Has the financial crisis weakened the United States globally and strengthened China?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Yes, it absolutely has.

This is not to say the US is weaker than China today.  The US still has a bigger economy in absolute terms and a much bigger economy in terms of GDP per capita.  It is also stronger militarily and diplomatically.  However, the crisis has strengthened China and weakened the US.  It has done so for two main reasons.

First, the US has become preoccupied with the crisis and the political fallout from that crisis.  As the US political system is in gridlock, it has much less ability to be strongly involved in world affairs than it has been.  This opens the door for China to be more important.

Second, the crisis has made the US/Western model look weak.  It had been assumed that Western capitalism was the way of the future and that all countries that wanted to succeed would adopt this way.  But that has been (rightly or wrongly) called into question and more people are thinking that China's more government-run economy is a better model.  This weakens the US in terms of the influence it has worldwide.

In recent years, it is true that the global power and prestige of the United States has slipped to some degree and that China’s power has risen.  The financial crisis and “Great Recession” have contributed to that.  However, there are two important caveats here.  First, the crisis and recession were not the only cause of the slippage in US power.  Second, that slippage is often overstated.

First, we must realize that the US is still much stronger than China in essentially every way.  The US economy is bigger, particularly on a per capita basis.  The US military is much stronger.  The US has more “soft power” than China does.  Therefore, we should not exaggerate the degree to which the US has slipped.

That said, the US has been weakened and part of the reason why is the crisis.  There are two main reasons why this has weakened the US.  First, it means that China’s system can look to others as if it is more effective than the US system.  Since the US went into recession and China continued to grow, there are those who think that the US system must be inferior to the Chinese system.  Second, the crisis has forced American leaders to look inward more than they might otherwise have.  This distracts them from cultivating American global power.

However, it was not just the Great Recession that did this.  The American involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan has also lowered US prestige to some degree.  In addition, it too has distracted the US and made it harder for American leaders to maintain the country’s level of influence around the world.


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