Shane Quinn |
It was always an impossible challenge for America to retain the unrivaled power she enjoyed in 1945 when the country controlled both ends of the earth and had a massively powerful economy. At the end of World War II, the United States’ competitors were lying in ruins, including the USSR, which had almost been destroyed by the Nazis. Britain’s economy was decimated and its role as a great imperial power was long over.
America controlled about half of the world’s wealth in 1945 until the first blow swiftly fell in 1949 with the “loss of China”, the world’s fourth-largest country, as communist forces took charge in Beijing. From therein, there has been a further decline of American power, but a gradual one. South-east Asia was threatening to pull free of Washington’s control, resulting in the war in Vietnam and other American-led interventions such as in resource-rich Indonesia.
If the choice is between America and China as the world's leading power, most people around the world choose America. pic.twitter.com/N8dbv0Mx0y
— Noah Smith 🐇 (@Noahpinion) September 12, 2019
By 1970, America’s share of global wealth had declined to about 25%, with the world economy becoming “tripolar”, shared between the affluent countries of western Europe along with Japan in East Asia. Since the early 1970s, America’s financial decline has largely stabilized, and her share of world wealth still stands at over 20% today.
The greatest challenge to American hegemony is now undoubtedly China, a nation that has emerged at a rapid rate, catching the unsuspecting West by surprise. China’s vast financial programs, such as her Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), are a threat to the American and European financial order.
The US government has also approved recent arms sales to Taiwan, including the selling of dozens of F-16 fighter jets to the island worth a potential $8 billion.
China is a very old country with a rich, extensive history dating thousands of years – and it is not easily bullied. When America places concerted pressure on Europe or Israel, their leaders usually acquiesce; but China has a habit of ignoring American wishes, and that is a disconcerting outcome for those in Washington.
Unlike America, however, China has significant issues within its own borders, because of political and social unrest occurring in north-west China, and likewise in Hong Kong, which is an important commercial hub with trade links to the West. China also has a decades-long dilemma relating to the large island of Taiwan, which lies just over 400 miles east of Hong Kong.
In January this year, China’s President Xi Jinping said that Taiwan “must and will be” reunited with China and that “independence will only bring hardship”. Yet these aspirations could result in a military confrontation with the US, which nobody desires.
"The Taiwanese people will not yield."
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen cut ties with Solomon Islands after it switched diplomatic relations in favor of China. Only 16 allies now recognize Taiwan as a nation pic.twitter.com/fl7D1kUlgf
— Bloomberg Quicktake (@Quicktake) September 17, 2019
American governments have long pursued a close relationship with the Taiwanese, and the Donald Trump administration is attempting to increase collaboration with Taipei, Taiwan’s capital city. This year, American warships have sailed with growing frequency through the strategically important Taiwan Straits, a narrow stretch of water separating south-eastern China from Taiwan’s coastline.
Beijing has expressed “deep concern” over these policies, which are a demonstration of American military power. The US government has also approved recent arms sales to Taiwan, including the selling of dozens of F-16 fighter jets to the island worth a potential $8 billion.
Western media reports on China’s “increasingly muscular military posture” in the South China Sea, while the United States pursues “freedom of navigation patrols” in the Eastern hemisphere. There are of course no Chinese warships sailing through the Caribbean or near the coast of California, which provides a revealing picture of America’s far greater strategic superiority. These navy patrols, beside the Chinese mainland and the South China Sea, are resulting in rising tension between our planet’s two strongest nations. America and China are also nuclear-armed and have advanced weapons systems.
Since Mao Zedong’s death in 1976, China has shifted more towards a capitalist-style economy. Unfortunately, China’s modern health and education systems have significantly declined in standards over the past four decades.
China's military expansion is a "holy s***" moment for America, says the Navy SEAL commander who oversaw the bin Laden Raid https://t.co/IQqXF4b7nE
— Newsweek (@Newsweek) September 20, 2019
The death rate is today higher in China than when Mao was at the helm; while since the early 1980s, China’s education system has mostly been decentralized and privatized, moving it away from government control and funding to vested interest groups – borne out by the introduction of fee-paying initiatives in Chinese education, having impacts upon poorer families the most.
Further proof of China’s drift towards capitalism is relating to the rise of income inequality in the country, which is now approaching that of America. Conservative estimates reveal that the level of China’s private wealth has increased four times over from 1978 until 2015: Rocketing from 115% to 478% in the decades following Mao’s death; while the share of China’s public property has fallen from around 70% in 1978 to 30% in 2015.
