Growing Chinese hegemony is no threat to the US. Here's why.
I don’t fear China and I don’t think you should either. If you listen to people like President Oompaloompa or this guy, a powerful China is a threat to American hegemony.
Except it isn’t.
Throughout history, an existing power is replaced by an emerging power when the emerging power has a superior sociopolitical system to the one being replaced. We can debate technology, economics, and military strength, but all these are directly influenced by terms of justice, fairness, and checks against abuses of tyranny, along with the political structures that serve to protect these ideals. Numerous volumes have been published on the rise and fall of the Roman Empire and all the influencing factors, but it could all be summed up like this: the Roman Empire arose to dominance because it had a superior sociopolitical structure than its neighbors, and it fell because the sociopolitical structure of its neighbors became superior. Similarly, the European colonial empires conquered the world because they had a superior sociopolitical structure to that of the conquered peoples, and then fell when those same people developed systems that were more fair, more just, and more stable than the European colonial empires.
(More on that later)
Under this model, the current state of the Chinese government supports only a cap against Chinese influence relative to that of the United States or Europe.
Little spoken is the persecution of Muslim Uyghurs in Eastern China, subjugation of Tibet, a culture of glorified racism, or any of a plethora of activities branded as human rights abuses on behalf of the state. These aren’t just issues; they’re a hindrance to progress.
Among those abuses of state is one aspect that, until the Chinese government deals with it, makes the American and European sociopoltical systems superior: censorship. The Haudenosaunee teach us that when one voice is silenced, everyone suffers. Central to American values is freedom of speech, and it is important for us to remember that this isn’t merely a civil right, but a vehicle for growth. There have been numerous abuses of human dignity throughout American history, but it’s important to remember that because we have freedom of speech ingrained within our values, it is possible for us to address and heal from these issues. There has been corruption and injustice, but because of free speech, we can call out corruption and injustice as such and we have avenues to deal with it. The Chinese government, by contrast, invests considerable infrastructure and resources to curtail freedom of expression. Chinese people aren’t even allowed to discuss historical events such as the Tiananmen Square massacre, and without the ability to discuss these things, it’s difficult to move on from them.
There’s nothing special about American people or Chinese people; people are people. And people are corruptible, greedy, selfish, and tend towards oppression and injustice. But the American sociopolitical system allows for free speech as a vehicle to answer these problems whereas the Chinese system has no such vehicle so long as the government is concerned.
We could also discuss the merits of market-based economics versus the command-based economics of the Chinese Communist Party, but it really doesn’t need to move beyond expression vs censorship.
Another reason to not fear China is that the world is both bigger and smaller than it once was.
Chinese growth is and has been buttressed by one thing and one thing only: a massive population of 1.3 billion people living under a single economic bloc, with a GDP of over 11 trillion USD, second only to the United States at 18 trillion. But when you look at other regions of the world, there appears to be a motion towards unity. If you count the European Union as a single bloc, you have over 500-million people and a GDP nearly 16.5 trillion USD which would place China third, not second. Then if you look at the AU, you have over 1.2 billion people and a GDP of 1.5-2 trillion and growing rapidly (six of the ten fastest-growing economies in the world are in Africa). Forty years ago, neither the EU nor the AU existed. And while neither of these blocs represent the degree of unity one sees with the United States or China, they do reflect a tendency towards political unity. We also have India with a population comparable to China and the third-fastest growing economy of 2018—China didn’t make the top ten.
In short, yes Chinese influence is growing relative to the United States, but other economies are growing faster.
This brings me to the other point. I remember back in 2005 when I created my first MySpace account. Yes, 2005. Thirteen years ago, social media didn’t exist. Just put that into perspective. Today’s younger generation we like to call Millennials, was born into a world in which our primary mode of social discourse did not exist. The speed of information has evolved so rapidly that I could, as I sit here, reach out to someone in China and ask about how their day went, in real time, and feed their answers into a translator.
This is not for naught, either. In this decade alone I have seen British Tories align with American Republicans in support of Marine Le Pen. I have seen Indian women stage protests against sexual violence coordinated alongside Brazilian, European, Arabic, African, and American women. I have seen solidarity between Iranian and Israeli youth, both sick and tired of the political status quo. There was a high school shooting the other day in Crimea; seventeen people were killed by a kid who’d been bullied, the same number who died in Parkland.
News is global. Commerce is global. Language can be translated in real time. People are able to travel anywhere in less than a day and make video calls to people on the other side of the world. With new currencies like Bitcoin and Etherium, money itself has begun to transcend national banks. You’re worried about China supplanting the United States, but give it another thirty years and the whole idea of nations and borders will be obsolete.
Unless of course China keeps with the whole censorship thing, in which case it they’ll get left behind.
Michael Patrick Lewis is a teacher, and bestselling author of Preferred Rewards. Check out my newest book, A Dance to Remember, a gripping tragic romance. You can also find him on Twitter @fakeMikeLewis.