Editor's Note: This article was first published on Nov. 10, 2009, as part of the WPR feature "China's Once and Future Rise." It is made available here for free as part of a promotion that ends Jan. 5. To experience more of WPR"s subscription service, sign up for 30-day free trial.
On Oct. 1, the People's Republic of China celebrated the 60th anniversary of its founding, most notably with an air show and military parade along Beijing's Orwellian-sounding Avenue of Eternal Peace. The event showcased China's arsenal of indigenously made fighter aircraft, tanks and newer-generation Dongfeng missiles, capable of delivering nuclear warheads to targets over 11,000 kilometers away. This was hardly the first time an authoritarian government has used a military review to impress its citizens and outside observers. And China has used non-martial events to display its national pride, confidence and strength. In many ways, last year's Beijing Olympics served the same function.
But the parade left little doubt that China, the 2009 version, is surely very different from the one Mao Zedong left behind when he died in 1976. Since 1979, its economy has been doubling in size every 10 years, and growth in 2009 will likely surpass 8 percent -- remarkable in the context of the current global environment. Obviously, economic strength underpins political and military power, and if current linear trends continue, the Chinese economy will surpass that of the U.S. in absolute size before the middle of this century.