Since World War II, only three world powers have been referred to as "superpowers" -- the Soviet Union, the British Empire and the United States. The first two have since lost that distinction, leaving America as the world's only true superpower, according to most history experts. There are no hard and fast rules as to what makes a state a superpower, but there are some defining characteristics that most pundits agree are necessary to earn the title. Being a global leader in economics, culture and education, along with a strong military presence are all hallmarks of a superpower. Japan was believed to have been the next superpower in the 1980s, but that prediction never came to fruition.
China is now generally seen as the next candidate for the superpower distinction, with some actually asserting that China has aims to take over the world. Language like that can make China's intentions seem sinister, and even though some politicians and economists may believe the country is plotting for world domination, what's more likely afoot is that China is in a two-way fight with the United States for the most foreign interests. These interests serve a purpose, but what they all add up to is control of foreign resources and commodities, as well as in a militaristic sense. The old adage "whoever dies with the most toys wins" is a joke, but the idea could apply to the battle being waged between the United States and China. In this case it's not toys, but military bases, trade partners and rights to natural resources in foreign countries. In other words, which country gains or retains the title of superpower.
China has a problem -- its population does not match its resources and gross domestic product. China's more than 1.3 billion people don't have the resources to adequately care for themselves [source: University Nebraska at Omaha]. This has led China to begin exporting its people, in a sense, by setting up shop in other parts of the world. Look no further than Africa, where China has rapidly developed its presence during the last decade, in countries like Nigeria and Angola, among others. During that time, more than 750,000 Chinese have moved to Africa [source: Malone]. Some experts contend that the plan is to increase this number to the hundreds of millions, helping to put a dent into China's natural resource problem by tapping into Africa's resources, while thinning the herd in the home country [source: Malone]. Air and sea routes are increasing between China and African nations as massive deals are made for commodities, trade, labor and military cooperation. Chinese private schools, embassies and cultural centers are popping up in places like Rwanda, Nairobi and Angola. Angola even has its own "Chinatown" district.
In return, countries in Africa get a willing trade partner and assistance and weaponry for its military factions. Africa also receives the supposed benefit of jobs and infrastructure building. While trade has increased from 5 million Yuan to 6 billion in the last 10 years, many contend that Africa is getting the short end of the stick, importing cheap Chinese toys and goods, while exporting valuable commodities like oil and timber. It's estimated that 70 percent of African timber ends up in Chinese ports, a figure that hints at massive deforestation [source: Malone]. There are also assertions that Chinese mining operations in Africa are staffed with African laborers earning less than one Yuan per day, which is about 14 cents [source: Malone]. The weapons sent to Africa often supply arms that help to fuel the continent's many civil wars. And in some parts of Africa, Chinese-only communities have gates, and blacks are not allowed to enter.
Similarly, China has reached out to Latin America as well, bypassing the United States as Brazil's No. 1 trading partner, and coming in second to the United States in Argentina, Costa Rica, Chile, Peru and Venezuela. With this kind of reach, and a population at well over a billion people, it's no wonder that a large percentage of the global financial news focuses on China. But is China poised to become a true superpower?
The Battle for Foreign Interests
Experts point out that while China has gained serious ground in places like Africa and Latin America, it still can't touch the United States in terms of foreign interests [source: Gatsiounis]. China has officially overtaken Japan as the world's second largest economy, but its economy is still only half the size of the United States'.
The fact that many Chinese goods are low-end is another reason why many people think China is destined to remain a "great power" and not ascend to the ranks of superpower. America's educational and cultural influences also outpace China's. The United States' entertainment industries are emulated, its sports are most popular globally, and its educational system is the most emulated around the world [source: Gatsiounis].
Despite its efforts to implement the Chinese way of life in Africa and Latin America, there are still cultural barriers. Even in Africa, where China has made the most strides, the United States leads the trade war by 5 percent, even though Africa makes up just 2 percent of the United States' global trade. China is also a distant third place in Africa in terms of oil exports, behind Europe and the United States [source: Malone].
There's also evidence Africa may not be totally pleased with its relationship with China. Chinese companies in Africa are rated as having some of the worst working conditions in the world, and the infrastructure building that hasn't been directly involved in the transport of goods has been called into question [source: Gatsiounis]. Luanda's General Hospital, built by the Chinese in 2006, was evacuated just four years later amid fears of structural instability and collapse. Chinese military has supplied its share of arms to Africa and Latin America, but its actual military presence is still limited or close to non-existent [source: Terradaily].
All of these deficiencies may prevent China from becoming a superpower, but that doesn't mean the United States isn't taking the possibility seriously. The United States has sought to bolster ties to countries that have done business with China, and has even moved into China's backyard by seeking to strengthen trade in Southeast Asian countries like Vietnam, Loas, Cambodia and even Indonesia. Most economists think that while the United States may have a watchful eye on China and its global strategy, that it's in the best interest of the United States for China to remain a strong, viable economy. Aside from the global economic impact that China has on the rest of the world, it currently leads the world with $840 billion worth of investments in American Treasury securities [source: U.S. Department of the Treasury].
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