We definitely don’t wish to “exaggerate” the growth of China’s economic, political and military power—just to recognize its true extent and significance. Thus we are not at all suggesting that China will someday (perhaps “very soon”!) replace the U.S. as the lone superpower, and become the one totally dominant imperialist country in the world!
True, the U.S. is declining in both economic and political power, while China is rising in both spheres. But this is not the same thing as saying that China is going to replace the U.S. in the current world setup!
For one thing this notion falsely assumes that the nature of the present world is one totally dominated by a single imperialist country, and that any fundamental change in the present situation (other than world revolution ending imperialism totally) would have to mean the replacement of that dominant superpower by a different single dominant superpower. In other words, this notion implicitly rejects the central view we have been arguing for—that there is a world imperialist system, and not just a world basically under the thumb of a single imperialist superpower.
The actual situation is that there is a rising new imperialist power currently operating within that single world imperialist system, but whose strength might possibly eventually lead to a split (to one degree or another) within that system and the formation once again of two independent or semi-independent imperialist blocs, one led by the U.S., and the other led by China. It is still early in the process, but we can already begin to see the growing possibility.
While China is not about to “replace” the U.S. within the world imperialist system, there are nevertheless ever more serious economic and political contradictions developing between them.
In the economic sphere China is rising very fast, and will almost certainly soon replace the U.S. as the world’s largest economy. But even so, the U.S. will remain one of the world’s most important economies long into the future. Even if the U.S. is the center of an intractable new world depression (as some of us expect over the next decade or two), and suffers a horrendous financial crisis far worse than that of 2008-2009, the U.S. economy will still be one of the largest and most important in the world. (Just as was the case for the U.S., Britain, France, Germany and Japan during the Great Depression of the 1930s.)
Politically and militarily, the situation is much less dire for the U.S., at least in the short and medium time frames. On the one hand their problems are very serious and steadily mounting, but on the other hand they still possess much more strength than China for many more years.
However, the outcomes of the long U.S.-led imperialist wars in Iraq and Afghanistan should be especially noted. On the one hand the U.S. has largely prevailed militarily so far! But on the other hand it has failed miserably from a political perspective in its goal of setting up stable neocolonial client regimes which can maintain order and facilitate present and future exploitation by the U.S. and the other imperialist countries. Considering the several trillion dollars the U.S. has blown on these efforts this blatant failure is quite remarkable!
And particularly ironic, China now seems to be doing a better job in grabbing the oil in Iraq than the U.S. is! This is causing no end to consternation within the U.S. ruling class!
From the point of view of being able to utterly destroy any other country in an interimperialist world war, the U.S. is as strong as ever. The problem in that regard remains that Russia, and now also China, possess this same ability with regard to the U.S.
This means that interimperialist military contention, if it arises, and if both sides are sufficiently rational (by no means a given!) will have to take the form of proxy wars and the like. And the U.S. is incomparably stronger than China in this regard at present and most likely at least for years ahead, though here too the long-term trend is running against the U.S. It is important to recognize not only the present situation, but also the dynamic changes underway.
In any case, however, the U.S. is virtually certain to remain very powerful politically and militarily for a decade or more, despite the fact that its power and authority in both spheres is in fact gradually ebbing.
What we foresee is not China replacing the U.S., but rather China more and more contending with the U.S., for now within the world imperialist system, and quite possibly later in the form of two more or less distinct imperialist blocs.
 Tim Arango and Clifford Krauss, “China is Reaping Biggest Benefits of Iraq Oil Boom”, New York Times, June 2, 2013, online at: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/03/world/middleeast/china-reaps-biggest-benefits-of-iraq-oil-boom.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 “‘We lost out,’ said Michael Makovsky, a former Defense Department official in the Bush administration who worked on Iraq oil policy. ‘The Chinese had nothing to do with the war, but from an economic standpoint they are benefiting from it, and our Fifth Fleet and air forces are helping to assure their supply.’”
Sometimes the angst within the U.S. ruling class about this almost becomes comical! Iraq has once again become one of the world’s top oil producers, but as of June 2013 was shipping half of its production—an average of 1.5 million barrels a day—to China, and with China about to obtain even more of it. One liberal commentator, Robert Scheer, even claimed that this proves that “imperialism doesn’t pay”! After all, so the thinking goes, the U.S. spent more than $3 trillion and lost more than 4,000 soldiers in its war in Iraq to secure that oil for itself, and now China is getting much of the oil instead! That doesn’t seem fair to the U.S. imperialists. But of course these commentators are thinking about the older form of imperialism where imperialist powers owned colonies and their wealth outright. That is no longer how things work when there is a world imperialist system where all imperialist powers have the ability to exploit the neocolonies—once they are “pacified” through imperialist wars. [For more of this sort of lamentation and griping by the U.S. imperialists, see: “Issue of the Week: China’s big oil buy”, The Week magazine, June 14, 2013, p. 38.]