Saturday, April 29, 2017

The future has arrived

In an op-ed back in January 2015, I wrote:
 I increasingly worry that there is a huge disconnect between how undergraduates spend their four or five — or even six — years in college and the real world, which is changing by the minute.
Some of the important issues of the day, which will influence our lives well into the next few decades, arise from China, India, the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa.
Will it shock readers to know that a typical college student can earn a diploma without learning anything substantive about these areas, which account for half of the world’s population even now, and whose share will increase in the future? Wouldn’t we want students to know at least a little bit about the global drivers of economic and political decisions?
Nobody cares for what I worry about!  We continue to graduate students who have no idea about China, India, the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa.  I wish I could ask every graduating student at my university to name the leaders of the governments of China and India, and to point out where Syria is on a map of the Middle East.

Students are like most Americans who simply have no idea how rapidly China has transformed.  If I were to present the following to them, they might simply collapse from hyperventilation:
China became the world’s largest economy (measured by purchasing power parity, PPP) in 2014. What isn’t so well known is how astonishingly fast the end came for the 140-year reign of the American economy as the world’s largest. According to numbers Rachman cites, China was just 12 percent of the size of the US economy in 2000 and only half as big as late as 2011. Such meteoric growth has been enough to lift hundreds of millions out of poverty, finance the US deficit, and still allow China to increase its military spending at double-digit rates every year for two decades.
In matters of national security the momentum of Chinese growth has meant, for example, that while Japan’s military spending was triple China’s in 2000, it was only half as large by 2015.
Go ahead, and re-read those previous sentences.

Seventeen years ago, China was merely an eighth of the US economy.  During those years, while the US was busy fighting wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and wherever we wanted to drop bombs, China went about expanding its economic and military might.  Here we are in 2017, with China launching a home-built aircraft carrier.

In that op-ed, I wrote about the need to learn the languages that we will need to learn and become fluent in, if we want to understand the future.  Especially Chinese and Arabic.  But, of course, most universities couldn't care!

I cannot figure out how much longer we can go on without truly understanding China, and recognizing it as an important player.
China is a challenge to the United States on several fronts; not an enemy. However, the relationship is riven with tensions that could escalate into open conflict. Neither side understands or trusts the other. Avoiding these thorns will depend on steady leaders and skilled diplomacy in reading each other’s behavior. Improvisation or short-sighted deals made for a domestic audience are likely to end badly. History also warns that success will not be easy. Most often, in the past, rising new powers have clashed with reigning ones. The US–China relationship will remain the most consequential in the world for decades to come.
And if we continue to insult China?
Never before has a president suggested handing over most of the currency of US global leadership to others, free of charge. China will not hesitate to seize every opportunity offered. A much diminished and less influential America, and consequently a much less secure Asia, would be the result.
Alas, we gleefully continue eating "Asian Salad"!

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