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Why China Is Not Yet a Superpower: A Reality Check 

China has undoubtedly emerged as a global force to be reckoned with over the past few decades. Its rapid economic growth, technological advancements, and expanding influence on the international stage have led many to label it as a superpower. However, a closer examination reveals that China still falls short of meeting the criteria traditionally associated with superpower status. 

Explore why China should not yet be considered a superpower, digging into economic, military, political, and cultural dimensions. 

China’s Economic Capabilities

1- GDP and Per Capita Income

China’s remarkable economic growth has been one of the most significant global stories of the 21st century. It boasts the world’s largest GDP when measured by purchasing power parity (PPP). However, it is essential to consider per capita income alongside total GDP. China’s per capita income still lags behind that of true superpowers like the United States, Japan, and several European nations. 

The income disparity within China is also substantial, with millions of citizens living in poverty. This suggests that while China has amassed considerable wealth, it has not yet achieved the equitable distribution of resources that is a hallmark of a superpower.

2- Income Inequality 

Income inequality in China plays a role in why the country is not yet considered a superpower in the traditional sense. While China has a massive economy, significant disparities in wealth distribution exist, with many citizens experiencing lower standards of living. 

The inequality can lead to social unrest, hinder social cohesion, and affect overall stability and development. In a superpower, a more equitable distribution of wealth and resources is often associated with greater internal stability and global influence.

3- Debt Burden

China’s significant debt burden is a factor contributing to why it may not yet be considered a superpower in the traditional sense. Despite its large economy, China has accumulated substantial debt, both domestically and internationally. 

Servicing this debt and managing potential economic vulnerabilities can divert resources away from critical investments in infrastructure, technology, and social welfare. Debt burden can limit China’s ability to exert global influence and maintain economic stability, essential attributes of a superpower.

4- Dependency on Exports

China’s heavy dependence on exports is a factor that can influence its status as a superpower. While China is the world’s largest exporter and plays a pivotal role in global trade, this dependence makes it vulnerable to international trade tensions and disruptions. Superpowers typically have diversified and robust domestic economies that are less reliant on external markets. 

China’s export dependence can expose it to economic risks and challenges, affecting its ability to assert dominance on the global stage. Diversifying its economic base and boosting domestic consumption are critical steps for China’s superpower ambitions.

5- Aging Population 

China’s aging population, characterized by a shrinking workforce and increased elderly citizens, poses challenges to its superpower aspirations. It results in a reduced labor force, higher healthcare and pension costs, and strains on social welfare systems. 

A higher dependency ratio and potential innovation slowdown may hinder economic growth and competitiveness. To sustain its superpower ambitions, China needs to focus on workforce development, innovation, and adapting its social systems while maintaining economic growth to mitigate the impacts of its aging population.

6- Lack of Economic Innovations

The lack of significant economic innovations in China can be a factor influencing its status as a superpower. While China has made substantial progress in various industries, including manufacturing and technology, it has often been criticized for relying heavily on imitating and replicating existing technologies and products rather than developing groundbreaking innovations. 

Superpowers are typically known for their capacity to lead in innovation, driving economic growth and global influence. China’s emphasis on innovation and originality is crucial to its long-term prospects as a superpower, and there is an ongoing effort to boost domestic innovation and creativity.

Also Read: What Is the Motive of China Behind Its Interest in Taiwan?

China’s Military Power, Expenditure and Competence

China’s military power is often considered a significant factor in its status as a superpower, but it can also be a reason why some might argue that it is not yet a superpower in the traditional sense. Here are some aspects of China’s military power that can play a role in this assessment.

1- Global Military Reach and Bases

Superpowers are characterized by their ability to project military power globally. While China has rapidly expanded its military capabilities, it does not possess the same level of global military reach as the United States. China’s military presence is largely limited to the Asia-Pacific region. Its military power projection remains regionally focused, and it lacks the global military network that defines superpowers.

2- Military Alliances

Superpowers often have extensive defense alliances with other nations. China does not have a network of military alliances comparable to those of traditional superpowers. Lesser military alliance can limit its ability to exert influence and provide security guarantees on a global scale.

3- Military Spending 

While China’s defense budget is substantial and ranks among the largest in the world, it still lags behind the United States in terms of total military expenditure. Superpowers typically have the economic capacity to sustain high levels of military spending.

