Beyond the surface and inside the US-China competition | He Qinglian

Published (HKT): 2021.05.05 09:55

In the era of the global village, if either the American eagle or the Chinese dragon puffs away across the vast Pacific Ocean, the other will be able to respond in a timely manner. On April 28, President Biden addressed a joint session of Congress on “The U.S. and China’s race for victory in the 21st century.” On April 30, China’s “Qiushi” magazine published Xi Jinping’s January 11 internal speech, in which China needs to “accurately understand the new development stage, act on the new development philosophy and accelerate the establishment of the new development paradigm.” The content of this speech, which was given at a seminar for provincial and ministerial-level officials, was gradually revealed. “Qiushi” did not claim that it was “published in full,” and the once widely quoted “rise of the East, decline of the West” by Western commentators also did not appear in the text.

In his first speech to Congress, Biden spoke positively about his initial 100 days in office. The key highlights were the US$6 trillion stimulus package that will increase job opportunities, the proposal to impose higher taxes on the wealthy and on corporations, and, of course, the huge investment in vaccine development under the Trump era as his own historic achievement. Halfway into his speech, he changed his tone and said, “Xi Jinping is betting that American democracy cannot catch up with autocracy,” elevating the U.S.-China rivalry to a “competition between democracy and autocracy.”

Although Xi’s speech published in “Qiushi” has excluded words that previously circulated, such as “the strong West and weak East is history; the East is rising, and the West is in decline.” Nevertheless, these specific expressions still remained, such as “China’s economic strength, technological strength, comprehensive national power and people’s living standards have leapt to a new level, becoming the world’s second largest economy, the largest industrial country, the largest trading country in goods, the largest foreign exchange reserve country...” and so on.

Xi’s remarks that the Chinese socialism with Chinese characteristics “possesses strong political, theoretical, institutional and cultural advantages in promoting development” can be seen as the Chinese Communist Party’s response to Biden’s statement that “China and the U.S. are a competition between democracy and autocracy.” The article omits Xi’s judgments from the previously leaked speech about the U.S.-China contest that “the greatest source of chaos in the world today is the U.S.” and “the U.S. is the greatest threat to China’s development and security.” However, it retains “in recent times, the world has been characterized by the word ‘chaos’ and this trend seems to be continuing.” As well as, Xi’s emphasis on institutional confidence: “In dealing with the global pandemic of the novel coronavirus epidemic, the leadership and institutional superiority of each country is clearly evident. The time and opportunity are on our side. This is where our strength and confidence lie, and where our determination and conviction reside.”

In his speech to Congress, Biden emphasized his two major programs. One is the US$2 trillion “American Jobs Plan,” which focuses on investing in infrastructure such as public transportation, railroads, airports, water pipelines, roads and bridges, and high-speed networks. The other is the US$1.8 trillion “American Families Plan,” which would provide free preschool to all 3- and 4-year-olds, as well as free community college education and paid family leave for all Americans. While the two programs focus on solving U.S. domestic problems, Biden’s pitch is premised on “competition with China” and that these spending programs are critical for the U.S. to win the future because Xi Jinping is “deadly earnest about becoming the most significant, consequential nation in the world.” But Ian Bremmer, president and founder of the Eurasia Group, told the press that Biden mentioned China only because it works in “U.S. domestic politics.”

Xi’s speech was a telling comment on his own strengths. “In today’s world, the most scarce resource is the market. This is the great advantage of our country, and we must make full use of it and give full play to it, constantly consolidate and strengthen it, and form a strong support for the construction of a new development paradigm.”

Let me explain this a little. I have written a series of three articles on how and to what extent the world’s economy is dependent on China. The developed countries in the world today need the massive market of China to sell their products, and the leading resource countries need China as a buyer to acquire their raw materials, all of them have varying degrees of dependence on China. This has been the trend since China’s accession to the WTO in 2001. As for Taiwan and Hong Kong, the reasons for their economic dependence on China are different, they are virtually a common economic entity. Taking into account the good news announced by Jason Furman, former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) at the China Development Forum 2021 in late March, “The U.S. has launched a grand fiscal stimulus, which means people will be buying goods from China, Europe, and Japan.”

Considering the world’s economic dependence on China and the reality that the U.S. is becoming a big government, assimilating socialist economic policies, it is clear that the U.S.-China competition in the Biden era is not going to be as simple as democracy vs. autocracy.

(He Qinglian, U.S.-based scholar)

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