Are we better than them? No, we’re not.
Are they better than us? Not either.
Are they dynamic, hard charging, smart, ambitious? Yes.
And so are we.
It would take doing the ostrich number, burying our heads in the sand, to not allow for the possibility they may surpass us in the near future.
They are moving up in the world, not by committing to security issues but by doing business. In Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, Europe, the rest of Asia, Australia.
While we’re battling racial issues, they’re pushing ahead with their plans to rise as fast as they can in every dimension. Space exploration? They’re already there and moving confidently.
Liabilities? Yes. Their autocratic regime. The intrusive governmental vigilance.
It has to be suffocating. But at this point, their fast rise in world standing allows the Chinese people to say to themselves, ‘we’re getting something for our sacrifices.’
Have the Chinese stolen intellectual property? They have and probably will continue to do so. But to think their rise is owed to their theft of knowledge from the West is to miss the fact that they have enormous scientific, technological and industrial capacity of their own.
It’s there in plain sight.
To deny it is to do the ostrich number.
We have not had an adversary of such stature since the Soviet Union in the Cold War. We went on to win that war because of our stronger economy. But China is clearly different.
The Chinese are not tying up their economy building nuclear weapons like the Soviets did. No, they’re making things, and selling what they make to a world eager for their products.
We pride ourselves with our ability to compete. Now the Chinese are saying to us, ‘let’s compete.’
They are saying to us, ‘you brag about your ability to compete. Well, we say to you, we will out compete you, and move past you.’
They are daring us and the whole world is watching.
Do we take them on?
Sure, they took advantage of preferred status in the World Trade Organization and even tried to rig the rules. But there they are. Strong and ambitious. Not willing to bow to anyone. Period.
It has to be exhilarating for their citizens. A nation that has been ruled by western nations and Japan, now standing tall and saying, ‘we have arrived!’ “We’re here on earth and we’re out there in space, too!’
So what are we going to do?
We can complain that they’re ungrateful, as if American companies didn’t make and keep making plenty of money from the vast Chinese markets.
We can and should decry their human rights abuses, their treatment of the Uighurs in Xinjiang, and the violation of their accord with the British in Hong Kong.
But that doesn’t address the main issue, the fact that their star is rising faster than ours.
And we either confront it or let them move past us.
Our pride is too strong to go with the second option. But to confront China’s rise we have to do some major work in our nation. Long overdue work we thought we could ignore and it would go away by itself.
Let us first consider leadership.
We don’t have any at present. A person who divides is a tribal leader. America has no use for that now. Never did.
The fact that we elected one is a sad chapter in our political history.
But a leader, man or woman, who is able to sit down and talk to us, will have a powerful healing effect. In our hearts and minds, right now, today, we’re all hoping for such a person to step up.
It could well be Joe Biden.
If he has it in him, then he would have to address every sector of this country, address it and say, ‘we can’t do this alone. We’re all part of the solution, we have to come together. Everyone has something to contribute, no one is better than the other. If we don’t pull together, we’ll fall behind. The task for the nation is clear. We must act now.’
To do that we have to forgive. Yes. Forgive that in the matter of race we’ve made blunder after blunder. And so, too, in the matter of growing inequality.
Of course, every group will have complaints and grievances, and every group will feel they should be first in line.
Our leader, will need to hear all of it, to understand and then use it to start down the road to compromise. We’ll have to go down that road because without compromise we won’t get ahead.
We can look at China and say they’re not free. But neither are we. There’s no freedom in disrespect of others, no freedom in systemic racism, no freedom in institutionalized unfairness, no freedom in not having access to proper education and health care, no freedom in living in a dangerous neighborhood without clean and safe water and proper lighting and housing.
The Chinese are saying to us, ‘we’ll move past you because you can’t get your house together.’
They’re saying to us, ‘you can’t manage your differences.’
And they have a point. That is the Chinese challenge to us. They are telling us, to our faces, ‘dare to be more productive than we are’.
Can we do it?
I think we can. And as we learn to do so we’ll discover great riches. Human and creative riches. Riches that lie trapped in differences not understood.
For instance, how we address immigration will be key. Immigration has contributed enormously to who we are. We should be open to it.
The genetic pool from which China draws talent is enormous, nearly three times ours.
But we have always been a magnet for people from all over the world wanting to improve their lot. There are riches in staying open to the world.
A strong, compassionate leader will help us work with our differences to come together.
Renewal is essential to survival. China is challenging us. We are more than capable of taking them on. And also capable of botching the opportunity.
Oscar Valdes is the author of Psychiatrist for a Nation. Available on Amazon.