IS POWER in Asia really shifting from America to China?
The spectacular growth of China's economy is the best reason to think it is. But many people, especially in America and among its friends in Asia, doubt that China is anywhere near having the economic heft seriously to challenge US power in Asia, or that it ever will.
This is a very important issue. If these observers are right, there is no reason for Washington to accommodate Beijing's aspirations for a bigger say in Asian affairs. If they are wrong, and China's economic rise really is changing the balance of relative power sharply Beijing's way, then Washington needs to take Beijing's challenge to its leadership in Asia much more seriously.
Measuring economic clout
SO, WHICH is it?
First, we need to be clear what economic measures we should be looking at. Those who argue that America is still far ahead of China often point to the huge gap in gross domestic product (GDP) per capita.
Though it has risen spectacularly since 1980, China's per capita GDP is still only one-fifth of America's in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP) - a measure which irons out the effects of currency exchange rates. By this yardstick, there is little chance that China could ever catch up with America.
Clearly, the average American still lives a much more affluent life than the average Chinese. But this figure does not tell us very much about national power. If GDP per head was the basis of national power, then Singapore would be more powerful than China. So this cannot be the primary measure.
National power depends on the resources available to the state for national purposes, and that depends ultimately on the size of the overall economy, rather than per capita GDP.
If we look at GDP itself, however, the two giants are much closer. Today, China's GDP is about 75 per cent of America's (again, in PPP terms). China's GDP has risen astonishingly since 1980, when it was equal to about 5 per cent. But the US still has a comfortable, if diminished, lead over China.