At the end of World War 2 the United States was the strongest economy and military force on the planet. It used that position to impose itself upon the world for the next 60 years. Potential threats to that hegemony were crushed, through persuasion, economic blackmail via the dominant position of the US dollar, regime change of recalcitrant governments, and in many cases invasions and occupations. Tens of millions died and social structures were devastated.
The lack of any serious challenger during those decades bred a mentality of exceptionalism: that the ordinary rules of civilised conduct did not apply; that their way was the only acceptable way; and that their hegemonic monopoly would last forever.
Despite the constant propaganda, the Soviet Union was never a serious threat, and China was too preoccupied with internal convulsions to have much influence beyond its own national borders or those countries immediately adjoining.
The past two decades however, have seen significant changes, the pace of which is accelerating. After the Yeltsin era of the 1990s, Russia began a steady rejuvenation off its economy and political status. China began its true Great Leap Forward following the reform and opening up of its economy and society under Deng Xiaoping in the late 1970s. The results are unparalleled in modern history. Per capita income in China is 25 times what it was when Deng’s reforms began. Poverty levels, as measured by the World Bank have shrunk from more than 90 percent of the population in 1978 to less than 2 percent today.
China’s GDP growth rate has been sustained at a level about three times the rate of most developed economies, and has done so for several decades. On a parity purchasing power basis, China is now the world’s largest economy, and that superior economic position will continue and grow for the foreseeable future.
Not the least of the reasons for China’s dynamic growth is their investment in education and in particular science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). About one quarter of all STEM workers in the world today are Chinese. The expectation is that by 2025 (a key date in Chinese planning) there will be more Chinese STEM workers than in the whole of the OECD combined.