No, it is not a silly question -- merely one that is not asked often enough. Odd as it may seem, the country that is home to a fifth of humankind is consistently overrated as an economy, a world power, and a source of ideas. Economically, China is a relatively unimportant small market; militarily, it is less a global rival like the Soviet Union than a regional menace like Iraq; and politically, its influence is puny. The Middle Kingdom is a middle power. China matters far less than it and most of the West think, and it is high time the West began treating it as such.
Barry Buzan and Gerald Segal's Anticipating the Future boldly treks across disciplinary boundaries to look far ahead, but the authors underestimate the impact of the information revolution.
Deng Xiaoping has embarked on a risky strategy that pushes economic decentralization at a time when international forces are pulling China's regions apart. Provinces feud with each other over trade and with Beijing over taxes. East Asian neighbors, leery of a unified great power, exacerbate internal tensions by drawing China's fringes into competing economic spheres. Beijing is increasingly helpless to assert its control, and real power on a range of issues has already devolved to the local level. As the last of the old guard acquiesces in the move from Mao to market economics, China may not only be changing face but also shape.