Today I would like to talk about USA and China relations, starting from their first official encounter, up to their recent diplomatic problems, comparing them to see why they can be called “superpowers”.
The first representatives of the Unites States visited China in 1784. A ship called the Empress of China arrived in Guangzhou (Canton) in August. The vessel’s supercargo, Samuel Shaw, had been appointed as an unofficial consul by the U.S. Congress, but he did not make contact with Chinese officials or gain diplomatic recognition for the United States. Since the 1760s all trade with Western nations had been conducted at Guangzhou through a set group of Chinese merchants with official licenses to trade. Some residents of the American colonies had engaged in the China trade before this time, but this journey marked the new nation’s entrance into the lucrative China trade in tea, porcelain, and silk. (1)
From that moment onward USA gradually started its diplomatic and trade relations with China: sometimes they were successful and both countries gained money, obtained refined and exotic products and learned from each other, but sometimes they were not, leading them to misunderstandings, conflicts and wars.
Nowadays this complicated relationship hasn’t changed much, meaning that successes and failures continuously interchange.
Let’s look for example at what happened 3 years ago when the Trump administration announced sweeping tariffs on Chinese imports, worth at least $50 billion, in response to what the White House alleged was Chinese theft of U.S. technology and intellectual property. (2)
Furthermore, in that same year U.S. Vice President Mike Pence delivered a speech marking the clearest articulation yet of the Trump administration’s policy toward China and a significant hardening of the United States’ position. Pence said the United States would prioritize competition over cooperation by using tariffs to combat “economic aggression.” He also accused China of stealing American intellectual property and interfering in U.S. elections.
Facing these accusations China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs denounced Pence’s speech as “groundless accusations” and warned that such actions could harm U.S.-China ties.
The trade war intensified until January 2020, when president Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He signed an agreement, that relaxed some U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports and committed China to buying an additional $200 billion worth of American goods, including agricultural products and cars, over two years. China also pledged to enforce intellectual property protections. (3)
And then, again, we all well witnessed the Covid-19 Crisis and we are still witnessing its consequences.
The fact that these countries’ diplomatic relations are evolving nowadays, indicates that both of them have reached a high level of economic, financial and political power, that force them to compete.
In other words, both of them are superpowers.
But what is a superpower?
As Wikipedia well explains:
“a superpower is a state with a dominant position characterized by its extensive ability to exert influence or project power on a global scale. This is done through the combined means of economic, military, technological and cultural strength as well as diplomatic and soft power influence”. (4)
And what makes them world superpowers?
Let’s start from the US.
United States have a huge lead by the most important measures of national power. It is the wealthiest country with the greatest military capability. Furthermore, it has the best long-term economic growth prospects. Economists have shown that long-run growth depends on a country’s geography, demography, and political institutions and the United States have an edge in all three categories.
Demographically, America is the only nation that is simultaneously big, young, and highly educated. The U.S. workforce is the third largest, second youngest, most educated in years of schooling, and most productive among the major powers. (5)
And what about China?
China, home to almost a fifth of the world’s population, is a country of superlatives. Forty years of economic growth, at an average of nearly 10% a year, has transformed the country into a global leader in technology and manufacturing.
Its economy is now second only in size to the United States – larger if trade is taken into account – and it is home to six of the world’s megacities.
Despite its trade dispute with the US, China enjoyed first-quarter growth of 6.4% this year, more than double the UN’s forecast for the rest of the world, and life expectancy has risen to 75 for men and 78 for women, according to the World Health Organisation. (6)
Obviously, there are not only positive aspects, but also negative.
USA, as well as China, must fight against corruption and inequalities.
In USA, in the last few years, poverty has increased and democracy has been weakened by corrupted powers. China, on the other hand, still remains a dictatorship: people must endure censorships and ethnic and religious minorities still suffer repressions from the government. China’s rapid growth made it the world’s biggest producer of CO2, damaging its citizens health.
I could go on forever talking about their pros and cons, but I must come to a conclusion.
There are no more powerful countries than China and USA today, and we can grasp their power by looking at their complex economic and political relations, made of failures and successes. One question remains: what will the future superpower be?
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