In an article "The Illusion of Chinese Power" published in The National Interest and Brookings Online on 25 June, 2014, Professor David Shambaugh, world-renowned China expert, senior fellow at Brookings and professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, rehearsed a litany of China's familiar ills to explain why China's perceived global power is at best illusionary.
Similar weaknesses are well encapsulated in Shambaugh's recent work - "China Goes Global: The Partial Power", Oxford University Press, August 2014.
Professor Shambaugh's contention was almost immediately called into question by a follow-up article "The Illusion of Chinese Weakness" by Dr Clark Edward Barrett, also published in The National Interest on 31 August. The riposte focuses on the angle of China's diplomatic skills, quoting Sun Tzu far too many times.
Shambaugh's quoted Chinese ills are by no means all false. The Middle Kingdom remains a power in transition. Her comprehensive global power is no comparison with the United States. China knows this well. That's why Foreign Minister Wang Yi recently declared that China has "never had the strategic intention to challenge or even replace the United States for its position in the world.” Click here
Yet, it is evident that the sands are shifting. Even if benign, a thousand -pound panda cannot hide its weight under a bushel. Some recent manifestations are instructive.
Notwithstanding the United States' remonstration, as America's closest ally, the United Kingdom broke rank to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, a Chinese initiative perceived to counter the influence of West-dominated "Bretton Woods institutions" - the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB). Click here
This has now led to a scramble to do the same among America's other close allies, including France, Germany, and Italy, likely to be followed by Australia and South Korea, which listened to Washington's caution to stay out in the first instance. Now, even Japan is not ruling out this option. Click here and here
Moreover, slower growth notwithstanding, China stands dominant as a hub of the world's (particularly Asia's) supply and production chain, as expounded upon in a cover-page leader in The Economist (14 March, 2015) .
Despite rising costs and still struggling to leapfrog in innovation, China remains highly competitive in the international context. Manufacturing earnings per hour averaged US$2.1 in 2012, compared with US$35.7 in the US, according to a 2014 report ("Still Making It") of the Economist Intelligence Unit. While this gap is expected to narrow, Chinese labour costs are still expected to be under 12% of those in the US in 2020.
If one needs further proof of China''s growing global clout, all one needs is to mark how, appropriateness aside, some of the West's top leaders, including David Cameron and even the Pope, are trying not to meet the Dalai Lama directly, albeit with a great deal of deference and polite excuses.
Another case in point is the unprecedented role given to China at the world's largest technological trade fair, CeBit, in Hanover, Germany on 15 March. Click here
All these are not to say that China will replace the United States as a global hegemon. Far from it. The reason is that any perceived grandeur may be illusive but the burdens and costs are real. Nor does China want or has the real capacity to do so. China will be able to thrive much better by modifying but not overturning the existing global order anchored by the United States.
Nevertheless, while some of the dark warnings in such works as "The End of the American Century" (David S Mason, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Inc, 2009) may now be a little out of date, it is clear that American exceptionalism is no longer able to call the shots in many global theatres.
Simply, the world has become too connected and inter-dependent for single-power dominance. The levers of global power are now being shared by emerging powers such as China and India and internet-enabled non-state actors including civil society.