How US can learn from China

Azhar Azam July 07, 2024
The writer is a private professional and writes on geopolitical issues and regional conflicts


For more than a decade, the US has labeled China as a threat to America’s economic power and global influence, viewing its rise as a ‘Sputnik moment’.
“China is building faster trains and newer airports. Meanwhile, when our own engineers graded our nation’s infrastructure, they gave us a ‘D’,” complained former US President Barack Obama in his 2011 State of the Union address.
This approach of seeing its potential “greatest teacher” as a “greatest competitor” and a challenge and treating Beijing as a scapegoat for Washington’s failures at home can’t be an excuse as America’s infrastructure remains dangerously overstretched in comparison with that of China, which is estimated to have spent ten times more than the US by percentage of GDP, and continues to receive poor grades.
Resultantly, America’s infrastructure investment could widen from $3 trillion over 10 years to $3.7 trillion. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal and Inflation Reduction Act in 2021 and 2022 respectively pledged billions in new funding. Both bills will expire in 2026, leaving the US Congress to decide how to fund these programmes.
Rather than implicating Beijing, Washington should review its policy that has been squandering trillions of dollars of American taxpayers’ money on its overseas military campaigns and fanning the war flames. These funds could have otherwise been utilised to build roads, airports and other infrastructure in the country.
While China kept on advocating a multipolar world order for a more balanced and peaceful planet and strengthening its “infrastructure industrial complex”, the US pursued to preserve its hegemony through wars under influence of its military-industrial complex, a concept President Dwight Eisenhower warned against in his farewell address. It’s now portraying China as a threat to secure a higher defense budget. 
These divergent approaches urged authors to describe Chinese development path as a “winning model”, socio-economically effective and geopolitically peaceful, leaving even staunchest of China’s critics awestruck by its roads, railways and bridges, against America’s “extroverted” capitalist and aggressive one, dramatically pushing infrastructure investment in China and leading to a systematic decline in the US. 
During and after the Cold War, the US through covert and overt military operations has been deeply focused in channeling funds to change or topple governments, it deemed were incompatible to its political system, under an interventionist foreign policy that asserts not only to defend but also to promote liberal international order and export democracy.
This quest for world hegemony impinged on the US development and its competitiveness. For instance, America is estimated to have just 375 miles of railway track for operations at more than 100 miles per hour. In contrast, China has built 45,000 kilometers of high-speed rail network. Washington has initiated some high-speed rail projects; it is yet to open high-speed rail line.
As the US kept pouring money in wars and conflicts to reassert its supremacy in the world, Beijing was on the way to surpass America in research and development or had already overtaken Washington in the number of researchers, bachelor’s degrees awarded and scientific journals publications and research output.
China is now considered as a scientific superpower, spearheading the world in terms of contributions to prestigious international peer-reviewed journals, assessed on the parameters of the quality of study, novelty and potential impact and Chinese universities expecting to produce nearly twice as many STEM PhD graduates as the US by 2025.
The threat posed by climate change demands an urgent action to reduce carbon emissions, prevent environmental degradation and accelerate energy transition. China is commanding this transition with almost 350 GW of new renewable capacity installed in 2023, more than half of the world total. Beijing’s target was to achieve wind and solar installed capacity of 1,200GWs by 2030; it had already reached 1,130 GWs by April.
Applauding China’s “remarkable surge” in clean energy investment, UNIDO 2024 report noted that Beijing was taking a leading role in green industrialisation with such investments contributing to an impressive 40% of GDP growth, offering valuable insights for other countries to craft their industrial policy.
This strategic shift toward a more sustainable and innovative growth model is unsettling the US, which has sought to build a “wall of opposition” to China over industrial overcapacity and is defending tariffs on Chinese EVs, solar energy products and semiconductors that aim to slow China’s high-quality development but will also decelerate pace of global energy transition. 
By over-emphasising differences, the US over the last decade or so shut several areas of cooperation where Beijing and Washington would have jointly contributed to each other’s and global development. Washington’s fixation on geopolitical rivalry with Beijing is preventing it from seizing the opportunities presented by world’s second largest economy. The EU protectionist move to levy duties on Chinese EVs too is motivated by geopolitics rather than evidence and will hurt the bloc’s own interest in green transition, costing European consumers billions of euros.
China’s focus on high-quality growth, capacity to churn out green technology in large volumes, approach to build a world of lasting peace and shared prosperity and willingness to share benefits of its development with developing countries in addition to the policy of non-intervention, peacemaking efforts such as the Iran-Saudi Arabia deal and non-imposition of its governance model are some of the important instances the US can draw lessons from.
But in order to truly learn from China, it’s crucial for the US to dissuade itself from ideology-driven threat inflation which has repeatedly blundered the country in costly quagmires; promote international cooperation on trade and technology; and zero in on the well-being of its people.


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