The End of China’s Rise
Beginning in the mid-2010s—well before the tariff war with Donald Trump’s United States—China’s economic dynamism began to fade as the country’s investment- and export-driven growth model reached exhaustion. The imperative need to restructure toward domestic consumption–driven growth was hamstrung by growing demographic imbalances (e.g., the shrinking workforce) and mounting societal debt. China’s rapid international rise in relative material power terms had ended—or in a best—case scenario had stalled-while the leaders planned bold new reforms (which have yet to appear). What was the consequence of this development for Chinese debates on soft power in international relations? Did China’s troubled new economic outlook induce a caution in projections concerning Chinese soft power? The answer is no. Chinese analysts of soft power failed to perceive the country’s economic weaknesses. Instead, they continued to profess a probably misguided confidence that China’s unstoppable, inevitable economic rise would eventually translate easily into relative soft power gains.