In 2021, the United States had the world’s largest military budget, spending $767.8 billion, while China also allocated a substantial amount, totaling $270 billion for its military expenses. These budget figures highlight the disparity in military spending between the United States and China, which is one of the factors affecting China’s journey toward superpower status

4- Military Technology 

Superpowers always lead in military technology and innovation. While China has made substantial advancements, it still faces challenges in areas like military research and development, particularly when compared to the technological capabilities of established superpowers.

5- Nuclear Arsenal

A robust nuclear arsenal symbolizes a country’s superpower status due to its deterrent capability and global influence. China possesses a nuclear deterrent, but it’s smaller and less advanced than the arsenals of the United States and Russia. Superpowers typically maintain extensive and technologically sophisticated nuclear capabilities, which not only ensure their security but also grant them substantial diplomatic and military leverage on the global stage.

6- Global Leadership

Superpowers play a central role in addressing international concerns, crises, conflicts, and global issues. While China is increasingly involved in international affairs, it has not assumed the same level of global leadership as traditional superpowers, particularly in areas like conflict resolution and humanitarian interventions.

China’s global leadership ambitions face significant challenges. While it has made economic and technological developments, it lags in areas like public health, climate change, and global security. The Belt and Road Initiative has faced criticisms, and Beijing’s foreign policy mix of pledges and pressure raises questions. China’s image is tarnished, limiting its soft power. The U.S., though weakened, leaves a gap China can’t fully fill, leading to a mix of ambition and anxiety, making it an uncertain global leader.

China’s Lack of Political Influence

China’s political role in the global arena is a key factor in assessing its status as a superpower. While China has made remarkable strides, various factors contribute to why it’s not yet considered a superpower in the traditional sense. 

1- Limited Alliance Network 

Established superpowers such as the United States boasts a vast network of political, military and diplomatic alliances. On the other hand, China’s alliances remain relatively modest. As of 2021, the U.S. had over 60 formal defense alliances, while China’s significant alliance partnerships are fewer in number, including Pakistan and Russia.

2- Global Leadership 

Superpowers lead in addressing global issues and conflicts. However, China’s approach to international leadership has been cautious. For instance, in 2020, it initially faced criticism for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and a perceived lack of transparency.

3- Soft Power Challenges 

Superpowers exert influence through soft power, including cultural exports, diplomacy, and global institutions. China has made efforts to enhance its soft power through initiatives like Confucius Institutes and the Belt and Road Initiative, but it still faces challenges in promoting its culture and values on a global scale. Issues such as censorship, human rights abuses, and ideological differences hinder China’s ability to wield soft power effectively.

4- Geopolitical Rivalries 

Superpowers frequently face intricate geopolitical rivalries. China’s contentious relations with the United States, marked by trade disputes, technological competition, and differing ideological stances, create challenges to unilateral global influence. Territorial disputes in the South China Sea involving neighboring countries hinder China’s ability to assert complete control in the region.

5- Global Economic Leadership 

Political influence often aligns with economic power. While China is the world’s second-largest economy, its political influence does not fully match its economic prowess. For instance, the U.S. dollar remains the dominant global reserve currency, giving the United States significant financial influence.

6- Global Diplomacy

Superpowers often play a pivotal role in global diplomacy and international organizations. The United States has historically been a driving force in institutions like the United Nations and NATO. While China has sought to increase its influence in these organizations, it still faces resistance from existing superpowers and has not yet achieved the same level of diplomatic clout. 

Also Read: Why China is not in G7? 

China’s Lack of Cultural Influence

Cultural influence plays a significant role in determining superpower status, and China’s approach to this aspect of global influence contributes to why it may not be considered a superpower in the traditional sense. Here are some key points explaining the role of cultural influence.

1- Soft Power Projection

Superpowers often rely on soft power, which includes cultural exports, diplomacy, and the promotion of their values and way of life, to shape international perceptions and build goodwill. While China has made efforts to project soft power through initiatives like the Confucius Institutes and cultural exchanges, it faces challenges related to censorship, human rights concerns, and questions about academic freedom. These issues can hinder its ability to project a positive and appealing cultural image globally.

2- Global Media Presence 

Superpowers typically have a strong global media presence through influential news outlets, film and television production, and digital platforms. While China has expanded its media presence through outlets like CGTN and the global reach of platforms like TikTok, it faces skepticism and scrutiny over issues like propaganda and censorship, which can undermine its credibility and appeal.

