Let me try once more:
Imagine that you are one of two Co-Presidents of a large and complex corporation. You are both very smart and very effective in your different styles. There is jealousy between you. Both of you aspire to lead the corporation. Sometimes you fear and detest each other. Your Co has risen rapidly in recent years, and now seems to be threatening your status. Some subordinates support you, others your colleague, while others straddle the fence, as they fear and feel dependent on both of you.
Sometimes you imagine you can dislodge the other, but she/he’s too strong. Much as you feel negative about your Co-President, you see that she/he contributes greatly and that the corporation is more successful with her/him, than without. You see that you are interdependent in certain ways.
The bottom line is that you are forced to co-exist.
The corporation is the world. The Co-Presidents are the US and China. We cannot dislodge China, already equal to the US in economic power, already deeply engaged in trade and development with many other countries all over the world.
Regardless of our justified frustrations with human rights, stealing of intellectual property, currency manipulation; regardless of our zeal to promote democracy vs authoritarianism; regardless or our fear of “Communism;” regardless of dozens of other grievances, the reality is that we are both here to stay. No other country comes close to either of us in all the markers of global dominance.
This is terribly frustrating because we disagree on so much. It is painstaking to achieve agreement on critical global issues, such as global warming, climate change, nuclear safety, and other major issues.
Nevertheless, regardless of all this, it is clear that the future of the world for decades to come depends on what each of us does or doesn’t do in terms of global needs and development, in terms of global security and global leadership. If we can find a way to cooperate, the world will be better off. It we do not, the scenarios are potentially devastating, including the possibility of a 3rd World War.
Many of my friends disagree with my views regarding China, feeling China is most definitely out to get us, out to destroy the US, to create a world dominated by China, to destroy our way of life and everything we hold dear.
I disagree. China only wants the respect it deserves and wants a prominent seat at the global table.
But regardless of whether my friends are right, or I am right, our attitudes and behavior will be determinative in whether one or the other scenario turns out.
Given the reality or co-dependence, wouldn’t it be better, isn’t it obvious, that some form of managed cooperation between the two superpowers is the right way to go, the only way to go?
What do I know? I’m no expert, but I have been all over China. I have worked there and I have lived there. I have made more than 30 trips. I studied the economic development of China for a year at the University of London. I am a continuous student of China, as I see understanding this country and how it will affect the future of this world as perhaps the most critical determinant of global peace and advancement for generations behind me.
For a more studied examination of all the issues surrounding this major global problem and opportunity, please do refer to this very balanced view in a superb book published just earlier this year, available on Audible also.
Bergsten argues that critical to our sustaining our co-equal status is for us to work on our own house–education, discrimination, violence, polarization, poverty and inequality, and more. I agree.
The United States vs. China, C Fred Bergsten, 2023, a distinguished economist and founder of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, and policy adviser to administrations.