Thomas Friedman, NY Times columnist, wrote in an interesting recent article that the world is faced with three immense “climate” changes. Leadership in the world will be given to those who respond to these changes the best.
One of the changes is actually about climate. This change has been happening for a long time – the difference now is that it is no longer a “later” problem, it is a “now” problem. Later will be too late. Category 6 hurricanes are going to happen. The Amazon is going to be deforested if a day more is lost. Vast coastal areas are going to be inundated.
A second change is that the world has gone from being interconnected to being interdependent. In such a world the failure of your “rival” is even more serious than its success. We really cannot indulge in tit-for-tat animosities.
A third “climate” change is in technology. Here is what Friedman says:
“We’re moving into a world where machines and software can analyze (see patterns that were hidden before); optimize (tell a plane which altitude to fly each kilometer to get the best fuel efficiency); prophesize (tell you when your elevator will break and fix it before it does); customize (tailor any product or service for you alone); and digitize and automate just about any job. This is transforming every industry.”
How great countries respond to these three changes will dictate who leads the world. Compare then previously dominant America and rising China.
Let us first of all be clear. It is not that one approves of President Xi Jinping setting the stage for ruling for as long as he, not the people, chooses. It is not that one approves of there being only one party thus depriving the Chinese people of any real choices. But what one does very much admire is the Chinese government’s single-minded attention to what are the main forces shaping the world and how they can, better than anyone, meet the challenge of these forces. And in this respect the contrast with America is astonishing.
China has decided on a strategy – “made in China 2025” – which addresses the three changes taking place with focused vigour. It is to build the infrastructure, make the investments, develop the education, establish the regulations which will enable China to lead in super-computing, new materials, computer-controlled machine tools, industrial robotics, artificial intelligence, space and aviation equipment – including drones – clean cars, clean energy, biomedicines and next generation medical devices.
By contrast, the current American government hasn’t even appointed a science adviser, has pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord and appointed a Secretary of State for the Environment who does not believe global warming is man-made, has passed a budget that eliminates the Department of Energy’s innovative laboratory and slashed funding for the science and medical laboratories which provide the basic research to develop tomorrow’s technologies. It is a government also which, incredibly, thinks trade wars are “a good thing”, is aiming to dismantle NAFTA, endangers its own businesses and takes money out of the pockets of its consumers by raising steel and aluminum tariffs, encourages dirty coal as a preferred energy source and obsesses about building a wall against Mexico!
America is a government looking angrily towards the past – China is a country looking cooperatively towards the future.
For those who have greatly admired America – it is unutterably sad.