In todays FT, Gideon Rachman poses the question “Does China want to be a Superpower?”. It is interesting that such a prominent China observer is even asking the question because for so many critics of China it is a given. There is no doubt, the critics say, China wants to be the New Superpower, the New Hegemonist, the New Imperialism, the new US.
China has repeatedly asserted that it has no intention, no ambition, no desire to step into the shoes of the US and become the world’s new military #1 Power. Who is Right and who is Wrong?
Academic historians look back through time. They review the role of the Romans, Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Charlemagne, the Spanish Armada, The 17th Century Dutch Empire, the UK Grab for Africa + Rule Britannia and the US of the present day and conclude, wrongly, that China is the new Superpower.
China will prove to be different. It is defensive not offensive. It has just one military base outside China – in Djibouti with no ambitions to build more. US Admiral Stavridis notes that US defence spending will increase to $733bn in 2021 whilst China will spend $212.6bn. His focus is on War between US and China but his article is noticeable for its absence of any suggestion of a China geo-political world-wide hegemonistic thrust.
Biden has a different view. His Director for China in the US National Security Council, Rush Doshi, insists that China seeks to displace the US as the world’s most powerful nation but he is opposed by Obama’s Asia Director, Even Medeiros, who asserts it is unclear if China is willing to take on the burdens of being a US-style global military power. The world will gradually realise that China is going to be quite different.