On his first visit to China late last year, Barack Obama stuck closely to the script mapped out by his predecessors George W Bush and Bill Clinton.

He asserted that America welcomed China’s growing wealth and power. Relations between the US and China were not, he insisted, a “zero-sum game”. America was comfortable with a rising China.

Stefan Halper, a senior research fellow at Magdalene College, Cambridge and a former official in the Nixon, Ford and Reagan administrations, is having none of it. He believes that the coming decades will see an increasingly overt competition between the two nations. China, he asserts, “poses the most serious challenge to the United States since the half-century cold war struggle with the Soviets”. What is more, Halper is not particularly optimistic about America’s chances in this new struggle. His book is subtitled “How China’s Authoritarian Model will Dominate the Twenty-First Century”.

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Last week a Tibetan mastiff was flown into Xian airport in central China, where it received a welcome fit for an emperor.

The dog was swept into town by a convoy of 30 Mercedes-Benz cars. Tibetan mastiffs are a rare and noble breed – and the pampered pooch had cost his new owners Rmb4m ($586,000, €402,000, £351,000). Reporting the story, the China Daily newspaper commented nervously that such an extravagant display of wealth might “heighten tension between rich and poor”.

This shaggy dog story is just a particularly weird example of the new wealth of modern China. When I last visited the Pudong district of Shanghai, in the mid-1990s, it was a ramshackle area of factories and warehouses. Last week, I found it transformed into a forest of neon-lit, modernist skyscrapers. China has shrugged off the global recession and should grow by 8 per cent in 2009.

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