Seeking answers for why China is getting ahead of the United States and what should be done about it, President Donald Trump recently phoned his predecessor Jimmy Carter. The latter identified the culprit as America’s thirst for war – but he failed to identify the bigger problem.
“Your concern explains everything,” is what Carter should have said.
Addressing his church congregation a few days ago, Carter said he told Trump that the US had become obsessed with wars and how to win them. This obsession had squandered time and resources that should instead have been spent on improving the daily lives of Americans, Carter added.
But that “warlike” mindset is only a symptom. Listen carefully to the details of Trump’s phone call and the deeper malaise afflicting America becomes clear. It’s called hegemony. Trump called Carter to complain that America’s big problem is that “China is getting ahead of us”. But really? To begin with, much of the rest of the world does not see that as a problem. China becoming richer and more technologically advanced should benefit the whole planet, shouldn’t it?
The telephone call said much about a mindset that is distorting the direction of world affairs. The United States hates being got ahead of. This mindset has spawned the various problems listed by Carter. America’s preoccupation with eliminating “threats” – whether real, imaginary or blatantly fake – has cost the country dearly, diverting financial, political and human resources into an insatiable military-industrial sector. All the while, China has been busy building and innovating, lifting its economy and population in the process.
The latest symptom of America’s disease is the controversy afflicting Huawei. But even if, as the US claims, the Chinese tech giant is helping its nation’s spying efforts, who cares? China may be spying, but who isn’t? And, significantly, China has not ordered its troops to war in recent memory, contrary to you-know-who.
The relentless push against Huawei risks economic, diplomatic and political turmoil. It also threatens development of 5G telecom technology. And all because of the US preoccupation with “eliminating threats”.
Trump’s call showed Washington realises that China is moving ahead. But the call also confirmed that American policymakers still don’t have a clue what is causing this trend. Instead, for Trump, a country that has built a high-speed railway, constructed skyscrapers in record time, teleported an object into orbit, is leading research on cloning technology and alternative energies and is driving global trade – all without invading another country – is not good for America.
China no doubt has its flaws, but if Washington believes it deserves more trust in the world than Beijing, it had better think again. Should the world fear Huawei? Maybe, and maybe not. Should the world fear those who tell us to fear Huawei? Let’s just say that the fear-mongers have not done a good job.
First, they must convince us that they are not merely paranoid. Psychiatrists say a paranoid patient often suffers delusions that others will do the mischief that he or she is planning. Until the United States stops routinely demonising other countries’ espionage while at the same time placing its own Central Intelligence Agency on a political pedestal, and criticising other countries’ attempts to regulate computer use while at the same time implementing its Patriot Act, the trust issue will remain and probably intensify.
As president, Carter strengthened US ties with China and refused to take his country to war, demonstrating a peace-loving trait that many would call “weak”. He was right, however, in saying that redirecting American money and other resources from the war machine could have boosted public infrastructure and education and brought massive positive change in the process.
“We have wasted $3 trillion,” Carter said. “China has not wasted a single penny on war, and that’s why they’re ahead of us.” Simple mathematics is on his side. Indeed the numbers are so simple that it boggles the mind why Trump needed to ask the question in the first place.
Will Trump spend less on the military? A quick glance at budget numbers and world events tells you that his election campaign pledge to look “inward” and rebuild America has not been fulfilled. One excuse Washington gives for massive spending on “outward” affairs is that the United States has a duty to look after the world. Which makes Trump’s concern about China’s rise even more confusing.
He thinks the United States has a problem, so he seeks an answer from Carter. To the rest of the world, the problem is not in Trump’s question: it’s in why he had to ask.