Fourth of July week is a good time to assess America’s position as the most powerful country in the world. This strength is expressed in a strong political voice based on a powerful economic and military status recognized by both friends and foes.
Several years ago, we went to Japan to witness the ceremony where our son took command of the 33rd Combat Air Rescue Squadron at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa. We spent a week there and had an opportunity to have long talks about his deployments, the pilots and crews he served with and the challenges America faces around the world.
In our conversations, I mentioned conferences I had attended that emphasized the importance of China and India as emerging economic powers and China’s military strength. At that time, the United States was heavily involved in Iraq where our son had done two deployments and Afghanistan where he had done three.
He did not hesitate to point out that our focus on the Middle East was misplaced and that the future fortunes of the United States depend largely on our presence in the Pacific and relationship especially with China. At the time (2015), the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade and economic treaty had been drafted and signed a year by Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and the United States.
The TPP was designed to organize and set the rules for the Pacific trade and economic activity rather than allow China to dictate those terms.
The Trump administration subsequently pulled out of the treaty and left the leadership to others. This is important because unlike the Soviet Union, China is also an economic power. With the Soviet Union, the United States under President Reagan took the route of outspending them to the point that they collapsed.
Their military might did them no good because they could not afford it. China is a very different story.
The allies in World War II won largely because of America’s industrial and economic power. That was the major secret to success. Like the United States, China has the same ability and potential. For example, “China’s standout economic growth in 2020’s pandemic-battered global economy has led analysts to update their forcasts for when China will overtake the U.S. as the world’s largest economy to as early as 2026.”
There are daily reports about China’s military and space efforts sometimes with side-editorials that they do not compare to the U.S. might in those areas. Yet, China with its 1.44 billion people and potential consumers against 331 million in the United States speaks volumes about the future.
When America confronted the Soviet Union after World War II it was nuclear power and the threat of mutually assured destruction that kept the countries from going to war. The China threat, however, is different as it is increasingly competing with the U.S. on equal terms especially in production and trade. Economic competition is the essence of capitalism. The fact that China appears to favor that approach over others should bring America a lot of comfort.
This is because capitalism is in part the American way. We should not be afraid of that type of competition because it is who we are.
The challenge is to reach out again and help put our international economic house in order especially in the Pacific rim. The “rules of the road” are most important in carrying out effective and fair trade.
Presently, that is our most important challenge. China does not wait.