Forbes: Helen H. Wang
When China’s president Hu Jintao visits the U. S. this week, he will see a nervous America that seems to have lost its confidence. I have been on many radio talk shows recently to discuss my new book The Chinese Dream, the most common question I was asked is “Is China going to take over this country as our economy collapses?”
Americans today have become scared and paranoid. Such sentiments are not helped by doomsayers who have predicted America’s decline. In a recent article in Foreign Policy, Gideon Rachman, a foreign affairs columnist for the Financial Times, tells Americans that in the fable of the boy crying wolf the boy was eventually right: “The wolf did arrive – and China is the wolf.”
Rachman cited China’s population, its economic prowess, and its holding of $2.5 trillion in foreign reserves as evidence that China will replace the U.S. as a global hegemony. He lamented “America will never again experience the global dominance … those days are over.”
I disagree with Rachman’s assessment that growing Chinese economic clout will necessarily pose a threat to America. I have written about the myths of China as a superpower and global manufacturing power here and here. Today, however, I’d like to focus on what makes America a great country to begin with.
The United States of America is founded on the principle that all men are created equal. It is based on the idea that regardless of one’s background, with determination and hard work, one can achieve whatever one aspires to in life.
This very core of the American Dream has continued to unleash enormous amounts of human potential and creativity, and is still attracting top talent from around the world. I have talked to many Chinese young people, and many of them expressed the desire to come to America and obtain a green card.
Even Singapore’s president Lee Kuan Yew believes that China will not surpass the United States as a global leader mainly because of America’s ability to attract the best and brightest from the rest of the world.
Now, more than at any time, Americans need to be reminded what a great country America has been and still is. As British foreign policy expert Lawrence Freedman has pointed out, American power is based on alliances rather than colonies, and is associated both with an ideology that encourages individual aspirations and with a system that provides the means for people to achieve them.
It is no doubt that America today is facing an extraordinarily trying time. We are burdened with trillions of dollars in national debt and a high unemployment rate. Our troops are fighting two wars thousands of miles from our soil with money we do not have.
Harvard University distinguished service professor Joseph Nye, author of The Future of Power (forthcoming), has a detailed analysis of the challenges America faces internally and externally. Plenty of evidence shows that the case for an American decline is incorrect. For example, America is ranked at the top in opportunities for entrepreneurship, and 70 percent of U.S. venture capital is invested in domestic startups. America is not only the most competitive country in information technology, biotechnology, and nanotechnology, but is also a frontrunner in agricultural innovation. American inventors register more patents than the rest of the world combined.
I have complete confidence in America’s ability to reinvent itself. Despite the financial troubles we are in, our economic system is fundamentally healthier than China’s. Despite the political mess in Washington DC, nearly everyone in the world wants to live in a democratic society.
China’s ascension as a major economic power provides an excellent opportunity for America to reinvent itself. In my book The Chinese Dream, I urge people in the West to see the differences between China and the West as complementary rather than contradictory.
For example, a growing Chinese middle class will not only help the Chinese economy to rebalance from its current excessive-saving syndrome, but it will also create markets for American companies to sell into China and therefore alleviate the pain of America’s overconsumption. When the two major economies with opposite strengths and weaknesses can rectify and fortify each other, the world will be able to thrive on a virtuous cycle of globalization without being vulnerable to an American recession.
Most importantly, in order for America to live up to the challenges of the 21st century, it needs to move away from “the global dominance” mentality as stated in Rachman’s article. That is precisely the mentality that led to America’s arrogance in world affairs and caused anti-American sentiment in some parts of the world.
Globalization allows the “rise of the rest.” The world is moving toward what Fareed Zakaria called “multi-polar order” with major players such as the U. S., European Union, China, Japan, India, Russia, Brazil, etc. The challenge for America in this new world order is to exercise a new leadership role that is not about preserving hegemony, but about consultation, coordination, and even compromise.
If America cannot play that role, no one else can – not Beijing, not London, not Moscow. But if America can live up to this challenge as the global leader, America’s best days are still ahead.
- Think Again: America’s Best Days Are Still Ahead (blogs.forbes.com)
- The US And China: Rivals That May Need Each Other – NPR (news.google.com)
- Joseph Nye: China and the US (huffingtonpost.com)
- Zero-sum World: Politics, Power and Prosperity After the Crash by Gideon Rachman – review (guardian.co.uk)