As a "small-r" republican I would much prefer to see a multipolar world than one easily dominated by an imperial U.S., but I am skeptical about this happening within my lifetime. As the Pew report suggests, our predictions of the rise and fall of dominant powers tend to be driven more by popular excitability than by historical logic. For example in the 1930s, most people believed that Germany would overtake the U.S. In the 1960s it was obvious the U.S.S.R. would do so, and in the 1980s Japan’s rise to global dominance seemed inevitable.

Michael Pettis
Pettis, an expert on China’s economy, is professor of finance at Peking University’s Guanghua School of Management, where he specializes in Chinese financial markets.
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There are however few cases in history, and none in modern history, of a less open power replacing a more open one. This is probably not a coincidence. The great strengths of the U.S., and fundamental to its rise, include its ability to adjust rapidly and its enormous creativity. It is hard to believe these qualities will become less important in the future.

China, on the other hand, faces tremendous challenges that will determine how successful its 30 years of economic reform will have been. This is not to say that China cannot meet the challenges, but it does mean that the jury is still out.

Strange as it may seem, many years of miracle growth are always the “easy” part for a poor country. The tough part is usually the subsequent adjustment needed to accommodate the changes generated over the miracle years. Few countries have done so successfully. As someone who loves living in China I hope that the country is able to open up its society, create the kinds of institutional reforms that encourage innovation and creativity, and allow the necessary cultural and intellectual space for its people, but for now I worry that unless Europe recovers its elan the days of a truly multipolar world are still far away.

This article was originally published in the New York Times.