around their necks lightens – and when (and if) the Chinese power starts waxing.

    In the next few decades, as American imports of Japanese goods decrease, as the American indebtedness grows, when the trade gap widens, American power will be ‘under-whelming’. If China seizes that moment, Japan can break free, align with China, encourage Chinese immigration, re-power their industrial engines and we could see a Sino-Japanese economic domination of Asia.

    The Stasis: So, the current state of stability, in which all forces are equal and opposing, therefore they cancel out each other may not last very long.

    My guess – 25 years.

  6. sam
    October 18, 2012 at 2:35 pm

    sumert or oder

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