China and the United States


The English geographer Sir Halford Mackinder ended his 1904 article The Geographical Pivot of History with a provocative reference to China: should they expand their power well beyond their borders, “might constitute the yellow peril to the world’s freedom just because they would add an oceanic frontage to the resources of the great continent, an advantage as yet denied to the Russian tenant of the pivot region.”

Fear of yellow peril, accompanied by the rise of China over past 30 years, revives in the White world again, especially in the United States. The most fearsome peril virtually originates from the Americans’ anxiety of their possible loss of the leadership of liberal order settled after the Second World War.

The belief of America decline rose in 1957 after former Soviet Union launched Sputnik, in the 1970s after President Richard Nixon’s economic adjustments and oil crisis and in the 1980s after the rust-belt industries was closed and budget deficits rocketed in the Reagan era. But Chinese cannot be cause of American decline. The Americans themselves are, if it happens.

On the contrary, the US benefits from China’s development for the evident complementarities in each other’s economic and industrial composition. Mao Zedong said, the differences between friends cannot but reinforce their friendship. The Americans seek obedient alliances in the United Kingdom, Japan and Republic of Korea as a historical legacy, while, cooperative partnership based on mutual respect with China as required by globalization.

It is groundless for some pundits in the West to deem China, the second largest trader with the US, as number one imaginary enemy after Soviet Union collapsed. Former Soviet Union nations did not trade with any country excluded from their lists in Cold War era. China opened its door to business, and even cultures, thirty years ago, after Deng Xiaoping initiated his bold reform. Drawing lessons from its neighbors in Asia and the US, Chinese is building up their learning curve in international market through painstaking explorations.

Deng Xiaoping reminded his comrades to keep a cool head and maintain a low profile and never take the lead – but aim to do something big. It does not mean China is a selfish duty evader in international community, as interpreted literally by some from Western logic. Instead, Chinese people have been fed up with inflicted setbacks in its recent history. It is the choice any responsible leader will make if he or she were in Deng’s position.

Deng said reform is China’s second revolution. Compared with multiplication, division is more difficult. Insiders of Communist Party of China (CPC) call the second-round reform as the biggest challenge confronting their organization, which entails industrial structural transformation and timely institutional reform in governance.

A simple glancing at the information and biology research landscape, main indicators of new technology revolution, can tell you how far China is left behind by the US. Brain drain from China to the US started from 1847, when Yung Wing, the first Chinese from Guangdong province, went to Yale. It was some sporadic returned students from the US universities who made indispensable contribution the construction of new China. No wonder Deng Xiaoping once said: “When our thousands of Chinese students abroad return home, you will see how China will transform itself.”

Deng, studied in France himself, clearly knows that returned students will not only bring back cutting-edge know-how, but also illuminating ideas on institutional progress for Chinese governors. The two fields self-evidently supplement each other. The main reason that the West points fingers at China is this country has achieved unprecedented economic growth in human history in a different way from them and the momentum is seemingly gaining speed after recent international financial crisis. They fear so-called “China model” can set examples to other followers in the third world.

As far as I am concerned, there is no such thing as “China model” until China breaks through its institutional bottleneck, however. Otherwise, the false prosperity of China is always built up precariously on an unstable foundation. Mackinder is partly right in predicting in Democratic Ideals and Reality that along with the United States and the United Kingdom, China would eventually guide the world by “building for a quarter of humanity a new civilization, neither quite Eastern nor quite Western.”

If China can construct its new civilization or not depends on how well its governor deal with some challenges of life and death, for example, demographic decline. Population specialists believe that China became a sub-replacement-fertility society about two decades ago and that since then, birthrates have fallen far below the replacement level. The US Census Bureau puts China’s total fertility rate at about 1.5 children per woman, or 30 percent below the level required for long-term population stability.

How Beijing will support the coming tsunami of senior citizens remains an unanswered question. Nicholas Eberstadt, a senior adviser to the National Bureau of Asian Research of the US, thinks meeting the needs of its rapidly growing elderly population will place economic and social pressures on China that no country of a comparable income level has ever had to confront.

In contrast, The US population, according to US Census Bureau projections, is set to grow by 20 percent, or over 60 million people (from 310 million to 374 million), between 2010 and 2030. Virtually every age group in the US is set to increase in seize over the next 20 years. Unlike all other affluent countries, the US can expect a growing pool of working-age people (a moderate but steady rise averaging 0.5 percent per year over the next 20 years), and it can expect a slower pace of population aging than virtually any other state in the OECD.

Joseph S. Nye, Jr., University Distinguished Service Professor at Harvard, says, power is the ability to attain the outcomes one wants, and the resources that produce it vary in different contexts. Inheriting a shrinking labor force reserve, which is the main steam boosting China’s economic development and a laggard start in the race of new technology revolution as well as unsustainable institutional design, Chinese statesmen is facing another fatal test of their political wisdom and governance capabilities in a totally new international environment to their predecessors.

President Obama says, if you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress. China is not alone on the path obviously. A dynamic China is shaping the world with its huge population and great potentials. There is no excuse for the US, as a responsible leader of the world, to refuse to update its perspectives on such a cooperative and progressive fellow traveler on the path designed by the Americans.

The author is an editor of He can be reached at

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