It is a reflection of China’s elite financial scope, which is now challenging World War II-era organizations like the IMF and World Bank.
Moreover, the level of national income among the top 10% of Chinese society has increased from 27% in 1978 to 41% in 2015 – while, over the same years, income totals of the bottom 50% of Chinese earners has declined from 27% to 15%.
Figures relating to the Human Development Index (HDI) are also revealing, which is a format that measures a combination of life expectancy, education, per person income, etc. In 2017, China ranked 86th on the Human Development Index, just two places ahead of war-torn Ukraine. America holds 13th position in the table, Slovenia occupies 25th place and Russia is in 49th. India ranks as low as 130th.
Altogether, the United States remains the planet’s richest nation. No other country can afford to dispense each year with hundreds of billions of dollars on its armed forces. America’s position as 13th in the above index is a reflection of the growing chasm between rich and poor in the country. Since the 1970s, wealth has accumulated in the top 1% of US society, which comprise the elite that now largely dictates government strategy. About 70% of the American population has become disenfranchised over these past 40 years, effectively excluded from policy-making.
in the richest nation in the history of the world, it is absolutely outrageous that john's struggle is not unique. pic.twitter.com/OnNmn3e0ZZ
— mike casca (@cascamike) September 14, 2019
Income levels for the bulk of America’s populace have stagnated, while the health and education systems deteriorate. The death rate in America is increasing for young and middle-aged adults, which is almost unheard of in the developed world. Offshoring of production has been harmful too for American communities, as urban infrastructure crumbles. Cities that were once commercial hubs like Detroit and Pittsburgh are today strongly associated with the “Rust Belt”.
China’s share of national wealth, on a per capita (per person) basis, has in fact gradually decreased from the late 1970s until today, while her Gross Domestic Product (GDP) sharply increases, papering over the cracks. The vast majority of China’s wealth has accumulated in the pockets of the minority. There are now hundreds of thousands of millionaires in China, and the number is rising, while homelessness becomes a growing issue.
America has a much larger military by comparison to China, not in terms of manpower, but relating to her overall apparatus, ranging from expensive warships and submarines to missiles and drones. In 2018 for example, Washington spent at least three times more on its military than Beijing. In recent years the Pentagon has shifted about two-thirds of its armed forces to Asia-Pacific regions.
One of the core elements of US foreign policy is regarding her armed capacities. We have seen this with NATO’s 70-year existence, which was founded on the basis of “keeping the Russians out”. When the Russians disappeared in the early 1990s, NATO firstly expanded eastwards by absorbing the reunified Germany, in violation of verbal promises made to Russia. NATO membership has almost doubled in size since 1999, taking in countries that border Russia like Estonia and Latvia, while North Macedonia will soon become the 30th NATO state.
In spite of appearances, NATO is losing its relevance as Washington becomes somewhat disinterested with the organization. Then, president-elect, Trump had gone so far as to describe NATO as “obsolete”. Trump, like his predecessors this century, has largely been fixated on China.
The George W. Bush administration had expressed fears over growing Chinese influence, but Washington’s real shift in focus towards China can be traced to Barack Obama. It was President Obama who outlined America’s “pivot” to Asia during November 2011.
The White House has devised a proposal to drastically alter U.S. foreign assistance in a way that would gut U.S. soft power, fuel extremism and cede large parts of the world to influence from U.S. adversaries, especially China. https://t.co/Vnqus5AZLO
— Josh Rogin (@joshrogin) September 20, 2019
Beijing’s challenge to Washington is more a financial and industrial one, rather than a military conundrum. The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), also called the “alliance of the east”, is a Chinese-led political and economic association that ranks as its members’ other major powers like Russia, India, and Pakistan – which, in addition, are all nuclear-armed nations.
The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), founded in 2015 and headquartered in Beijing, is a Chinese-led multilateral institution that has attracted dozens of nations, including long-time American allies such as Germany, France, Britain, Saudi Arabia, Australia, and South Korea.
A remarkable development in international affairs is Beijing’s ability to lure American-friendly states, much to the dismay of US political leaders. It is a reflection of China’s elite financial scope, which is now challenging World War II-era organizations like the IMF and World Bank.
In addition, there is the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which is a Chinese-designed infrastructural program including investments in over 150 countries, and spanning thousands of miles across Eurasia. All of these developments have been of increasing concern to the Americans.
Shane Quinn has contributed on a regular basis to Global Research for almost two years, and have had articles published with the 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.