Superpower Futures

The Rise of BRIC’s

  • BRICs -Brazil, Russia, India and China.
  • They are all emerging superpowers, and some argue that China is already a superpower.
  • The economic growth includes the benefits of reducing the number of people living in poverty, an increase in the size of the middle class and better access to goods and services.
  • However, this is not spread throughout the country such as China has a large disparity between the prosperous, urban coastal zone and the poor rural.
  • The rise of the BRICs also gives to further concerns:
  • Accelerating demand for and consumption of energy and other resources.
  • Adverse impact on the environment from global warming to localised pollution.
  • The uneven distribution of the benefits of economic growth, although the numbers in poverty is declining, there is a widening gap between the rich and the poor.


  • Only one of the BRIC now that can challenge the US.
  • It is a communist one-party state.
  • Rapid economic growth between 7.5% and 10%.
  • Significant military power.


  • China has had an increasing demand for raw materials because of its expansion as a superpower.
  • It has accounted for 90% of the global increase in sea traffic so far in the 21st
  • It makes 500 million tonnes of steel a year- 33% of the world’s output.
  • It has a steel industry four times larger than that of the USA.
  • It is the largest producer and consumer of steel in the world.
  • China is the largest consumer of cement in the world.


  • The high demand is a result of the requirement for construction in their cities which is driven by the economic growth (7.5%-10%) a year.
  • The demand from China is so large that three largest mining companies of iron ore who control 80% of the supply decided to raise the global price of iron ore by 70%.
  • The control of iron ore from these countries are so great that they are able to control prices and can restrict supply when demand is high.
  • This is similar to the operations of OPEC.
  • China has tried to guarantee supplies by buying companies which supply metals that they require.
  • China hopes that they can control the future supplies and prices of raw materials in 2007, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of Chain bought a 20% stake in Standard Bank Group.
  • Standard bank Group is South Africa’s largest bank and has an influence on South African’s mineral reserves.
  • This is similar to China’s aim to guarantee their fuel supplies. This is through China protecting its oil imports from the Middle East by upgrading its military in the South China Sea, closer ties with Burma and expanding naval access in Bangladesh.


Superpower Status

  • China has had large economic growths: 5%-10% a year.
  • Demand for resources: fuel and raw materials. It is the world’s largest consumer. By 2050, China will consume annually more oil and paper than the world currently produces.
  • This has led to a focus in Africa. Around 30% of all China’s oil comes from Africa and China has invested $8 billion building oil pipelines in Sudan. Most investment goes to African governments, TNCs and Chinese companies.
  • Large industrialisation because of the cheap labour rates and free of environmental restrictions or planning applications.
  • China’s wealth was previously used for domestic re-investment such as the creation of a new airport in Beijing.
  • Strong trade which is larger than the USA’s exports, e.g. China earned $360 billion more. It is now available for takeovers and mergers with overseas companies.
  • China has the largest sustained GDP growth in history.
  • Public spending on health and education over 50 years has provided a literate, healthy and skilled workforce.
  • China developed an ‘Open-Door Policy’ in 1986 which allowed overseas investment and a transferal to a more capitalist economy.
  • Since 2000, China has been the largest recipient of overseas investment.
  • China has 20% of the world’s population.


The Environmental Costs of Growth

  • China has 16 out of the top 20 most air-polluted cities in the world according to the World Bank. China is the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide. Beijing’s pollution is 2-3 times higher than the levels considered safe by the WHO.
  • Coal fired power stations account for 70% of China’s energy production. It is also the world’s leader in car sales.
  • The increase in smog has resulted in a dramatic decrease of solar radiation from 1954 to 2001.
  • An estimated 200 Chinese cities fell short of the WHO standards for the airborne particulates responsible for respiratory disorders. It was suggested by WHO, 50,000 new-born babies are killed as a result of air pollution.
  • 30% of China suffers from acid rain, caused by the emissions from the coal-fired power stations. China opens two power stations a week.
  • 70% of China’s rivers and lakes are polluted. The quality of the Yangtze River is not fit for spraying on farmland, yet 1 in 12 rely on it for drinking water.

The Social Costs of Growth

  • The rural gap is suffering from the development gap because it doesn’t benefit from the economic boom in China.
  • 20% of China’s population live on less than $1 a day and those who constructed the Olympic facilities earned $4 a day.
  • Human rights groups have pressurised Beijing because of their abuse, e.g. in 2008 they banned non-residents from being in the city: beggars and those with mental illness.
  • There is little freedom of thought or communication through lack of access to sections of the internet and radio jamming.

China’s Military Superpower Status

  • The US Pentagon estimated that China’s annual budget in defence could be $90 billion. They are the third largest defence spender in the world.


  • This country was the last part of the USSR.
  • Nuclear weapons proliferation.
  • Oil and gas reserves.
  • Imbalanced population via ageing.


Rising Tensions

  • The future of superpowers is likely to be multipolar. It will compromise of:
  • The present superpowers such as EU and USA.
  • The emerging superpowers including BRICs.
  • The energy superpowers such as Russia and Middle Eastern states.
  • Increased tensions are likely because there will be no dominant superpower and all powers will strive to prove their superiority.

Brazil and Russia for example possess large numbers of resources that other countries require.