The Commercial Appeal
by Wesley Clark
June 8, 2013
President Barack Obama’s talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping should mark the United States’ true “pivot” to Asia — and it can’t come soon enough. China is more powerful than many Americans realize, and it is on a trajectory to become even more capable. At the same time, the Chinese may underestimate or misread us. Absent deeper understandings and greater cooperation, that’s a potentially dangerous combination.
China is a rising power, surging forward economically year after year. Its $8 trillion economy is second only to the United States’ (almost $16 trillion) — but in terms of purchasing power, the two are much closer, and China is growing almost three times faster. Its leaders seem to think their country will soon overtake the United States. They look at U.S. unemployment, slow growth and indebtedness and see a declining economic superpower. The Chinese want their due, and they are growing impatient.
In Xi the Chinese have a leader who seems comfortable handling the country’s political and economic development as well as its rapidly growing military capabilities.
It is clear from top-level Chinese diplomatic visits to India and Pakistan this spring and China’s challenges in the South China Sea and near Japan that this generation of leaders will be more assertive. We should listen when they ask why the United States is trying to “contain” China or sends its airplanes to “provoke” Chinese radar. We should take note, too, when Chinese citizens ask why we “like” the Vietnamese and Japanese more than them. In a communist state where the media are controlled, opinions usually start at the top. These are the rumblings that presage a significant challenge.