Khrushchev was truculent because he believed that the United States was declining and the Soviet Union was ascendant. “History is on our side,” he told the West in 1956. “We will bury you.” Yang and his boss, President Xi Jinping, share a similar confidence today. Their mantra: “The East is rising, and the West is declining.”
Biden has a chance to show that current Chinese boasts are as hollow as the Soviet ones of old. To do so, he will have to accomplish six things.
First, end the covid-19 outbreak. Nothing has done more to foster a global image of the United States as weak and incompetent than the fact that we have more covid-19 deaths than any other country. What a difference a change of administration makes. The number of vaccinations per day has increased from fewer than 818,000 on Jan. 20 to more than 3 million on Sunday. That’s a 267 percent increase in just 60 days. The United States has become a world leader in vaccinations, with 38 doses administered per 100 people, compared with only 5.4 doses per 100 people in China.
Second, revive the economy. Because China stopped the spread of covid-19, its economy grew by 2.3 percent in 2020, while ours shrank by 3.5 percent. But Biden’s growing success in combating the pandemic, combined with the $1.9 trillion stimulus package approved by Congress, should turbocharge the economy. Economists surveyed by the Wall Street Journal predict torrid 5.95 percent growth this year — the strongest pace since 1984.
Third, unify the country. This will be tougher, but Biden is off to a good start by refusing to engage in the GOP’s culture wars and pursuing popular initiatives such as his stimulus bill — which has 70 percent support in the country despite the lack of any GOP votes in Congress. Biden’s job approval rating is at 55.1 percent — far higher than Trump’s ever was — and Republicans are struggling to figure out how to attack him.
Fourth, reinvigorate America’s alliances. The administration is making this a priority. Before the Alaska summit, Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visited two U.S. allies in Asia — South Korea and Japan — and Biden convened a virtual meeting of the so-called Quad with Australia, Japan and India. Confidence in the United States has surged among our allies since Biden’s election. The Pew Research Center reported in January: “Large majorities in Germany (79 percent), France (72 percent) and the UK (65 percent) say they have confidence in Biden to do the right thing in world affairs — a dramatic change from the low ratings Trump received.”
Fifth, reorient defense spending. The United States spends a lot on defense — $714 billion in fiscal year 2020 — but much of it goes for “legacy” systems such as aircraft carriers, short-range fighter aircraft and tanks that would be unlikely to survive a war against an adversary such as China equipped with precision-guided missiles, cyberweapons and other high-tech systems. Classified Pentagon war games “strongly suggest” that the United States would lose a conflict with China. Catching up requires, as retired Adm. James Stavridis and former Marine Elliot Ackerman argued in The Post, “investing in offensive cyber capabilities, smaller platforms, drone and stealth technology and artificial intelligence.” We can’t do that and maintain all of our expensive, existing capabilities.
Sixth, safeguard our technological edge. We can’t take that for granted, given that, from 2000 to 2017, China’s research and development spending grew by more than 17 percent a year while America’s grew only 4.3 percent a year. The National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, chaired by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and former deputy defense secretary Robert Work, recently came out with a report that has important recommendations for how the United States can remain a tech leader. Its proposals include doubling research spending on artificial intelligence, reforming the immigration system to attract “highly skilled immigrants” and expanding domestic manufacturing of semiconductors. Congress can begin by passing a bipartisan Senate bill to expand funding for the National Science Foundation and to give it more of a technology focus.
Biden is off to a strong start on the first four action items — but, understandably, he hasn’t gotten around to the fifth or sixth yet. He needs to make them a priority for the rest of his term. If the United States does all six things successfully, there is no need to fear that the 21st century will be the Communist Chinese century.