Editor’s note: The following article is one of 30 that we’ve selected from our archives to celebrate World Politics Review’s 15th anniversary. You can find the full collection here.
For the past four decades, a narrative has taken hold among policymakers and the general public alike suggesting that China’s rise will continue indefinitely, even when mathematics and demographics suggest otherwise.
Between the 1980s and the turn of the millennium, this notion was fueled by China’s astonishing double-digit growth. In more recent years, although expectations of growth have been tempered, hopes for and fears that China is on the rise both politically and militarily have given the impression that Beijing’s progress is unstoppable. In a recent Foreign Affairs article, Ryan Hass, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, even had to remind readers that “China is not ten feet tall,” and that “the United States remains the stronger power in the U.S.-Chinese relationship.” The first months of 2021, too, brought a flood of excited headlines marveling at China’s exceptionally fast recovery from the pandemic, and predicting more Chinese economic success to come.