US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping speak after an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting. November 12, 2014, Beijing, China. (Feng Li/Getty Images)

US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping speak after an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting. November 12, 2014, Beijing, China. (Feng Li/Getty Images)

When China’s economic output eventually surpasses America’s some time in the next decade, it will be the first time since the reign of George III that the world’s largest economy belongs to a country that is not Western, not English-speaking and not a liberal democratic state. Yet, in the asymmetric world that is emerging, the US will remain the dominant military force. The fulcrums of economic and military power are separating. Can these changes in the distribution of power occur peacefully?

It will be difficult. In Beijing’s eyes, the US is deeply opposed to China’s rise. A document circulated among the Communist party leadership last year summed up the consensus view. American strategy towards China, it said, had five objectives: to isolate the country, contain it, diminish it, divide it, and sabotage its political leadership.

These conclusions sound strange to a Western audience. They reflect the conviction of Communist party leaders that the US has not, and never will, accept the political legitimacy of the administration in Beijing because it is not a liberal democracy. They also reflect the Chinese view that the US will never willingly cede its status as the preeminent power in Asia and the world. Read more