The China Threat

Article excerpt

Byline: Isaac Stone Fish

How afraid should we really be?

Economy: When will China become the world's largest economy? Goldman Sachs estimates that it will happen by 2027. But, using a forecast based on purchasing power parity, The Conference Board, a business-research group, predicts it could happen as early as next year since goods and services are cheaper in China.

Threat Level: High While social instability might derail China's growth, financially speaking this is China's century. However, the U.S. will continue to benefit from Chinese growth, and even when China's economy surpasses that of the U.S., Americans will still have much higher per capita income.

Diplomacy: China's leaders circled the globe last year, bailing out European nations, signing oil and gas deals in Central Asia, and buying up farmland in sub-Saharan Africa. Across the world, friendship bridges and Confucius Institutes have sprung up--evidence of Beijing's increasing international reach.

Threat Level: High Despite bungling bilateral relationships with many of its neighbors, including India, Japan, South Korea, and Vietnam, China's expressed desire not to meddle in the affairs of others makes it an attractive partner for those who have a hard time finding Western friends.

Military: "They clearly have potential to put some of our capabilities at risk," U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned, when he went to China last week. American officials worry about China's construction of the world's first anti-ship ballistic missile, a weapon known colloquially as a "carrier killer," and the development of a Chinese stealth fighter, currently underway.

Threat Level: Medium China has trained its military sights on the Western Pacific, specifically Taiwan, and its new assertiveness will make it more difficult for the U.S. to maneuver in the region. However, America's military budget dwarfs China's, and despite the new impressive toys, as Gates said: "I think there is some question about just how stealthy" the stealth fighter really is.

Resources: Last year, China became the largest importer of Saudi crude, and since China has no qualms about investing in resource-rich pariah states such as Iran and Sudan, it has a leg up in the global race for energy supplies. …