The "Rise of China" poses a major challenge for next president.
China is emerging as the world's "second superpower," with global power on par with the United States. The "Rise of China" has been named the top news story of the 21st century by the Texas-based Global Language Monitor, as measured by number of appearances in the global print, on the Internet, and in social media.
Economically, International Monetary Fund is predicting that China's GDP will overtake that of the United States in 2016. Arvind Subramanian, author of "Eclipse: Living in the Shadow of China's Economic Dominance," believes that China will direct the world's financial system by 2020 and the Chinese renminbi will replace the U.S. dollar as the world's reserve currency in less than 15 years. The United States has borrowed more money from China than any other foreign country and in 2011, the U.S. trade deficit with China reached almost $300 billion.
Militarily, China is going through the world's biggest military expansion and its defense budget has experienced double digit growth for more than two decades. Lawrence Saez at London's School of Oriental and African Studies argues the United States will be surpassed by China as military superpower in 2031.
While China's People's Liberation Army is still the largest army in the world, China's real military strength increasingly lies somewhere else - China is intent on acquiring what the Pentagon's strategists described as "anti-access/area denial" capabilities: to use pinpoint ground attack and anti-ship missiles, a growing fleet of modern submarines and cyber and anti-satellite weapons to destroy or disable another nation's military assets from afar.
Is China a friend or adversary? That was one of the questions in the third U.S. presidential debate at Florida's Lynn University on Oct. 22.
In the 90-minute foreign policy debate between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, both candidates expressed their worries over Beijing's actions. President Obama labeled China as an "adversary." Sought to project a tough stance on China, Obama cited his administration's declared military and diplomatic pivot toward Asia as sending a "very clear signal" to China the United States is an Asia-Pacific power.
The real action in recent Sino-U.S. relations, however, "was not the China-bashing in the third election debate between Obama and Romney in Florida," writes Peter Lee of Asia Times, "it was the little-noticed concurrent visit to China of a high-powered team of retired U.S. diplomats." The team, consisting of former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, former National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, former Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg and former Assistant Secretary of Defense Joseph Nye, has had a tough time in Beijing.
The high-level U.S. bipartisan group, with sanction from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as a quasi-official delegation, was sent to Beijing to clarify Obama administration's strategy for Asia - the "pivot" of military forces, diplomatic and economic initiatives, and strategic attention and to convince the Chinese leaders that beating up on Japan and other America's allies in Asia-Pacific would entail serious consequences.
"The team's task is almost impossible," reports Peter Lee, "Beijing is in no mood to support U.S. pretensions to being the only, indispensable honest broker in the region. Beijing wants to punish the United States for the pivot. The Chinese have made it clear it is in no mood to welcome the United States to the Diaoyu/Senkaku party, certainly not in the form of a quasi-official delegation." Instead, Beijing is testing Washington's determination to carry out the pivot policy and expecting the United States to back down from its forward position in the Asia-Pacific. "The previous assumption that China was merely a paper tiger both unwilling and unable to retaliate in any meaningful way," says Peter Lee, "will have to be reexamined."
While the rise of China leaves the rest of Asia wary and how China will use its newfound power, especially its military power, will determine the global security of the next several decades, it is a fact the rest of the world has to come to terms with.
As a result, it is hardly surprising that China's neighbors are worried about the dragon's new teeth. Obama administration's rebalancing toward Asia may go some way toward easing those fears, but it is not enough and the confidence of America's Asian allies is still eroding. The region is waiting to see if the next U.S. president, as the leader of the incumbent superpower, can take the Chinese bull by the horns and restore America's leadership role in the Asia-Pacific.
Dr. Xiaoxiong Yi is the Director of Marietta College's China Program.