China and a New Balance of Power

SHANGHAI – The last rival superpower to the United States, the Soviet Union, collapsed in 1991. But, apart from its military strength, the USSR was never really powerful enough to counterbalance US influence. In the late 1980’s, Japan seemed capable of challenging America’s industrial leadership, but by the 1990’s it lost its competitive edge. China might itself wish to be a major force in a multi-polar world, but has been plagued by its lack of overall strength. Given these realities, China sees the expanding European Union as a likely counterweight to unchecked US power.

In terms of economic output, today’s EU is on par with the US. But it has yet to build a strong defense system that can respond effectively either to regional contingencies or to global needs. What would be the strength of such a system if and when it is developed, and how will it compare with that of the US?

In assessing America’s strength, China follows US debates on the merits of a uni-polar or a multi-polar world with keen interest. Some Americans favor a uni-polar system in which the US dominates. Such a Pax Americana would cost the country less to sustain, but the world would worry if America adopts a wrong policy, as has been the case in Iraq.

The US certainly has a right to curb terrorists like those who staged the attack on September 11, 2001. But the “war on terror” did not warrant the decision to attack a sovereign state and topple its government on the flawed presumption that it housed weapons of mass destruction and was linked to the 2001 attacks.