How worried are you about China?

Admittedly, it’s a rather nebulous question. Are we talking about China’s global alliances (or attempts to create them)? Are people afraid of its economic power and potential, or its influence as a military and technological force? What do increased tensions between China and Taiwan mean for national security? And what about America’s hottest app, TikTok?

Let Bloomberg Opinion columnist Minxin Pei — with assistance from Bloomberg’s editorial board — calibrate your concerns. The perception of China’s increasing power tends to exceed the reality of it. Here are five reasons that is true.

  1. China’s military strength is overhyped: “For all its talk about the decline of the West and rise of the East, China remains a significantly weaker power than the US on practically all fronts. What China sees as unfair practices — including US surveillance operations in international airspace and waters near the Chinese coast — are merely a manifestation of the exercise of US power in its rivalry with a weaker adversary.”
  2. On top of that, Minxin says, China talks a big game on national ambitions but can’t follow through: “In case after case, leaders in Beijing have identified top national priorities and lavished them with support. And time after time, this ‘whole-of-nation’ effort, meant to mobilize the talent and resources of a giant country, has led only to waste, graft and failure.”
  3. Bloomberg’s editorial board says Washington frets about China’s financial leverage over the US, but that’s also overhyped: “Less than 2% of US foreign direct investment is held in China, and US venture-capital companies have invested only about $60 billion in Chinese startups since 2010, compared with $1.3 trillion in the US.”
  4. The China-Russia alliance is also less than it seems, Minxin writes, adding that influence doesn’t equal leverage: “The meagerness of the economic deals signed during Xi Jingping’s visit to Moscow — which glaringly omitted the second gas pipeline from Russia to China — indicates that China is not ready to go all in, at least for now. This portends trouble” for any alliance between the two nations.
  5. And the Saudi deal was significant, but the US remains firmly in control: “Those lamenting America’s apparent loss of influence in the Middle East should know that this is one of the costs of focusing US attention and resources on the competition with China — and it’s one the US can afford to pay.”

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