THE NATIONAL INTEREST — China’s transformation from an isolated, developing country into an economic juggernaut and emerging global actor is perhaps the most important power shift for twenty-first-century international politics. Its economy is now second largest in the world, while its military budget has ballooned from $20 billion in 1989 to $215 billion in 2015—an amount larger than the military budgets of Russia, Germany and the United Kingdom combined.
Fear surrounding the consequences of China’s rise has engendered the spread of misinformation and hyperbole, much of which dominates public discussion of China in the United States. Several persistent “myths” about China overshadow its many problems, including its deeply ingrained corruption, slowing economic growth and aging population.
These myths create an image of China as a dangerous usurper destined to displace the United States as the dominant global power. Breaking down the myths about Chinese power is critical to understanding China’s rise, its potential role in the international community and the evolving nature of U.S.-China relations.
Myth #1: China is a global military superpower.
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