A new intelligence assessment that projects China outstripping the United States as the leading economic power before 2030, but with the US remaining an indispensable world leader, has divided Chinese experts.
The product of four years of intelligence-gathering and analysis, the 137-page study, by the National Intelligence Council, said the US most likely would remain "first among equals" among the other great powers.
The study predicted that Asia's economy, military spending and technological investment would surpass that of North America and Europe combined by 2030, and warned of major uncertainty over an emerging China.
"If Beijing fails to transition to a more sustainable, innovation-based economic model, it will remain a top-tier player in Asia, but the influence surrounding what has been a remarkable ascendance will dissipate," it said.
But some analysts in China said it had a good chance to rival the US in some areas by 2030.
Shi Yinhong, director of Renmin University's American Research Centre, doubted the US would be the "first" among equals by then. "The US will remain very powerful in certain areas and retain its superpower status; but that doesn't mean it will be the only superpower or the 'first' before others."
Jin Canrong, associate dean of Renmin University's school of international relations, said China could rival the US in areas like economic growth or even cultural development.
But Tao Wenzhao, a senior researcher with the American Research Institute at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that he believed the US would maintain its status as the leading superpower by 2030, and that China was lagging behind by at least 50 years.
"It's likely that China's gross domestic product will be bigger than the US GDP by then. But it is definitely impossible for China to leapfrog the US in terms of comprehensive strength in less than 20 years, particularly in key areas like science and technology, education, and the military."
According to the study, the best-case situation for global security until 2030 would be a growing political partnership between the US and China. But it could take a crisis to bring Washington and Beijing together - something like a nuclear standoff between India and Pakistan, resolved by Sino-US co-operation.
The worst-case situation envisioned is a stalling of economic globalisation that would cause a worldwide slump. That would be a likely outcome of the outbreak of a health pandemic that, even if short-lived, would result in closed borders and economic isolationism.
The chief author and manager of the project, Mathew Burrows, said the findings had been presented in advance in more than 20 nations to groups of academic experts, business leaders and government officials, including local intelligence officers.
The New York Times, Agence France-Presse