Saturday, May 14, 2005

Does the future belong to China?

Does size matter? If so, China matters. Fareed Zakaria writes another stimulating piece.

Does the Future Belong to China? A new power is emerging in the East. How America should handle unprecedented new challenges, threats—and opportunities. By Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek.

...What America needs to do

What you can do is be better prepared. For Americans, this means a renewed focus on the core skills that have propelled the American economy so far: science and technology. The United States has been slipping badly in all global rankings of these fields. Its research facilities are dominated by foreign students and immigrants—but a growing number of them are staying home or going home. Without a massive new focus in these areas, America will find itself unable to produce the core of scientists, engineers and technicians who make up the base of an advanced industrial economy. China and India already produce many more engineers than does the United States. In five years, China will produce more Ph.D.s than the United States. They may not be as good as American Ph.D.s, but numbers do matter.

For the American government, the free ride may be coming to an end. It has run irresponsible fiscal policies, knowing that foreign governments and people would provide it with unlimited credit. But that credit comes at a price. When China holds huge reserves of dollars, it also holds the power to damage the American economy. To do so would certainly hurt China as much or more than it would America, but surely it would be better if U.S. policy were less vulnerable to such possibilities. Fiscal responsibility at home means greater freedom of action abroad.

In foreign policy, Washington will face two possibilities. The first is that China will push its weight around, anger its neighbors and frighten the world. In this case, there will be a natural balancing process by which Russia, Japan, India and the United States will come together to limit China's emerging power. But what if China is able to adhere to its asymmetrical strategy? What if it gradually expands its economic ties, acts calmly and moderately, and slowly enlarges its sphere of influence, hoping to wear out America's patience and endurance?

The United States will then have to respond in kind, also working quietly and carefully, also adopting a calibrated and nuanced policy for the long run. This is hardly beyond its capacity. America has been far more patient than most recognize. It pursued the containment of the Soviet Union for almost 50 years. American troops are still on the banks of the Rhine, along the DMZ in Korea and in Okinawa.

A world war is highly unlikely. Nuclear deterrence, economic interdependence, globalization all mitigate against it. But beneath this calm, there is probably going to be a soft war, a quiet competition for power and influence across the globe. America and China will be friends one day, rivals another, cooperate in one area, compete in another. Welcome to the 21st century.