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The U.S. and the Economic Growth of China

Discussions of American declinism are frequently paired with the empirical data supporting the rise of China. In the midst of American declinism, scholars have recognized and extensively researched the exponential economic growth of China.

In January, China announced its GDP increased by 2.3% last year, the lowest annual growth rate since Mao, making it the only major world economy to grow, thus accelerating its takeover of the U.S. economy. The Chinese economy witnessed a 6.8% contraction in the first three months of the year and a 6.5% expansion in the final three months of the year. Furthermore, China increased its share of the global economy by 1.1%, its largest jump since 1970.

Notably, the United States’ position has crumbled in the past year. Its status as a global leader hinges on the legitimacy that comes from domestic governance, provision of global public responses, and thorough responses to global challenges. All three of these strengths have been challenged by the pandemic.

In addition to producing valuable material goods like N-95 masks, crisis response is defined by immaterial actions. China is a critical producer of masks and COVID-19 antibiotics. They have also practiced diplomacy and worked to convene countries to share their experiences of the pandemic.

According to John Ikenberry, two likely outcomes will occur:

  1. China will use growing power to remold institutions

  2. Other nations and countries will begin to see China as a security threat.

In the past 500 years, in 12 of the 16 cases where a rising power has overtaken a ruling one, war has occurred. This is a well-documented phenomenon known as the Thucydides trap.

In the twentieth century, there have been several instances of power shifts, like the rising power of Japan and the Soviet Union. However past power shifts differ from the threat that China currently poses.

The Soviet Union rivaled the United States as a military rival and China is both an economic and military rival. For Japan, as opposed to focusing on direct arms invasion, China’s path to global hegemony has relied on economic growth, cultural outreach, and incremental military expansion.

According to scholars, avoiding the trappings of the Thucydides trap will require great effort on both sides.

In the era of nuclear deterrence, a great power war is likely not to occur. Nonetheless, according to Ikenberry, the United States needs to recommit itself to strengthening the western order and ideals of “engagement, integration, and restraint.”


Work Cited

  1. Campbell, Kurt M., and Rush Doshi. The Coronavirus Could Reshape Global Order. Feb. 2021.,

  2. Cheng, Jonathan. “China Still Grew and Fueled Its Rise as Covid-19 Shook the Global Economy.” Wall Street Journal, 18 Jan. 2021.,

  3. Destined for War: Can China and the United States Escape Thucydides’s Trap? - The Atlantic. Accessed 24 Mar. 2021.

  4. Ikenberry, G. John. The Rise of China and the Future of the West. Sept. 2015.,

  5. Moritsugu, Ken. “Analysis: China's Rise Takes the World into Uncharted Waters.” AP NEWS, Associated Press, 4 Sept. 2020,

Last Fact Checked on May 29th, 2021.


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