A HUNDRED years ago it was perhaps already possible to discern the rising powers whose interaction and competition would shape the 20th century. The sun that shone on the British empire had passed midday. Vigorous new forces were flexing their muscles on the global stage, notably America, Japan and Germany. Their emergence brought undreamed-of prosperity; but also carnage on a scale hitherto unimaginable.
Now digest the main historical event of this week: China has officially become the world’s second-biggest economy, overtaking Japan. In the West this has prompted concerns about China overtaking the United States sooner than previously thought. But stand back a little farther, apply a more Asian perspective, and China’s longer-term contest is with that other recovering economic behemoth: India. These two Asian giants, which until 1800 used to make up half the world economy, are not, like Japan and Germany, mere nation states. In terms of size and population, each is a continent—and for all the glittering growth rates, a poor one.