By Peter Morici
America is in a Cold War with China and winning will require more from Americans than the contest that forced the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In contrast to the former USSR, China has a stronger economy and is deeply integrated into Western supply chains and prosperity. It is a formidable technological rival and increasingly behaves as the ascendant superpower, capable of doing as it pleases with little regard to consequences the West might impose .
Intellectuals, such as Henry Kissinger and Richard Haass , complain that Donald Trump will pull us into permanent confrontation with China and forgo the potential for cooperation on global threats like climate change.
However, they lack the courage to admit the failure of decades of U.S. policy that bear their fingerprints. Beijing’s conduct regarding the COVID-19 pandemic illustrates we cannot count on China as a reliable partner to address threats to all humankind.
China walked through that open door by practicing aggressive mercantilism that weakened the U.S. and European economies and helped enable the election of President Trump and rise of nationalist movements on the continent.
Since the early 2000s, the Chinese Communist Party has acted on the premise that the Soviet Communist Party’s embrace of Western liberal values precipitated its collapse .
President Xi Jinping has demonstrated through repression of Muslims in Xinjiang, the crackdown on Hong Kong , the South Pacific and a string of broken promises on trade that he believes China has no need to conform to Western norms and should impose its values through a China-centric system of refurbished international institutions .
China is pushing out in all directions— building naval power to enforce illegal territorial claims in the South China Sea and project into the Indian Ocean and Middle East , imposing tributary relationships on smaller states through aid and trade, and subverting the WTO , WHO and other international institutions.
The foundation of international power is domestic economic strength—that reduces to technological leadership.
Just as China invests in its navy and the Belt and Road Initiative , the Huawei challenge lays bare that America has let important technological assets decay. U.S. efforts at catch-up in 5G may come down to bankrolling a European competitor—Ericsson .
The Japanese , Australians , Canadians and Europeans clearly see the threat China poses to their values and security but are intertwined with China through trade and finance . Crafting an effective Western response will require America to shoulder more of the burden than Trump or Biden might like.
The first Cold War was won, most fundamentally, by the American record of superior prosperity and stability, and the Western embrace of American exceptionalism as by our performance and values.
Unlike 20 Century America, our nation is deeply divided with socialists gaining a foothold among our youth and in the Democratic Party. Demonstrations rage through our cities questioning the founding DNA of a nation not defined by ethnicity but rather Enlightenment ideals.
We must get our domestic house in order to again be a shining example—for this century.
Leftists offer few constructive ideas through demands for social justice. The federal government, states and big cities already celebrate civil rights heroes, and lavishly prioritize health care, social services, education and affirmative-action programs that have failed to move the needle for Black communities over several decades.
All acceding to their demands would accomplish is to denigrate our defining national heritage and add more wealth, under the marque of Black Lives Matter, to already privileged professionals within minority communities without lifting conditions generally for America’s disadvantaged.
The federal government must spend more on R & D —lest Huawei becomes a habit repeated throughout the technology space—and fund a bigger Navy with a base in the South Pacific to replace Subic Bay —11 nuclear carriers are not enough, especially given our commitments elsewhere.
Address endemic racism but without kowtowing to Robin DiAngelo’s caricatures of whites or extortionists’ demands for a false rewriting of history . And recognize that stronger growth to pay for it all, no matter who occupies the White House, is essential to prevailing.
Peter Morici is an economist and emeritus business professor at the University of Maryland.