Goldman Sachs projects that China will overtake the United States as the world's largest economy by 2027. British author Martin Jacques, whose new book is called When China Rules the World, believes that Americans are woefully unprepared for this shift.
He joined NPR's Guy Raz to discuss the issue, and he started by reading an excerpt from his new book:
"The mainstream Western attitude has held that, in its fundamentals, the world will be relatively little changed by China's rise. This is based on three key assumptions: that China's challenge will be primarily economic in nature; that China will in due course become a typical Western nation; and that the international system will remain broadly as it now is, with China acquiescing in the status quo and becoming a compliant member of the international community. Each of these assumptions is misconceived. The rise of China will change the world in the most profound ways."
Jacques' perspective is informed by having watched the decline of the British Empire over the course of his life, something he calls a "dislocating and disorientating experience."
"The history of humanity is the rise and fall of countries and civilizations and so on, so nothing is cast in stone," he says. "And the United States has enjoyed actually quite a long period in the sun, ever since certainly 1945."
This shift, he says, has less to do with the United States, and more to do with the extraordinary transformation in China.
While he does see China displacing the United States as the world's foremost superpower, he doesn't believe this change will happen in the immediate term. He points to the fact that much of the Chinese population is still living and working in the countryside. But as the nation modernizes, it will increasingly be a contender on the world stage.
Asked if he thinks it would be good for the world to be ruled by China, rather than by the United States, Jacques says in some ways, yes.
"For the last 200 years, essentially the world has been a very undemocratic place. Because a relatively small sliver of humanity, i.e., those that populate the West, have had a hugely disproportionate say in world affairs," says Jacques. "Now the rival of China and India and Brazil and so on ... is transforming the prospects for these people."
This trend, he says, represents "the most remarkable democratization that the world has seen in the last 200 years."