Remember the Cold War? I do. It was scary. I was afraid. I recall joining fellow students upon being told to duck under our desks, or head to the basement. Communism challenged us; Russia threatened us. Newspapers reported that the Soviet Union posed a serious military menace. Did they not have more offensive hardware? Our Navy was number one, but consider their tanks, artillery and military forces arrayed against us. Russian spies, we learned, performed dastardly deeds and “Com symps” in this country insisted their system was superior to our decaying capitalism. Could those arguing we might be “better dead than red” have a point? And even if neither side deliberately launched an attack, a nuclear accident could make life on earth uninhabitable (for those who survived).
Well, here we go again. This time it is China positioned at the opposite end of the geopolitical see-saw. No paper tiger here. Their population dwarfs our numbers. Their economic output is poised to outstrip ours, while their military poses a serious and growing threat. Technologically, they are our equals (we both have real estate on Mars), and what they themselves don’t devise, they appropriate or steal from us. China has informed the world that their system is more robust and dynamic than ours and that American weaknesses and political polarization render us no longer fit for world leadership, which they seem eager to assume (viz: one Belt, one Road).
Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev once warned America that, “We will bury you!” That prediction happily landed with a thud. Will we also, in the end, prevail over China? They’ve got problems galore (would you believe a growing shortage of workers?). And they are breathing air far more polluted than ours; furthermore, authoritarians likely have a discard date.
But it just may be that this new “Cold War” clash succeeds in bringing Americans together. We all agree that it represents a serious challenge and ongoing threat. Republicans and Democrats have actually joined forces to pass a multi-billion dollar package aimed to counter China and to bolster America’s technological capabilities. And our corporations, eager to peddle their products and services to hundreds of millions of increasingly prosperous Chinese, will certainly push hard to prevent a rupture in relations.
So what if we share the world with China? Surely it’s big enough for the both of us. Better a partner than an adversary.