Have China or Russia removed the U.S. from the Big Throne and became a new superpower?
With China, U.S. and Russia being so focused on establishing superiority over other nations and making huge steps in boosting their military and economic strength – is it fair to say that the U.S. is still the only superpower in the world?
Or are we already seeing the rise of a new superpower? Is it Russia or China? And would that new superpower dwarf the U.S. superiority and become the world’s sole and unmatched superpower?
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China vs. U.S. vs. Russia: Who’s economy dominates the world?
Let’s start with the economy. Although the Russian economy is slowly recovering from the damage inflicted by Western sanctions, there is still no point in comparing it to the Chinese economy, let alone the U.S. economy.
Meanwhile, the U.S. economy and the Chinese economy – which are often referred to as the world’s two superpower economies – can be easily put into perspective.
While China still has much work to do in its economy to be called the new superpower, its economic advances over the past three decades can’t be overestimated.
Back in the ‘80s, the Chinese economy enjoyed only $309 billion in GDP, according to Wikipedia. The size of the U.S. economy, meanwhile, was a whopping $2.9 trillion in the same period.
By 2015, the gap between the two economies has shrunk significantly. In 2015, China’s economy reached $10.7 trillion in GDP, while the U.S. economy stood at $17.9 trillion.
China will continue growing at an annual rate of 4.6% between now and 2050, as estimated by consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. U.S. economy, meanwhile, will grow by 2.4% a year.
Thus, if no disastrous and economy-damaging event (military conflict, political revolution, etc.) takes place in China and the U.S., China’s GDP is expected to surpass the U.S. by 2028.
Another think tank seems to prove PricewaterhouseCoopers’ prediction, and says China will become the world’s largest economy by 2029. According to the U.K.-based Centre for Economics and Business Research, China’s GDP will stand at $35.26 trillion in 2031, while the U.S. GDP will play second fiddle with its $33.66 trillion.
However, think tanks seem to be changing their predictions every year. For example, last year’s study by the CEBR said that China’s economy would surpass the U.S. in 2025.
But in this year’s study, the CEBR says the two powers will swap places no sooner than in 2029, adding that the adjustment is explained by “slower Chinese GDP growth and a weaker currency.”
Russia, meanwhile, stands nowhere near the U.S. and China in terms of its GDP figures. GDP of the country run by President Vladimir Putin is only $1.2 trillion, which places Russia at the 14th spot in the CEBR’s World’s Largest Economies ranking.
Interestingly, Russia will remain at the 14th spot in the ranking even in 2050, according to the CEBR.
China has already surpassed U.S. in some areas
Even Russia’s close trade ties with China don’t seem to help the country boost its economy. It also doesn’t help Russia’s economy that China-Russia bilateral trade is very imbalanced and is mostly comprised of oil, gas and arms.
Other economy figures also show that China is rapidly catching up to the U.S. or have already surpassed the U.S., which will be run by Donald Trump from January 20, 2017. But does it mean we’re seeing the rise of the new superpower?
According to the economy stats provided by Nation Master, China’s budget revenues amounted to $1.86 trillion in 2014, while the U.S. economy enjoyed 32% more of that, $2.45 trillion.
Just like with GDP stats, Russia stands nowhere near China or the U.S., as its budget revenues were only $416.8 billion in 2014, the same year the country was hit with crippling sanctions.
China, however, dominates both the U.S. and Russia in terms of exports. In 2014, the Asian nation exported items worth $1.97 trillion, which is nearly one-third more than the U.S. ($1.56 trillion) and 4 times more than Russia ($528 billion).
But many love to speculate about the U.S. public debt, saying that America has more debts than any other country in the world. True that, the U.S. public debt is two times bigger than China’s public debt, 70% of GDP against 31.7% of GDP.
Russia, meanwhile, has the smallest public debt of the three nations, only 7.7% of GDP. While it’s not a major economy performance factor, it’s still worth acknowledging that the U.S. indeed has an enormous public debt.
China surpasses the U.S. but is still losing
It’s true that the Chinese economy is poised to surpass the U.S. in the next years. In fact, some analysts project that the Asian nation will surpass the U.S. on a PPP (Purchasing Power Parity) basis in less than five years.
But most economy analysts still stop short from calling China the new superpower because Beijing still loses in a number of other areas. In fact, the U.S. will continue to dominate both China and Russia on most indicators related to living standards and quality of life, and these two segments have a major impact on the country’s overall might.
Also, the U.S. received its dominance power and superpower status not only for its economy might, but also its diplomatic influence on the rest of the world as well as its military superiority.
Russia’s prospects of becoming new superpower
While Russia has enjoyed significant advances in terms of its military might, trying to once and for all put an end to U.S. global dominance, Russia’s economy performance makes it impossible to call it a new superpower. At least for now.
At least not while it’s suffering from crippling Western sanctions imposed after Putin’s actions in Crimea. Interestingly, Russia’s economy had seen pretty significant annual growth before it was hit by the sanctions.
But the sanctions have stalled Russia’s economic growth and made it very unattractive in the eyes of investors. However, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) says in its 2016 report that Russia is expected to return to growth next year.
That, of course, if oil prices don’t collapse again. And if U.S. President-elect Trump, who’s believed to have a friendly attitude towards Russia, puts pressure on the West to withdraw sanctions against Moscow, Russia’s economy could even fully recover from crisis.
But for now, Russia has to settle for living under the sanctions. In fact, the IMF says Russia’s anti-crisis measures helped Moscow mitigate the crisis and lessen the impact of recession.
It also helps that Russian authorities have repeatedly called for the diversification of the Russian economy to return to growth. For now, the nation relies on oil exports for much of its wealth. But with the current low oil prices, Russia can’t profit much.
