Into the third decade of this century, China has continued its ascent as the world’s second superpower. The United States, on the other hand, has been stumbling somewhat under Donald Trump’s wrecking ball policies. The Trump era looks likely to be restricted to four years, as huge numbers of Americans turn out to cast their votes in the presidential election. Even so, a Joe Biden victory is not certain yet and Democratic supporters remain anxious, scarred by the experience of Hillary Clinton’s failure four years ago.
On the international scene, there have been opportunities for Trump to reverse some of the US decline which has unfolded through the decades; most obviously in Latin America (consisting of Central and South America), regions which have mostly shifted back to the right over the past few years, in large part because of the left’s inability to tackle corruption and diversify their nations’ economies.
Inadequacy of Trump’s government
The right-wing governments that came to power have proven inadequate, and Trump has shown little interest in Washington’s traditional “backyard”. Trump has visited Latin America only once in his presidency, when he arrived in Buenos Aires two years ago for the G-20 summit. Obama paid 16 visits to Latin America during his two terms, even flying to Cuba in the spring of 2016.
China is a very ambitious nation and one which is looking to the future with enthusiasm. China’s aspirations seem to have grown since Xi Jinping became president in March 2013.
Trump has been unable to convince his Latin American allies to shun the overtures of China. One can witness the remarkable spectacle of far-right leader Bolsonaro praising Beijing, with him saying in late 2019 that “China is an ever-greater part of Brazil’s future”. Money talks and Beijing’s financial might pay its weight in gold. China is now the largest trading partner of Brazil by far, with the Chinese government investing $63 billion in Brazilian exports during 2019, leaving the US trailing in second place on just shy of $30 billion. This is a significant development as Brazil is the strongest country in Latin America.
Mimicking Bolsonaro is the billionaire leader of Chile, Sebastian Pinera, who returned to power in March 2018. Pinera spoke of his desire to “transform Chile into a business center for Chinese companies”. Chile’s biggest trading partner is China by some distance, with Beijing in 2019 accounting for over $21 billion of Chilean exports, more than twice that of the US. In Argentina, Latin America’s third largest economy, China has also comfortably surpassed the US as a trading country there. China’s investment in Latin America rose from $12 billion in 2000, to $224 billion by 2016. Consequently, Latin America’s largest trading partner is none other than China.
Even more concerning for US planners, China is the largest investor in the Middle East, recognized as the world’s most important region because of its unmatched oil and gas reserves. China is the biggest foreign investor in both Iran and Iraq, two countries which together possess almost one-fifth of the world’s oil sources. Another oil rich state, Saudi Arabia – a key US/British ally – has likewise doffed its hat to Chinese power. In 2019, nearly 20% of all Saudi exports, mostly consisting of oil, were sold to China, compared to just 2% of Saudi exports destined for the US.
China’s raging success in world’s economy
China is a very ambitious nation and one which is looking to the future with enthusiasm. China’s aspirations seem to have grown since Xi Jinping became president in March 2013. He has since consolidated his power, and expanded Beijing’s vast infrastructural projects like the Belt and Road Initiative.
America has boasted the world’s largest economy since 1871, at a time when Britain first began its decline as the pre-eminent force. China currently has the globe’s second biggest economy and is closing in on the US, with Japan trailing distantly in third place (the UK is sixth).
China’s population has been the world’s largest for generations, far bigger than the US and Japan – this has posed daunting problems for consecutive leaders in Beijing, encompassing the reign of the communist revolutionary Mao Zedong (in power 1949-1976). There can be little doubt that Chairman Mao, as he was known, ranks as one of the most influential leaders in China’s millennia-long history. It was Mao who set China on to its course of rivalling American power; as he rid China of predatory outside influence and achieved full independence, but his legacy has often been derided to a severe and unfair extent.
The Mao biographer Philip Short, an experienced English historian, wrote that Mao “wielded powers equaled only by the most awesome of Chinese emperors” and that “changes which, in the West, had taken centuries to accomplish” instead “occurred in a single generation” under Mao. This includes the major advances in health care he achieved across China, but in other areas also.
Short noted that, “In Mao’s lifetime, China made the leap from semi-colony to Great Power; from millennial autarky to socialist state; from despoiled victim of imperialist plunder to Permanent Member of the UN Security Council, complete with H-bombs, surveillance satellites and ICBMS”.
After more than 20 years of struggle, when Mao assumed control in 1949 at the age of 55, China was coming off one of its most damaging periods of decline ever. Once he gained power Mao expelled the imperialist states from China, restored the country’s pride, and enacted the structures that would transform China into an international force.
Short acknowledged that Mao possessed “an extraordinary mix of talents: he was visionary, statesman, political and military strategist of genius, philosopher and poet” who had “a subtle, dogged mind, awe inspiring charisma and fiendish cleverness”; while those who succeeded him “were merely a succession of fallible leaders, not better and not worse than in any other country”.
The ideology which Mao espoused, and went to enormous efforts in implementing, effectively died with him in September 1976, as China thereafter tilted towards capitalism. In the final months of his life, Mao was aware that his policies would disappear with him into the grave. He had failed to find what he perceived to be anything approaching an adequate successor. Two years after Mao’s death, Deng Xiaoping took charge of China and he quickly moved the country towards capitalism.
Studies have revealed that, since Mao’s death, wealth accumulation in the top 10% of society in China has increased considerably, along with a sharp growth in inequality. It can be noted that wages for the Chinese masses are altogether higher now, in comparison to the Mao years, when grinding poverty was more widespread.
From a global strategic viewpoint, the US remains in a superior position to China, with Washington continuing to enjoy most of the gains made by its victories in World War II
The average life expectancy of a Chinese person is merely a couple of years less than an American. Most of the credit for China’s health care progress should indeed be attributed to Mao. As he entered office in 1949, the typical life expectancy in China was 36 years. When he died in 1976, China’s average life expectancy had climbed to 64 years, an almost three-decade increase.
In China 85% of its major corporations are today state-owned, in contrast to its Western rivals. Under Xi Jinping, Beijing’s control over big business has increased. The US economist Nicholas Lardy, a noted expert on the Chinese economy, outlined of China in July 2019 that, “Since 2012 private, market-driven growth has given way to a resurgence of the role of the state”.
Is US still superior?
From a global strategic viewpoint, the US remains in a superior position to China, with Washington continuing to enjoy most of the gains made by its victories in World War II. The US military, far larger than its Chinese counterpart, still dominates the Pacific Ocean – which covers 30% of the planet’s surface – while the US Armed Forces hem China in around its coastline, and beyond, with bases and high-tech weaponry. In the Western hemisphere the Chinese military presence is barely discernible.
Repeatedly each year US destroyers sail astride China’s shorelines, such as in the Taiwan Strait. American warships even dare to roam further up the coast through the East China Sea, and even entering the Yellow Sea not far from Shanghai and Beijing. On the European mainland, the US retains a foothold across the continent under the NATO military organization. By 2004 NATO expanded to Russia’s borders and is continuing to enlarge.
Shane Quinn has contributed on a regular basis to Global Research for almost two years and has had articles published with American news outlets People’s World and MintPress News, Morning Star in Britain, and Venezuela’s Orinoco Tribune. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.