Rise of the Red Rival
On Thursday, October 1, 2009, the People’s Republic of China celebrated its 60th anniversary of existence with vibrant fireworks, powerful speeches, and lock-stepped parades. Its cities were filled with throngs of genuinely cheerful citizens; and, its leadership swelled with pride. Leaders from across the world congratulated the People’s Republic for its participation and influence in international affairs; and, they applauded the Chinese people’s recent but remarkable accomplishments: among them, that China’s economy has grown approximately 10% each year across the past three decades, and that – with a GDP of approximately $7.8T – it is the world’s second-largest economic system; that China’s military appropriated an estimated $60.3B last year to upgrade its 2.3M-member People’s Liberation Army (PLA) – the largest such army in the world; that the percentage of China’s population in higher education rose from 1.4% in 1978 to 20% last year, and that its population of undergraduates and doctoral candidates increased five-fold in the past decade – which represents one of the greatest expansions of educational opportunity in modern times; and, that Chinese leadership and influence have recently afforded hope and prosperity to far flung corners of the globe, particularly in Africa and South America. China’s efforts have fueled an incredible sense of optimism among its citizens; and, the Chinese Government has directed its citizens’ efforts toward important national aspirations. China, it seems, has begun its ascent to preeminence in international affairs; and, the increasingly apparent prospects of a Far Eastern power shift have undeniably jittered Western psychologies.
China has obviously secured extraordinary success in recent years; and, its people – through painstaking effort, sacrifice, and national resolve – have earned their international respect and acclaim. China is a beautiful country that maintains and honors its ancient culture and history; and, it’s people – by most accounts – are incredibly respectful and kind. Even their youngest children value education as a means to achieve their highest ambitions; and, their newfound optimism has encouraged them to fight for improved governance and work toward even greater accomplishments. If these people were our friends or neighbors, we’d admire them and often encourage our own children to follow their example. But, because their efforts threaten the United States’ global position, China is also our most formidable rival.
It’s easy to become discouraged by this newfound challenge: as we all know, the United States simultaneously faces many intractable obstacles that China does not apparently share. For instance, the United States must develop a strategy to sustain recent success in Iraq, and simultaneously transition its military force to other parts of the world; the United States must alter its military strategy in Afghanistan to repel a persistent and destabilizing insurgency; the United States must operate alongside Pakistani military and civilian personnel to defeat Taliban and al Qaeda fighters in Waziristan; the United States must work alongside both Israeli and Palestinian officials to realize a stable Two-State Solution; the United States must negotiate with belligerent Iranian leaders that suspiciously seek advanced nuclear technologies; the United States must engage NATO to contain Russia’s aggression against former Soviet satellites; the United States must engage the relocation of extremist Islamic power in the Horn of Africa and contain their spread throughout the Sahara; the United States must confront the recent expansion of Socialism in South America and limit its negative effects against American interests; the United States must engage allies in Latin and South America to win the persistent Drug Wars, which, in Mexico, are currently tattered; the United States must confront emerging economic forces in East Asia by bolstering confidence in the American economic system; the United States must continue negotiations with North Korea to disarm its nuclear military arsenal; the United States must galvanize divided Western powers against emerging alliances between Russia, China, Venezuela, Iran, and Cuba; the United States must support movements against violence and political repression in Darfur, Kashmir, Burma, Tibet, Cuba, and Columbia; and, the United States must handle various domestic issues that diminish its widely admired sense of confidence and optimism. Under such intense pressure and duress, it’s no wonder that some have asked: how can the United States possibly compete with China?
First of all, we must realize that we cannot prevent Chinese citizens from exerting themselves to improve their international position. We cannot do anything to convince China to interrupt its march toward global power; and, we ought not expect it to relinquish its national drive toward success and prosperity. In addition, we must expect China to succeed at some level in attaining its ambitions: China contains an immense population that’s intellectually driven and committed to ambitious national goals. The United States – despite its strength and effort – will be unable to totally deflect that momentum; and, it’ll likely learn to share considerable influence within the international sphere with China and other countries during our lifetimes. The rise of multilateralism is inevitable; and, the United States must not deny nor shrink from the New World Order.
But we ought not resign ourselves to defeat, either. The United States’ economy remains the world’s largest; and, its military is the best equipped and most experienced fighting force that mankind’s ever developed. The United States already maintains positions of strength in regions that China has only recently entered – including Africa and South America. And, the United States has already endured and overcome national traumas that have improved its governance and institutional structures. Even under these difficult circumstances, Americans generally lead positive lives – and, most international observers positively view the United States’ prospects in the years ahead.
But, the United States shouldn’t remain complacent: China’s success is real, and its actions have already begun to encroach on American national interests. To counter this rival, the United States must redevelop characteristics and practices for which it has historically been recognized – and, they ought to be directed against facets of Chinese society that Western nations find objectionable. For instance, the United States has historically been known to defend human rights throughout the world; and, China has one of the world’s worst human rights records. The United States should reinvigorate its international reputation for human rights by closing detention facilities in Guantanamo Bay; by unequivocally ending borderline torture techniques by its intelligence services; and, by eliminating extraordinary rendition – and afterwards, it such then confront China on its far more appalling human rights record against Tibet and the Uighur minority community.
The United States should also openly examine its strengths and weaknesses; and, it should then direct its efforts to quickly but effectively apply its strengths against its adversaries and to reinvigorate institutions in disrepair. For instance, our country’s K-12 educational system is widely discredited within both the United States and the international community; and, China’s educational system – as described above – is flourishing. We must recognize that without concrete and sustained reform, our educational system will be unable to compete with those in other countries; and, that China will inevitably develop an educational gap with the United States. Education reform – in this sense – is as much an important domestic issue as it is a human rights and national security issue; and, we must thereby confront it. We must also begin to match China’s decisiveness and national resolve within our democratic framework; to do so, the Republican and Democratic parties must begin to reconcile their bitter divisions and renew their commitment to pragmatism.
Many within our community have often asked: now that Soviet Communism has disintegrated in Poland, what should American Polonia’s mission be? Over the past several months, I have advocated for increased integration with American society and international communities to counteract ongoing global and domestic issues; and, although this might require an intellectual shift from purely Polish interests, I strongly believe that my views represent a long-required return to pragmatic action. In this New World Order, American Polonia ought to embrace multilateralism and tackle issues of importance to the West – and specifically, to our American and Polish homelands. Sino-American relations therefore fall within this category because they directly affect our lives in the United States and threaten Western influence throughout the world; and, since Poland is unambiguously tied to the West, it threatens Polish interests, as well.
Of course, there are many issues that fall within this paradigm; and, each offers opportunities to improve our own community’s role and influence in national affairs. However, if we remain convinced that such issues ought not concern us – and, that we ought to uniformly look toward Poland for matters to address – we might wake up someday to find that our own international stature has been surpassed by those who have rightly committed themselves to their national interests. Here’s hoping we never come to that moment; and, that we actively counteract these threats before they fully mature.
The Polish Weekly welcomes opposing viewpoints. To contact Thomas Mikulski, please send an e-mail to email@example.com.