Anyone with even a cursory eye on global politics knows that the future has China written all over it. The world’s most populous country is already the world’s largest trading nation, has the world’s biggest military force, is in the process of creating the world’s biggest mega city, has more Forex reserves than any other country, and is set to overtake the USA to become (not for the first time in its long history) the world’s biggest economy. (Alas, China is also the world’s biggest polluter!)

And now, it seems, they’re set to become world leaders in physics, too.

For decades, Europe and the USA have led the way when it came to high-energy particle physics, and their detectors have facilitated enormous progress in solving many mysteries in fundamental physics; cases-in-point: the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN; the Tevatron at Fermilab; etc.. But China’s plans to build the world’s largest particle accelerator - the Circular Electron Positron Collider (CEPC) - have been quietly gathering momentum. The CEPC "super collider" they’re hoping to build would be an underground ring twice the size of the already-gargantuan LHC - big enough to encircle an entire city - in which electrons and positrons would be smashed together. In principle this should allow physicists to probe even deeper some of the mysteries of fundamental physics.

International physicists agree that the proposed project seems feasible both in terms of cost and scope: if anyone can pull this off, it’s going to be China. Of course European and US teams have also expressed an interest in building their own super collider - but China could do so quicker, and unaided by international funding. What’s more, China hopes that their proposed collider could pave the way for an even bigger proton collider - a mega collider, if you will.

One possible concern is that particle physics expertise is not (yet) as strong in China as in Europe or the USA - but rather sensibly, Beijing plans to expand cooperation between China’s foremost physicists and the Western counterparts. As one of the leaders of the project remarked: "This machine is by and for the world.”

Regarding China, perhaps the West will soon have to realise: if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.