Politics Opinion

China and how America lost peer competition

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U.S. President Biden continues to escalate tensions with China while Australia loyally backs him (Image by Dan Jensen)

Australia is drawn more closely into the web of American anti-Chinese warmongering. President Joe Biden speaks of peer competition, yet on all fronts, and importantly on the domestic front, China is winning hands down.

The Australia-United Kingdom-United States alliance (AUKUS) announced on 16 September signals a new and dangerous stage of the anti-China position adopted by the U.S. and its most loyal of allies. Australia has been called on to play a bigger role in the region and one that will certainly make the region less secure and far more dangerous.

The move stems from fear on the part of America that it is losing power, prestige and dominance. It is a justifiable fear. China’s rise is not simply inevitable but actual and despite all the bluster, the drum beating, the warmongering on the part of the United States, the writing is well and truly on the wall.

The United States and its allies continue to seek ways of countering, containing and confronting China. Its military focus has shifted to one that speaks of great power rivalry. President Biden talks of peer competition and that America will prevail. The rhetoric may play well for a domestic market. Politicians and the media in Australia will seek to fan the flames of anti-China sentiment, but the Chinese horse has bolted.

There is little, apart from brute force and the pyrrhic victory of nuclear annihilation, that can alter the fact that the United States has had its day in the sun. The prize of biggest economy will soon belong to China, but the failures of America and of its loyal allies are being shown in so many ways.

China’s rise is based on its economic strength but also on a clear and relentless strategy that combines material wealth with social progress. The evidence is there for all to see. A quick look at the achievements that have taken place in just seven decades speaks for itself.

In 1950, China was among the poorest countries on Earth. Only Myanmar, Mongolia, Botswana, Burundi, Ethiopia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Lesotho, Malawi and Tanzania had a lower per capita GDP than China. While statistics can be tricky things, the point is clear — China was poor. Eighty per cent of its people were illiterate, life expectancy was just 36 years. There are Chinese who can remember what life was like.

From 2016, life expectancy in the USA actually fell. This shameful statistic was shared with Somalia, Afghanistan, Georgia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. An American and a Chinese can now expect to have a similar life expectancy, although the final ten years of life will, according to World Health Organisation (W.H.O.) figures, be healthier for the Chinese.

The W.H.O. statistics also tell us that maternal mortality rates are now lower in China than in the United States. The World Bank points to the fact that infant mortality rates are also moving in China’s favour. None of these figures are aberrations. It has been a steady and impressive march since 1949.

President Biden may speak of peer competition and of the U.S. prevailing but in areas that count, there is no longer any competition.

So, what are we to make of this? China’s development is remarkable. While it is true that the period since Deng Xiaoping “opened up” to the West has seen a dramatic rise in China’s productive capacity and its economic “miracle” is generally measured from the 1970s, the social capital has been accruing since 1949.

Those categories that are important to people – life expectancy, health outcomes, social security, education, shrinking infant mortality rates and maternal mortality – began to improve from day one. It formed a framework upon which the state was able to undertake the changes and improvements that are now being enjoyed by hundreds of millions of Chinese.

China has risen and with its rise has come a strong degree of legitimacy. Watching events from a distance is to get an impression of a people imbued with a sense of optimism. Domestically, it is delivering for its 1.4 billion people. Internationally, it is saying to the United States that it would be better for you not to see yourself as master of the universe.

It hardly takes a crystal ball to see that China will soon be the pre-eminent economic force in the world. It has made it clear that as its wealth grows, then so too will it be redistributed for the benefit of the Chinese people. All of this is enormously disturbing for the USA and its partners in AUKUS and any other acronym that we might care to consider.

Australia may join whatever new permutation of alliance that the USA might demand but it is a fool’s errand. The cost in dollar terms for such a militaristic adventure will be extravagant. The cost to the broader economy will potentially be disastrous and the result will be that China’s political legitimacy will strengthen, its economy will continue to grow and, by contrast, the sun will continue to set upon U.S. hegemony.

Biden will continue to speak of “competition”. The USA will spend and spend. Trillions of dollars will be poured into its military capacity but tonight, according to Save the Children research, one in six children in the United States will go to bed hungry. There is no “peer competition”.

Dr William Briggs is a political economist. His special areas of interest lie in political theory and international political economy. His latest book, 'China, the USA and Capitalism’s Last Crusade' is due to be published by Zero Books in October.

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