Wednesday, September 26, 2018

3036. The Rise of China and the End of the American Century

By Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times, September 25, 2018
Chinese and Russian naval exercise in the South China Sea.

Editor's note: At the turn of the millennia, I wrote an essay for the Farsi socialist magazine Negah published in Sweden about the end of the American century.  Today's NYT columnist Thomas Friedman acknowledges as much except he seems to lay the blame in part on President Trump.  In this, he forgets the very fact that the rise of Mr. Trump itself is a telling signal of the relative decline of the United States as the hegemonic power.  If anything, Trump and the Republican party today represent a backward-looking political force that sees the power of American imperialism in the rear mirror. The Democratic party is not much better as it had joined the Republicans in the onslaught on the society and nature at least since the 1974-75 recession.  To grasp how imperialist and backward-looking the Obama administration was read again the leaked Hillary Clinton's speech to Gladman Sachs in October 2013 on how to confront China. I post the entire Friedman's text which includes his proposal on how to share the dominance over the world with China. Of course, humanity deserves much better but only if enough of us working people get organized and mobilized to challenge the world capitalist class.  KN

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Early in the movie “Crazy Rich Asians” a Chinese-Singaporean father admonishes his young kids to finish their dinner, saying, “Think of all the starving children in America.” I’m sure that everyone of my generation in the theater laughed at that joke. After all, we’d all been raised on the line: “Finish your dinner. Think of all the starving children in China.”

That little line contained within it many messages: The first, which any regular traveler to China’s biggest urban areas can tell you, is that rich China today — its luxury homes, cars, restaurants and hotels — is really rich, rich like most Americans can’t imagine.

The second is that this moment was destined to be a test of who will set the key rules of the global order in the 21st century: the world’s long-dominant economic and military superpower, America, or its rising rival, China. And this test is playing out with a blossoming full-scale trade war.

What does such a test of wills sound like? It sounds like a senior Chinese official telling me at a seminar at Tsinghua University in April that it’s just “too late” for America to tell China what to do anymore on issues like trade, because China is now too big and powerful. And it sounds like President Trump, in effect, telling China: “Says who? Show me what you got, baby!” Or as Trump actually tweeted last week: “We are under no pressure to make a deal with China, they are under pressure to make a deal with us. … If we meet, we meet.”

I guess we should be grateful that this confrontation has been confined to trade, but, as I said, it was inevitable. Because, as one top tech executive pointed out to me: “China is not a ‘near peer’ anymore. It is a peer.”

As Mary Meeker’s latest internet trends study noted, five years ago China had only two of the world’s largest publicly traded tech companies, while the U.S. had nine. Today, China has nine of the top 20 — Alibaba, Tencent, Ant Financial, Baidu, Xiaomi, Didi,, Meituan and Toutiao — and the U.S. has 11. Twenty years ago, China had none.

Do you see a trend? Do you hear footsteps? The total value of China’s internet economy is already bigger than America’s. And China’s economy now is so cashless that many women no longer carry purses or men wallets — just a cellphone with mobile apps — to buy anything, or even donate to a beggar.

And don’t get me started on the biggest emerging work and services tool in the world — artificial intelligence. China’s plan is to catch up to America in A.I. and surpass it as soon as possible, and it’s well on its way. Because with A.I., the more training data you can feed the machine the faster it learns, the more patterns you can see and the more algorithms you can write to improve products and services or invent new ones. Because China has so many more people than we do, and so many more of them use mobile apps for their daily lives, China’s ability to amass giant data sets and train more machines faster is considerable.

“If data is the new oil, then China is the new Saudi Arabia,” remarked Kai-Fu Lee, author of “AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order.”

Chinese companies are already the world leaders in computer vision/facial recognition and speech recognition, which can be used for commerce and for surveillance and societal control. In just the last two years there has been an explosion of fintech start-ups in China, offering mobile payments, lending, brokerage and banking. And the No. 1 and 3 drone manufacturers in the world — DJI and Xiaomi — are Chinese. France’s Parrot is No. 2. At the same time, China is producing far more engineers and scientists than the U.S., and their quality is steadily rising.

America today, by contrast, has become the unrivaled world leader in generating data about Donald Trump and from Donald Trump.

In the daily barrage of Trump news and tweets, some Trump statements are actually true, though — like the need for the U.S. to confront China’s unfair trade practices. China has grown incredibly these past 30 years with a very specific formula: hard work, unleashing capitalism, smart planning and long-range investments in education and infrastructure — but also by stealing intellectual property, forcing technology transfers and cheating on World Trade Organization rules.

We have to respond. But wisely.

Historically the U.S. could dominate the global scene and check a rising power like China, and set the global rules, with just our sheer physical mass — more money, more troops, more naval ships, more top-10 companies, more scientists and more universities. That is just not possible any longer, as China has become both big and smart in more and more areas. But all is not lost.

It happens that we have three huge assets that China doesn’t have, and is unlikely to acquire them anytime soon. We should be doubling down on our strengths: immigration, allies and values. Instead, Trump is squandering them.

Many of the smartest and most talented people in the world — high-I.Q. risk-takers — still want to come to our country. And in a knowledge-talent era, where companies thrive by being the first and fastest to put intelligence into everything they make, we should be welcoming more high-skilled immigrants than ever and giving green cards to every Chinese, and other foreign students, who come to America for advanced degrees. China can’t attract the best and brightest Indian, Israeli, Arab, French, Brazilian and Korean immigrants, but we still can. So why would we put out a sign saying “Go Away” or make it harder for their students to stay here?

Also, we have real allies in a way China does not. China has clients, customers and frightened neighbors. It does not have real partners like Canada and Mexico. It doesn’t have the whole Atlantic alliance with the European Union or tight relations with Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Australia — which we can leverage if we aren’t doing stupid stuff, like slapping them with steel tariffs or tearing up the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Finally, as a society, we stand for things — or at least we used to stand for things — values people admire, about the dignity of human beings, the rights of minorities and women and the virtues of freedom and the rules for fair play.

Our nation has never been just a beacon for profit-making, which only measured countries by their trade balance with us. Our values attracted people to our shores and helped us spread our rules onto the wider world. When Trump tore up the TPP trade deal I’m certain that he actually disappointed China’s economic reformers, who wanted to use the pact to create pressures inside China to reform.

In short, a strategic president wouldn’t squander our strengths but would reinforce them by creating a stronger global network of people and countries that share our values. We won the Cold War with a strategy of containment and bankrupting the Soviet Union by outspending the Kremlin on defense. But we will “win” this standoff with China, not by brute force alone, or by containment of China’s giant economy, but by “entanglement” — the entanglement of Chinese students with our schools, Chinese businesses with our values, and the Chinese government with our allies. That is, with the broad alliances and global institutions, and their rules of fair play, that we’ve been part of since World War II.

So we have to fight for those rules, and China will fight for its versions. But ultimately, I believe, the U.S. and China together will have to play the role that the U.S. played alone after World War II — to define the rules of the new international order, from A.I. to privacy to trade. And our weight in that process — we must never forget — will depend on the talent we attract, the allies we rally and the values we embrace and promote.

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