China's Global Reach
China's rise has vast implications for Americans, from the safety of our food to our role in the world
This time next year, more world attention will be directed at China than at any time in its 2,000-year history as a unified state, and more of us will be viewing Beijing on television than at any time since the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and massacre. At exactly 8:08 p.m. and 8 seconds on Aug. 8, 2008guess what number is seen as lucky in Chinese culturethe opening ceremonies of the 29th Summer Olympic Games will commence at the new $400 million Beijing National Stadium. And a bit after that, some revered Chinese athleteperhaps Houston Rockets center Yao Mingwill very likely climb the stairs at one end of the hypermodern "bird's nest" and ignite the Olympic caldron, creating a flaming symbol of the global sports spectacle and, perhaps, of the start of the "Chinese Century."
Of course, the Chinese governmentalways sensitive to its evolving international imagewould never use such a brazen and arrogant slogan. (The official 2008 Olympic slogan is banal, and clumsy, in Mandarin: "One World, One Dream.") Instead, official Beijing prefers the more humble "Peacefully Rising China," the phrase itself a tacit admission that the re-emergence of the Middle Kingdom on the world stage is viewed with apprehension and even alarm by some. Though the Chinese military is still a second-rate homeland defense and occupation force with limited "hard power" projection capabilities, its $3 trillion world-class economynow more or less tied with Germany as the third largest behind the United States and Japanhas given it plenty of ability to project "soft power" influence. While America has been slowly draining its reservoir of global goodwill by continuing the internationally reviled war in Iraq, China has been charming potential friends and making economic deals from Kazakhstan to Saudi Arabia to Peru, both opening markets to its goods and services and securing vital energy supplies. All a concerted effort to keep China's economic machine racing at high speed as it's done for a quarter century.
So today the United States finds itself facing a tough economic competitor that won't let a country's nasty human-rights record get in the way of doing business, and a dollar-rich banker on whom it depends to keep financing its massive trade deficit. That trade gap, along with the outsourcing of U.S. manufacturing jobs, has spurred a protectionist backlash on Capitol Hill, a negative reaction that may be exacerbated by the recent spate of safety issues on Chinese exports. To the average American, the big picture might look a little like this: China, the planet's most populous nation and possessor of a warp-speed economy, is not only eating our economic lunch and stealing our jobs but also gradually supplanting us as everyone's favorite deep-pocketed friend. So, the question is, should we fear China?