Cold War or Vigorous Nation?

by Peter G Cohen
This year, China zoomed ahead of Japan to become number two  in the world in productivity.  This year, Iraq made the decision to have China build its first nuclear reactor. And this year, the United States navy insisted that the planned naval base on Jeju Island, South Korea, begin construction.

These separate events tell the story of China’s growing power and influence in S.E.Asia and the reaction of the United States.

While we are stalled in an extended recession, China is expanding its production to satisfy its domestic market. While we are draining our economy and our people in an ‘endless’ war on terrorism, China is investing and buying the resources it needs around the world. The result is that Asian nations, including Iraq, would rather trade with China than the distant U.S.

Our reaction to China’s economic surge is to attempt to contain it, as we contained the Soviet Union in the Cold War. There is  no other reason for suddenly needing the naval base on Jeju Island, South Korea, which is only 300 miles from Shanghai and definitely a provocative gesture. The U.S. navy is now planning  to invest billions in an expansion of our naval power in an effort to peserve our influence in the Western Pacific.

We will never beat china by discharging our police and firemen, by cutting back on teachers and school maintenance, by making it more difficult to form a union, or by weakening EPA regulations so that more people are sickened by toxic smoke. In fact, our best advantage over China may well be our national infrastructure, our clean air and water, our reliable food supplies and medical care. China is suffering from severe pollution, inadequate infrastructure, shrinking cropland and resentful minorities. But they have one thing right: improving their resources and production is the way to satisfy their people and to build a powerful nation.

We are still stuck in 19th Century thinking with its gunboat diplomacy. Anyone with a globe can see that S.E.Asia is a long way off and that a vigorous Chinese economy will have more influence than a stalled and distant U.S. economy. In 2010 we spent $1.2 trillion, over 8% of our national GDP, on the military and related budget items. Most European nations spent less than 2%. We can waste our resources on fighting foreign wars and preparing for others in the future, or we can build up our nation and invest in our children and our nation’s future. We cannot do both.

We are already suffering from another war and we are losing it. The U.S. Climatic Data Center records the weather disasters of over $1 billion.  From 2001 to 2010 we lost over $354 billion in property damage and 2,840 lives. These storms and floods, heat waves, fires and droughts have killed more Americans than people died in the attack on the Twin Towers!

Yet we are still drilling for oil and digging coal

In the age of climate change and rapidly developing nations, our best defense is to invest in alternative energy systems  and the health, education and public infrastructure of our nation.

Free Trade and divisive, ignorant partisanship are a greater danger to the U.S. than the growth of China half a world away.

Copyright Peter G Cohen 2011

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