As the stalled American economy meekly sputters back to life and analysts anticipate Europe's descent into economic chaos, proclamations of an end of an era have been multiplying. Those who had predicted China's rise to become the superpower of this century may be tempted to say this moment is arriving sooner than expected.
Not so fast, says Harvard international relations professor Joseph Nye: "China's current reputation for power benefits from projections about the future," and not all of those projections may prove accurate. The Chinese "export-led development model will probably need to be adjusted as global trade and financial balances become more contentious in the aftermath of the financial crisis." Meanwhile, "China has not yet found a way to solve the problem of demands for political participation (if not democracy) that tend to accompany rising per capita income." The country will need to find its way to a political system that can deal with the "expanding urban middle class, regional inequality and resentment among ethnic minorities"--that's hard to do, and it's not clear yet whether China will make the transition. Finally, it's not clear China will have the military presence the U.S. did on its way to the top in the 20th century.
Nye's conclusion? "China's century is not yet upon us." But that's not a cause for celebration: "Bill Clinton was basically right when he told Jiang Zemin in 1995 that the US has more to fear from a weak China than a strong China." Both countries "have much to gain from working together."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.