If you've been keeping up with the news lately, you've no doubt heard about President Donald Trump's back and forth with China. Whether he's unloading tweets about unfair trade practices or talking about another tariff hike, China has begun to saturate media as an entity of international interest. It is time to recognize that China is beginning to challenge the U.S. in ways many thought to be impossible only a few years ago.
China is the world's second largest nation, superseded only by the United States. It is also one of the fastest growing economies in the world today: China enjoyed a 6.5% growth rate in 2017 while the U.S. only grew at a rate of approximately 3% in 2017. Recently, China has endured somewhat of a stifled growth rate since earlier in 2017 it had a growth rate of 2.7%. Some may purport that this is due to Trump's tariffs and others would point to other factors involved. The thing to note here is that China's economy is growing at a faster pace than the U.S. While the U.S. certainly remains the titan in today's economic world, China is beginning to realize that it, too, can flex its economic muscle through retaliatory tariffs and increased spending on military endeavors.
Two of those prominent military endeavors include China's island building in the disputed South China Sea and Chinese military efforts to have a greater presence across the Asian and African continents. South China is a hotly contested area of passage for many trade ships. In an attempt to better control the region, China has been building islands and attempting to claim that these islands are under the sovereign rule of the PRC (despite the U.N.'s dismissal of those claims). This is alarming to the U.S. and its allies as China tries to expand its naval reach and power. In response, the U.S. navy has engaged in some efforts to counter those claims with overt flybys over land that the PRC claims to be under its jurisdiction.
In regard to Africa, China has engaged in a great deal of infrastructure building as well as military buildup. One of China's more prominent projects is certainly the Belt and Road project. In an effort to further expand its economic and cultural influence, China has started a project meant to mimic the very profitable Silk Road of ancient times. This is certainly a threat to U.S. interests as well as power since it once more is an attempt to expand Chinese influence across multiple regions. Furthermore, the Belt and Road project is part of China's larger mission of expanding its presence in Africa. The first Chinese overseas base to be established has been built in Djibouti. In general, China's increased military presence in Africa has contributed to the PRC's efforts to move into what some experts see as the world's next sector of massive labor and economic growth.
Besides China's efforts to outpace the U.S. economy, some believe that China has blossomed into a new era of positive cultural growth. Backed by years of great economic growth, the Chinese people have been able to flourish at a time when the American dream seems to be faltering. Whether or not one believes that the U.S. is undergoing some hard times, other countries see the perceived divisions of the American people as a growing sign of the American juggernaut's weakness. In its place, ideas of the power behind Chinese culture have risen. Take for example the recent debacle surrounding Dolce and Gabbana's canceled fashion show. The Chinese response to the fashion duo's racist comments and advertising demonstrates an unprecedented showing of Chinese national pride and push back against stereotypes. There is a newfound cultural empowerment as China continues to rise and challenge the U.S. on a number of fronts.
Perhaps most worrying, however, is Chinese investment into military developments specifically meant to counter and diminish American influence. This is apparent in China's South China Sea build up first and foremost. The entire reason behind any Chinese naval improvement (at least for now) is in order to further bolster its position as a regional power in the South China Sea, as evidenced by its already tight foothold on the region. According to Admiral Phil Davidson, "China is no longer a rising power but an arrived great power and peer competitor" in regards to China's growing and potent naval power. Besides efforts to expand its Navy, China has also taken direct measures to improve its aerial combat proficiency against the U.S. While China is not focusing on engaging in direct combat with the U.S., it is attempting to mitigate the advanced tactical and technological nature of America's Air Force. According to a Business Insider article which quotes The Project Air Force team at Rand Corp., "It is important to recognize that many of the PLA efforts in the military aerospace sector focus on fielding of specific capabilities in sufficient quantities to deter the United States from entering a conflict; the PLA would vastly prefer deterrence over actual combat operations."
It would appear as though China's high profile endeavors across the globe are actively engaging in operations meant to supersede and weaken the United States. Any gain of influence for the Chinese is subsequently a loss of influence for the U.S. It is important that average citizens as well as U.S. leaders recognize this. It is critical that the U.S. remains unified force within, and that it takes the necessary steps outwardly to remain the world power that it is today. I would like to point out that I am in no way advocating for a new cold war, but instead a greater awareness and attention to zero-sum games on the international stage.