Paranoid US elites mistaken about China’s goals
Published: Jan 28, 2021 07:43 PM

Residents enjoy street food at stalls at a plaza in Beijing. Photo: VCG

Many US elites today have strategic anxiety and wrongly believe China's development aims at surpassing the US. They have overestimated themselves and underestimated China at the same time.

For example, CNN published on Tuesday an article entitled "China is rehearsing for when it overtakes America," in which it mentioned that China in 2020 outpaced the US in attracting foreign direct investment (FDI) for the first time, signed a bilateral investment treaty with the EU, and emerged from the COVID-19 shock earlier than the rest of the world.

Indeed, China's current FDI is the No.1 worldwide. In 2020, China and the US, the world's two largest economies, had very different performances in their COVID-19 fights and thus their economic statistics showed huge differences. The gap between the two countries' total GDPs was also narrowed faster than previously expected.

But we must treat the change in the two countries' balance of power objectively. It was an abnormal phenomenon in the unusual year of 2020. Due to the COVID-19 epidemic and the political instability caused by the presidential elections, the US experienced a turbulent 2020. But this will not be a long-running trend. 

There is still a gap between China's national strength and that of the US. However, Washington is very anxious about the power balance or ranking between China and the US. This shows that Washington is increasingly fretful and unconfident about itself. In fact, no matter whether it is the American public or the US political elites, there is generally a sense of strategic anxiety among them.

Such anxiety stems from a phenomenon that the US had never encountered before - from the 13 colonies in 1776 to the superpower today, the US has surpassed all the other countries. But now is the first time that the US feels it is really being surpassed by another country. Washington cannot adapt to or even accept such a scenario.

As the gap of total GDP and overall national strength between China and the US narrows, the US has felt increasingly scared. The superpower has realized that it cannot dominate the world anymore, and the sense of decline is spreading among the US elites. Meanwhile, China is thriving and its comprehensive national strength has risen rapidly. This has further promoted the US' fear of its own decline. Time has changed, but the US is still deeply attached to its hegemony status and the dividends it used to enjoy from its hegemony status. It is ambitious but feels unable to change the status quo. This is the root cause of the US' anxiety today.

However, many US elites use China as an excuse for its decline. They believe that even if there are problems in China-US relations, China is to blame. The US is anxious but it is not moving forward to change the situation. This being the case, the country will fall into a vicious cycle of self-defeat, and become more and more paranoid about eventually being surpassed.

By contrast, China has been confidently focusing on its own development. It hasn't sought to surpass the US as a goal of its national development strategic plan. But the US is highly vigilant and trying to stifle any momentum that China makes. CNN believes that, "China is rehearsing for when it overtakes America." Westerners are judging China based on their own prisms of perception.

It's fair to say the US elites have overestimated themselves while underestimating China. 

Instead of worrying what America thinks about it, China has focused on its economic advancement and pooled its national stretch for forward-thinking actions. It has never sought to engage in any economic race to beat any other country. And it is silly for the West to think China has. What China has been pursuing can not and should not be measured by whether or not it is overtaking the US.  

The US elites have not gauged China correctly, because it's not a matter of "rehearsal" for China to realize its own goals. China has its top-level plans, and has advanced its development step by step based on carefully thought-out road maps. The year 2021 is the first one in China's 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25). It has nothing to do with "rehearsal," as some have accused Beijing. This is simply China implementing its plan in a down-to-earth manner. This is what China is truly pursuing and practicing. It's wrong to say China is rehearsing to rule the world when it surpasses the US. 

The author is a senior research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

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