3- Cultural Exports 

Superpowers export their culture through music, movies, fashion, and other forms of popular culture. While China has a growing entertainment industry, including its film and music sectors, it has not achieved the same level of global cultural penetration as superpowers like the United States. Hollywood, for instance, continues to dominate the global film industry.

4- Global Educational and Academic Leadership 

Superpowers typically lead in higher education and research, attracting talent from around the world. China has also made progress in this area, with its universities rising in international rankings. However, it still faces concerns about academic freedom, censorship, and barriers to foreign scholars, which can affect its ability to become a global academic and intellectual hub.

Will China be able to Become a Superpower?

China’s hunger for superpower status is a subject of extensive debate and speculation. While the nation has undeniably made impressive developments in economic growth, military modernization, and global influence, several critical factors will determine whether it ascends to traditional superpower status.

Economic growth has been a cornerstone of China’s rise, but it must sustain this growth while addressing internal challenges like income inequality and managing debt burdens that could undermine its long-term stability.

In terms of military power, China has undergone substantial modernization. However, achieving global military reach and establishing a network of alliances comparable to established superpowers is essential to attain superpower status.

Political and diplomatic influence is another vital element. China must adeptly navigate geopolitical rivalries and engage in global problem-solving to enhance its political clout on the world stage.

Cultural and soft power projection are critical for building positive global perceptions. Addressing concerns regarding censorship, human rights, and presenting an appealing cultural image can bolster China’s soft power and attractiveness.

Assuming a leadership role in international affairs and institutions is paramount for superpower status. China must actively contribute to addressing global challenges such as climate change and pandemics, demonstrating its commitment to global leadership.

The concept of superpower is evolving, and China’s influence is already significant. Whether it fully attains superpower status hinges on its ability to navigate these multifaceted challenges and global dynamics while effectively balancing its interests with other major powers, particularly the United States. The outcome will likely shape the course of global geopolitics in the 21st century.

Is Emerging China a Threat to the United States?

China’s rapid rise as an economic and military power presents challenges and potential threats to U.S. interests on multiple fronts.

1- Economic Competition 

China’s economic growth has made it a formidable competitor. Trade imbalances, intellectual property concerns, and market access issues have led to tensions in the U.S.-China economic relationship. Critics argue that China’s industrial policies, including subsidies for domestic industries, can disadvantage American companies and undermine fair competition.

2- Technology and Cybersecurity 

China’s advancements in technology and its alleged cyber activities have raised concerns about espionage, data security, and intellectual property theft, with implications for the national security and economic competitiveness of the United States. 

3- Military Modernization 

China has significantly modernized its military capabilities, which can impact regional security dynamics, particularly in the South China Sea. These developments have led to concerns about potential conflicts and the balance of power in the Asia-Pacific region.

4- Human Rights and Values 

U.S.-China relations are strained due to disparities in political systems and human rights practices. The United States is a democracy, while China is a one-party socialist state. China’s imposition of a national security law in Hong Kong has drawn international criticism for limiting freedoms, and its treatment of ethnic and religious minorities, particularly Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, has raised concerns about human rights abuses. These differences in governance and human rights approaches underpin diplomatic tensions, potential threats and global scrutiny.


While China’s rise on the global stage is undeniable, it is premature to label it as a superpower in the traditional sense. China has made impressive economic and military advancements, but it falls short in several key areas, including per capita income, global military reach, technological innovation, and soft power. Its political influence and cultural reach are still developing and face significant obstacles. 

The term “superpower” carries with it certain expectations and responsibilities, and it is essential to recognize that China has not yet fully met these criteria. Whether China will eventually ascend to true superpower status or follow a different path on the global stage remains to be seen, but for now, it is not a superpower in the traditional sense of the term.


Which Country in the World is the only True Superpower?

After the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, which marked the end of the Cold War, some people viewed the world that followed as a unipolar one. In this view, the United States stood as the only remaining superpower on the global stage.

Which Country Has the Best Future in 2050?

It’s projected that by 2037, China will surpass the United States to become the world’s largest economy. By 2050, China is anticipated to have a global GDP dominance exceeding the rest by a substantial margin of nearly $10 trillion. China is one of the fastest-growing economies in Asian countries. 

Was China always a Strong Country?

For more than a thousand years, China was the dominating superpower in the world. Nevertheless, its strength was weakened by frequent civil unrest. Between 600 and 1500 CE, China was the most populous, powerful, and largest country in both Asia and Europe.

Oleksandra Mamchii

Working as a academic lead at Best Diplomats.

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