Whenever considering China vs USA comparisons it’s important to distinguish between two types of analysis: “here and now” vs “the future” – and in my view when you ask the question of who is the superior superpower, it all comes down to this fundamental question. Are you talking about right now? If so, the answer is crystal clear. Are you talking about 10 years from now? I think the answer is still pretty clear. 50 years? Less so. 100 years, the answer is most likely different than now.
Here’s a basic graphical analysis of the USA vs. China question from the site Master of Finance. It compares five attributes of each country: economy, civil liberties, population power, military supremacy and education. It then gives a final score with the USA up 3 to 2 on these points. Interestingly, many of these scores would change if you project out 100 years based on current patterns.
I think the only controversial “showdown” would be education and it comes down to whether you favor a strict, mechanical, rigorous form of educational system or a more flexible, creative environment. The graphic gives the edge to China, but in reality, the US has a much stronger higher educational system. It also has a more diverse educational system which helps sample multiple ideas and systems in small business and entrepreneurship.
Beyond that, let’s take a look at each point. Economically, the US is still superior. But most economists believe that China is slowly (and with lots of growing pains) laying the groundwork to take advantage of its population advantage and become the world’s economic superpower. It’s hard to imagine China not being number one in 100 years unless their population totally tanks or there is some catastrophe like World War III.
In terms of protecting civil liberties, there’s no question that the US is superior, but the USA has taken some steps backwards in the last decade. Whether it’s the killing of US citizens without due process or the advent of drones everywhere, most experts agree that our civil liberties have taken a major hit since September 11. The big question is whether this trend will continue into a totalitarian or military state type existence or whether the people will fight back.
The US still has military superiority over China, but how long this will last is uncertain. China certainly values a strong military and as their economy and educated population grows, they will have the resources to compete head to head with the US. I imagine that in 50 years the US will no longer have a clear military edge. It will be more like stalemate.
As for education, I’m sure China produces more people who are book smart than the US. But on the creative entrepreneurial side where true progress and innovation happens, it’s hard to imagine the US losing the edge in the near or long term future.