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The United States Should Fear a Faltering China

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The United States Should Fear a Faltering China

Beijing’s Assertiveness Betrays Its Desperation

Foreign Affairs,

5 min read
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China’s weakening economy could make the country dangerously assertive on the world stage. 

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In recent years, rapid economic growth has lifted millions of Chinese people out of poverty – creating the widespread expectation within China that living standards will continue to rise. Yet, as Michael Beckley explains, all is not well with China’s economy; and as China’s economy falters, he argues, the regime will likely do all it can to keep domestic unrest at bay and secure the country’s economic interests – using force, if necessary. Beckley’s sobering analysis serves as a wake-up call for US policymakers and will interest students of international relations everywhere. 


China is in a precarious economic situation – and the country’s economic woes will only get worse.

Since the 2008 financial crisis, China’s economy has gone through its longest deceleration since the Mao era. The country’s official GDP growth rate slowed from 15% in 2008 to 6% in 2019, yet many economists believe that China’s true growth rate during that period was closer to 3% – possibly even less. Since most of China’s GDP growth came from increased government spending, the country’s actual economy may not have grown at all. Moreover, much of the growth which has occurred has been unproductive. China has, for instance, built over 50 cities that remain uninhabited; the home vacancy rate in China has climbed to 20%; and the country’s major industries now register around 30% in excess capacity. The Chinese government reports having wasted $6 trillion on ineffective investment between 2009 and 2014. The country’s debt is now three times higher than its GDP.

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About the Author

Michael Beckley is an associate professor of political science at Tufts University, a Jeane Kirkpatrick Visiting Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

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