China vs. U.S. vs. Russia: Who’s military dominates the world?
In assessing the military might like a mechanic might look under a car’s hood, it’s fair to say that defense spending is one of the most important indicators of military might.
That’s because big bucks spent annually allow countries to build and buy new military equipment, which, in turn, makes their overall militaries stronger.
The U.S. spends in defense more than the rest of the world combined, a whopping $711 billion per year. China, its closest military spending rival, spends only $143 billion. Russia, meanwhile, spends nearly two times less than China, $76 billion.
Military China vs. U.S. vs. Russia: Manpower
It’s no secret that China has a significant edge when it comes to manpower and the number of active military personnel. But you can hardly call China a new superpower just because it has more people.
China has a population of over 1.3 million, while the U.S. population stands at about 320 million. The manpower available to China at any given time is 5 times higher than that of the U.S. Meanwhile, Russia’s population barely even reaches 150 million.
While China is able to call upon nearly 750 million people in case of military confrontation, the Asian nation has around 2.4 million active military personal. By contrast, the U.S. has 1.5 million, and Russia has only 766,000.
Military China vs. U.S. vs. Russia: Air power
Even if Russia and China’s aircraft fleets are combined into one, it doesn’t stand a chance against the U.S.
The U.S. owns nearly 14,000 active military aircraft, while Russia has in possession some 4,000, and China less than 3,000. Even if you delve into each countries’ aircraft breakdown, the U.S. is vastly superior in numbers in every area of military aircraft.
Just look at the number of attack helicopters. There are 8,400 of such helis in the world, and the U.S. has 6,400 of them. By contrast, Russia has less than 1,000 of active attack choppers.
It’s also a crucial indication that the U.S. enjoys an unmatched technological advantage in terms of its air power.
Military China vs. U.S. vs. Russia: Land systems
Russia and China enjoy a slight edge in some areas of the land-based military equipment department. And if combined, Russia and China’s land-based military might become an intimidating force to be reckoned with.
China has marginally more tanks than the U.S. Russia, meanwhile, has twice as many tanks as the U.S. While China has in possession some 9,150 active tanks, the U.S. has only 8,800 and Russia owns a whopping 15,500 active tanks available for military service.
Russia’s constant technology advances also make Russia – to put it this way – the new superpower in terms of tanks. Just one mention of the revolutionary T-14 Armata tank, unveiled by Russia last year, says enough about Moscow’s might in this department.
However, not all areas of China and Russia’s land-based military systems dominate the U.S. In terms of its armored fighting vehicles, the U.S. dominates the rest of the world by a long shot.
With more than 41,000 armored fighting vehicles, the U.S. surpasses both China, with less than 5,000 of such vehicles at its disposal, and Russia, with its 10,720 armored fighting vehicles. Even if combined, the two nations, which have been enjoying friendly ties lately, stand nowhere near the U.S.
Military China vs. U.S. vs. Russia: Naval might
Both China and Russia dominate the U.S. in terms of their naval might. And if combined, the two nations form a new superpower nexus to be reckoned with on the sea.
China, which has been stepping up its naval power since 2015’s South China Sea differences with the U.S., currently has 673 warships, submarines and warfare boats in its possession.
Russian Navy, meanwhile, boasts 280 active vessels, and the U.S. owns about the same number of active ships, 273, according to CNN.
However, the U.S. is no match for China and Russia in terms of its active aircraft carriers, which are crucial to deploy all of that aircraft to attack the enemy. While the U.S. boasts 20 active aircraft carriers, China and Russia have only one active aircraft carrier each.
Interestingly, China’s only active aircraft carrier was purchased from Russia.
The U.S. also has a slight edge in terms of submarines. However, if Russia and China combined their submarines into one force, the U.S. would be in big trouble. The U.S. currently boasts 72 submarines at its disposal, while China has 67 of such vessels and Russia owns 63 submarines.
Military China vs. U.S. vs. Russia: Nuclear superpower
The latest official figures indicate that Russia is the nuclear superpower, to put it this way.
Russia boasts a whopping 7,300 nuclear weapons in 2016, according to the Federation of American Scientists. That’s more than any other country in the word.
The U.S., meanwhile, has 6,970 total nuclear weapons. China rounds up the top three with its 260 nuclear arms.
But the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) thinks the gap between Russia and the U.S. nuclear arsenals is slightly less extreme. According to SIPRI’s 2016 study, Russia owns 7,290 nuclear weapons, compared to America’s 7,000 nuclear arms.
However, even though the U.S., Russia and China are said to be downsizing their nuclear arsenals, each of them is believed to be modernizing their current nuclear firepower to create unmatched all-destructive nuclear weapons.
While Russia and China’s nuclear arsenals – if combined into one – is once again a big trouble for the U.S., it can be argued that possessing more nuclear weapons than other nations gives a country the status of new superpower.
China vs. U.S. vs. Russia: Cyber warfare
China has had unprecedented success with its cyber warfare and cyber espionage advances. There have been quite a few reports that China has used its cyber capabilities to steal secrets, both military and non-military, from other countries, including the U.S.
China’s revolutionary success with cyber warfare is so impressive that the country can access foreign networks while easily denying foreign countries access to their own networks. Russia has also apparently stepped up its cyber warfare and cyber espionage capabilities to target rivaling countries.
However, analysts easily run into a big problem when putting China, U.S. and Russia’s cyber warfare capabilities into perspective. And that problem is this: there’s no telling how good the three nations are at cyber warfare and cyber espionage.
Just because there have been no major reports – apart from WikiLeaks revelations – of the U.S. hacking into other countries’ secrets, that doesn’t mean the U.S. is lagging behind in this department.
On the contrary, it could mean that the U.S. is so advanced in cyber warfare that its cyberattacks cannot be even detected by foreign nations.