The 2021 Economic Scorecard: How China stacks up with the US and its allies


Once upon a time, the dominant narrative about China’s rise went something like this: What used to be a country stuck in a state-run economic morass had, thanks to its embrace of open-market reforms, broken out from the pack—putting it on track to eventually converge with the world’s largest economies. China might become a geopolitical challenger of the United States and its allies, the narrative went, but commercially both powers would increasingly play the same game. The story we in the capitalist world told ourselves was perhaps even comforting: On the economic front, at least, what China really wanted was to be more like us.

But then China seemingly changed course. In recent years, an increasingly powerful Xi Jinping reasserted the role of the state in the economy. Beijing’s new direction was no longer so clear—or comforting. Amid this uncertainty, a counternarrative was born: China’s purported economic liberalization had been an illusion all along, designed to get a naive United States to give Beijing a free pass as it gathered strength to become a superpower.

Both of these narratives are wrong. With China, the story is never so simple. The truth is that China still hasn’t decided which direction its economy is ultimately headed. And we need a credible way to track its trajectory.


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