As someone who fell under the spell of declinism in the late 1980s – I wrote a book, Grand Illusion: Critics and Champions of the American Century, dedicated partly to the thesis -- I am reluctant to embrace the current version of the theory of American decline, with China playing the role that Japan and West Germany formerly played. On that score, I recommend a column, “Why China Won’t Rule the World,” by Minxin Pei, my former colleague at Carnegie, to whom I defer on these matters.
Minxin cites the fragility of China’s economic recovery, based on risky loans many of which will not be repaid, and on the creation of industrial overcapacity relative to domestic demand (which has not risen proportionately) and foreign demand (which remains stalled by the ongoing slump). Minxin also cites political unrest and the upcoming succession battle. The Chinese leadership, of course, is not blind to these problems. As Minxin writes, “One of the strangest things about the predictions of Chinese dominance is that they tend to impress everyone but the Chinese themselves.”