For decades, China followed the dictum of its late supreme leader, Deng Xiaoping, to keep its head down abroad and focus on development at home. But earlier this decade, emboldened by success and mindful that their globalized economy needs stability, communist leaders started pressing for a place among the nations that manage world affairs.
These days, Beijing is claiming a bigger voice in global economic forums such as the Group of 20 and is getting more deference in the United Nations, which could mean protection for friends such as Iran and Myanmar. Its military spending is the world’s second-highest, behind that of the United States.
Explosive growth in China and India, coupled with Japan’s clout as the world’s No. 2 economy, has long been expected to shift economic power from the United States to Asia as this century progresses. The financial crisis and resulting Great Recession are accelerating that process.
“China certainly comes out of the crisis stronger rather than weaker, and it’s the opposite for the United States,” says Stephen Roach, chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia.
Even some Americans have begun declaring this the “Chinese century” since it began nearly a decade ago. But while they and others fear the rise of China in international relations and the global economy, the reality is less dramatic: Beijing is still getting its own sprawling, chaotic house in order and is in no position to supplant the United States as global leader in the near future.
At the same time, Beijing’s power remains undefined: On an unfamiliar global stage, it is unsure what role it wants to play.
“China is very likely to be the second-most-powerful country — if it isn’t now, then within a decade,” says Kenneth Lieberthal, director of the Brookings Institution’s John L. Thornton China Center in Washington.
For the United States, it’s a mixed blessing. The American and Chinese economies are intertwined, and the success of one depends on the health of the other.
The United States is China’s biggest trade partner. China sent $338 billion in goods here last year. Beijing is Washington’s biggest creditor, with more than $800 billion invested in government debt. American automakers look to China’s growing market to propel future sales.
The financial crisis set back U.S. growth by years and will add trillions to the federal debt over the next decade. But China avoided the worst of the crisis. Its banks are healthy and, with the help of a 4 trillion yuan ($586 billion) stimulus, this year’s economic growth is on track to top 8 percent. See complete ap story..