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2020: China Rises, the U.S. Declines and the Planet Strikes Back

Much will change in 10 years. China will rise, the global South will grow in importance, the U.S. will decline. These phenomena will be eclipsed by devastating planetary changes.


You can already see a new style of writing about China emerging in our American world.  The  New York Times set it off recently by  publishing a front-page piece on a $3.4 billion Chinese investment in one of the planet’s last great copper reserves -- in Afghanistan.  In passing, reporter Michael Wines also pointed out that Chinese energy companies had gained a stronger foothold in the future exploitation of Iraq’s massive oil reserves than had U.S. multinationals.  The ironies were legion and painfully visible. 

Our two wars have been sucking us dry in two countries where state-owned Chinese companies have just scored significant economic victories.  “While the United States spends hundreds of billions of dollars fighting the Taliban and Al Qaeda [in Afghanistan],” wrote Wines, “China is securing raw material for its voracious economy. The world’s superpower is focused on security. Its fastest rising competitor concentrates on commerce.”

Already, the follow-up pieces are starting to come out and heady cocktails they are:  one part awe and one part bitterness mixed with one part despair.  In  Esquire online, Thomas P.M. Barnett  put it this way:  “Worse still: Will the rest of the world end up profiting from our blood and money?... The reason why Obama neglects to mention any regional interests like Pakistan's? Admitting the larger logic of regionalization would make too painfully obvious the nature of our current strategic bankruptcy. Because it would suggest that the only 'victory' to be found would be 'won' by those neighboring powers who did nothing to stabilize the situation. In other words, their 'treasure' and our 'blood.'"  At  Foreign Policy online, Stephen M. Walt  chimed in:  “While we've been running around playing whack-a-mole with the Taliban and 'investing' billions each year in the corrupt Karzai government, China has been investing in things that might actually be of some value, like a big copper mine.”

Under George W. Bush, the U.S. set out, in part, to turn the Greater Middle East into an American “lake” of energy reserves via two invasions, and you know how that worked out.  The Chinese, on the other hand, only last year  sent their warships abroad -- to hunt pirates as part of an international flotilla in the Gulf of Aden -- for the first time since the eunuch Zheng He  commanded a Ming dynasty armada that reached Africa six centuries ago.  Unfortunately, as Michael Klare, TomDispatch regular and author of  Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy, makes clear below, China’s leaders are as unlikely to learn from our deepest mistakes as they were 30-odd years ago when China’s post-Cultural Revolution leadership looked our way and made a logical but calamitous decision: that the auto industry -- all those millions of individual cars burning fossil fuels -- would be a crucial pillar of their future industrial development. 

Right now, they may still seem to be acting out a key lesson of this American moment:  Stay off the hard stuff.  You know, all that advanced weaponry (and the military-industrial complex that goes with it), all those aircraft carrier battle groups, all those “expeditionary forces” ready to be sent thousands of miles from home to fight “little wars.”  Once again, however, as Klare suggests, our present symbols of “power” are likely to be their paragon and the future will be a mess.  It’s not enough, it seems, to make money, not war.  Once you have the money, it has to be spent on something and our imaginations remain so limited.

Too bad.  Here’s where you could only wish the future might be a little  less predictable.  No such luck, Klare tells us, when it comes to military power as the measure of greatness on planet Earth in the second decade of the twenty-first century.   Tom Engelhardt

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