China is bent on becoming the world leader in the next 50 years. And if things continue as they are, they probably will be.
Twenty-five years ago, China had a really big plan — to become the Greatest Nation on Earth. In 1992, China had finally shaken off the vestiges of the Cultural Revolution, their Politburo was made up of 80 percent scientists and engineers, and they began building 600 coal-fired power plants.
Of course, they have to wrest that title from the United States, but that seems easier and easier with each passing week. The U.S. is poised to cede global leadership to whomever wants it. And China is ready to step in and take it.
The Chinese population at large is feeling this momentum. There is a fervent nationalistic movement and a general sense that China is becoming invincible. This is not a pipe dream. China leads the world in many areas, some nice and some not-so-nice: information technology research and development, on-demand services, mobile payments and e-commerce, capital punishment, virtual reality, energy finance, fossil fuel production, robotics, carbon emissions, patent filings, nuclear power plant builds, and renewable energy manufacturing and installation.
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Yes, China invests more than any other country each year in low-carbon energy, especially wind, solar, nuclear and hydro. Just last week, China switched on the world’s largest floating solar power plant. China has 22 nuclear reactors under construction, and is working on the largest water project in history. China is creating the world’s largest emissions trading system, to which California and Washington states are set to hook up.
China is even growing faster in wine making than any other country.
It’s disheartening that the United States was recently number one in all of these areas. We couldn’t even pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was designed to counter China’s rising influence.
But the most ambitious plan to pass America in global, political and economic influence is embodied in China’s latest initiative, called the ‘One Belt, One Road’ project — a modern-day version of the 2,000-year-old Silk Road, with both land and sea routes.
Proposed by President Xi Jinping in 2013, China intends to invest well over a trillion dollars in this 21st Century Silk Road, building new roads, high-speed rail, power plants, pipelines, seaports and airports, telecommunication links and every infrastructure imaginable that will boost commerce between China and 60 countries in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
China has already spent over $50 billion along these routes.
The countries along this One Belt, One Road make up 55 percent of the world’s economy, 70 percent of the world’s population and 75 percent of the world’s fossil fuel.
Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense Chas Freeman described the One Belt, One Road project as “potentially the most transformative engineering effort in human history.”
One Belt, One Road is more than just new stuff. The world’s largest platform for economic cooperation, policy coordination, trade and financing collaboration, and social and cultural cooperation could possibly make life better for everyone anywhere near the routes.
That’s what the Greatest Nation on Earth does. That’s what we did following World War II with the Marshall Plan, the European Recovery Act, and the Truman Doctrine that saved Greece and Turkey
We also did it with the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Peace Corps, Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and U.S. African Development Foundation.
All of these lessened the awful aftermaths of war and poverty, sped the economic development of each country, and resulted in those countries willingly entering our sphere of influence. It started an unprecedented era of general peace and prosperity that lasted 70 years.
But America seems to have become stingy and stupid. Stingy because these programs have never cost that much compared to our GDP and, in the words of our own military, are more effective dollar-for-dollar than guns and bombs.
It often seems as though China is where the United states was in about 1950, although moving faster. So the question is: Will the United States try to stop this expansion?
Jim Conca is a long-time resident and scientist in the Tri-Cities, a Trustee of the Herbert M. Parker Foundation and a Science Contributor to Forbes on energy and environmental issues at http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/