The United States has been in charge of the world since 1945. Could anyone have done a worse job? Despite huge increases in productivity, the middle class is stagnating. Despite no challenge to US military might for the last 30 years, our country continues to be the world’s biggest bully. We have abrogated treaties, undermined legitimately elected leaders in dozens of democracies (in service to our largest corporations). We have bombed innocents and supported dictators and made a lot of enemies.
Some people are afraid of what might happen
if when China’s growth carries her well beyond the US, and China becomes the reigning superpower. I look forward to this time as probably a reprieve from violence and a restraint on international policing.
In American eyes, the contest between America’s and China’s political systems is one between a democracy, where the people freely choose their government and enjoy freedom of speech and of religion, and an autocracy, where the people have no such freedoms. To neutral observers, however, it could just as easily be seen as a choice between a plutocracy in the United States, where major public policy decisions end up favoring the rich over the masses, and a meritocracy in China, where major public policy decisions made by officials chosen by Party elites on the basis of ability and performance have resulted in such a striking alleviation of poverty. One fact cannot be denied. In the past thirty years, the median income of the American worker has not improved: between 1979 and 2013, median hourly wages rose cent—less than 0.2 percent per year. In the same period, China has lifted 800 million people out of poverty and created the largest middle class in the world.
Many in the West have been alarmed by the enormous power Xi has accumulated, taking it as a harbinger of armed conflict. Xi’s accumulation of power, however, has not fundamentally changed China’s long-term geopolitical strategy. The Chinese have, for instance, avoided unnecessary wars. Unlike the United States, which is blessed with two nonthreatening neighbors in Canada and Mexico, China has difficult relations with a number of strong, nationalistic neighbors, including India, Japan, South Korea, and Vietnam. Quite remarkably, of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United States, and the United Kingdom), China is the only one among them that has not fired a single military shot across its border in thirty years, since a brief naval battle between China and Vietnam in 1988. By contrast, even during the relatively peaceful Obama Administration, the American military dropped 26,000 bombs on seven countries in a single year. Evidently, the Chinese understand well the art of strategic restraint.
— Read more from Kishore Mahbubani at Harper’s Mag
John Keay looks at 2,500 years of Chinese history, and concludes that as the Chinese conquer foreign territories, they are usually content to leave in place local customs, cultures, and governments.