With Joe Biden in the White House, the narrative of America’s decline has suddenly come to an end.
Americans have begun to sprint – to embrace full-blooded life as the virus retreats. Referring to the Fourth of July President Biden said, “After a long, hard year, that will make this Independence Day truly special – where we not only mark our independence as a nation but we begin to mark our independence from this virus.”
Not only the virus. He is ready to meet any threat on the horizon. For John F Kennedy it was the Soviet Union, the Cuban missile crisis, the race to the Moon. For Biden it is China which, however, is much stronger than the Soviet Union and has opened multiple new aggressive fronts including cyberattacks, technological poaching, intellectual property theft, and unfair trade practices.
Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun, Mao Zedong admonished his countrymen. Today, however, it grows on the new frontiers of technology. America can out-gun China but can it outcompete it in the ever-expanding field of technology? America has no choice on this.
A broad bipartisan consensus has developed that the United States must remain politically and technologically supreme, must outcompete any nation, most of all China. This is a major departure from the policies of Barack Obama and Bill Clinton who bent over backwards to accommodate China.
They allowed China to use the WTO for self-aggrandisement rather than play by the international rules of trade. Writing in Foreign Affairs China scholar Yeling Tan observes, “China seems to pay lip service to international norms and still play by its own rules, taking advantage of loopholes and naïve policy makers abroad.”
The naïve policy makers in America tolerated this kind of behaviour, hoping that a prosperous China would gradually become democratic, as Taiwan and South Korea had done. Instead, China’s “wolf warrior” diplomats in a recent Alaska meeting hectored and belittled secretary of state Antony Blinken and his team, asserting that China is a better democratic model than the United States.
Increasing techno-economic power has emboldened China to bully its neighbours, turn Muslim Xinjiang into a hell worse than the Soviet Gulag, and Hong Kong into an Island of Unfreedom. If America retreated, democratic Taiwan – an electronic and semiconductor global power house – would become a lunch bite for China. Hence the geopolitical importance of the Indo-Pacific and the Quad, which must be strengthened.
So what does Biden plan to do? The best way for a nation to assess its strength, first and foremost, is to comprehend its own vulnerabilities. On February 24, Biden directed “federal Departments and Agencies to identify ways to secure US supply chains against a wide range of risks and vulnerabilities. Building resilient supply chains will protect the United States from facing shortages of critical products. It will also facilitate needed investments to maintain America’s competitive edge, and strengthen US national security.”
The executive order identified active pharmaceutical ingredients (API), critical minerals, semiconductors, and large capacity batteries for electric vehicles for an immediate 100-day review, followed by a more in-depth one-year scrutiny of a broader set of US supply chains including six key sectors such as defence, IT and energy.
One of the biggest concerns in America’s supply chain vulnerabilities is the semiconductor, the tiny chip that runs the cyber age economy, which the US cannot manufacture enough of. Highlighting this weak spot Chuck Schumer, Senate majority leader, said. “Our auto industry is facing significant chip shortages. This is a technology the US created; we ought to be leading the world in it. The same goes for building-out of 5G, the next generation telecommunications network.” Microchips are indispensable for storing data and performing calculations as well as for 5G technologies, AI, robotics, and biomedical research. The strength of a nation can be measured by the power of its microchips.
Fixing high-tech vulnerabilities is part of President Biden’s ambitious and transformative plan to rebalance and reshape American society. To spread prosperity, reduce inequality and fight climate change, he plans to invest $3 trillion – on top of the already approved $1.9 trillion for the Covid-relief programme – for building infrastructure including roads, bridges, buildings, railways, electrical vehicle charging stations, rural broadband networks, and more. Apart from infrastructure and cleaner energy, the plan would include investment in universal pre-kindergarten, free community college, and paid family leave.
Not since Franklin D Roosevelt has any US president ever attempted to carry out such a bold plan to rejuvenate America. This is the portrait of a nation on the rise, not in decline. China will know it soon.
The political construct of a post-America world was a figment of academic imagination, unrelated to ground realities. It posited that as other nations such as China rise, America would stand still, which looks rather jejune. It’s obvious now that Trumpism and the Covid-19 pandemic actually aroused America’s slumbering creative spirits.
The crises strengthened democratic impulses, despite what happened on January 6, when some misguided extremist groups assaulted the Capitol. It was a collective catharsis – a born again experience for America, ready to resume its global responsibilities.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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