Amid all the hype about China becoming the world's new superpower, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that people have been expecting this moment for a long time. A really, really long time.
Here's a passage from Barbara Tuchman's excellent biography of Joseph "Vinegar Joe" Stilwell, the U.S. general who tried in vain to prop up Chiang Kai-Shek and the nationalists:
America at this time [the early 1900s], newly directed toward Asia by the recent acqiusition of Hawaii and the Philippines, was dazzled by the vision of the opportunities for her enterprise and outlets for her commerce in the Far East. China seemed the area of America's future and took on vast importance. John Hay was credited with having said that whoever understands China holds the key to the world's politics for the next five centuries. "Our future history," declared President Theodore Roosevelt in 1905, "will be more determined by our position on the Pacific facing China than by our position on the Atlantic facing Europe."