Even before Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy protection in September 2008, war, scandal, economics and politics had plunged Americans into sullen self-deprecation. Commentaries in newspapers and books announced the Post-American World. China was riding high on the success of the Beijing Olympics, its grand coming-out party. It came out relatively unscathed in the first phase of the global financial crisis that followed Lehman Brothers’ collapse. Sustained economic growth and rising prosperity in Asia were shifting the global balance of power eastwards.
It was around this time that Martin Jacques’ When China Rules the World first hit the bookstores, the certainty of its title confirming Americans’ fears. Four years on, an updated edition is out. The US is not fully out of the latest of its periodic bouts of declinist thinking, but, as I have argued in these pages, China finds itself in its most vulnerable moment in two decades (see “Dealing with a vulnerable China”, November 21, 2011).