The American century is not really over and a Chinese one has not really begun.
If it does.
The scepticism is based on one set of recent figures (though these do not really say what they might seem to) and a longer-term trend towards imitativeness.
First, to the recent developments. China’s growth has slowed sharply and deflation set in, its economy is weighed down by a property slump and factory production is at its weakest in years. But that’s not the problem, China’s economic reform process is. No one knows where that will go and even if it will keep going because reform is inherently destabilizing and there is nothing that Beijing wants more than to keep the ship of state steady.
But never mind all that. Beijing’s longer-term imitativeness makes for some doubt that there will ever be a Chinese century. Might it just be the same old American one with Chinese characteristics? In terms of the architecture of international institutions and talkathons?
Consider the way the Chinese seem hell bent on replicating the American order with Chinese equivalents.
The Silk Road strategy so beloved of the US State Department (and its former boss Hillary Clinton) is being recast as “One Belt, One Road”.
Davos (ie the World Economic Forum) has a Chinese imitator, the Boao Forum. And the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is an obvious take on the World Bank, IMF and the Asian Development Bank.
By creating all its own institutions – in which it gets to call the shots – albeit in the image of those that already exist – and in which the US is the boss – Beijing clearly wants to supplant America. If all of this comes to pass – and China reforms enough to make the yuan a convertible currency, dismantle capital controls and so on – I suppose it would make for a Chinese century. Whoever is in charge gives the time its name.