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General News    H3'ed 4/20/21

Tomgram: Dilip Hiro, Who's Rising and Falling on Planet Earth?

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Here's the strange thing: these days, you would think that China was "rising" to potentially top great-power status out of nowhere, out of nothing (unlike the United States). Historically speaking, however, America is the great-power newcomer on this planet. China has had a long history as an empire, the greatest one of its time during certain dynastic reigns, though in those days a great power couldn't yet garrison much of the planet with 800 military bases. However, between 1405 and 1433 long before Columbus "discovered" America the third Ming emperor did send Admiral Zheng He and an enormous fleet, laden with goods, on seven voyages that took him as far as the Persian Gulf and the east coast of Africa to "increase trade and secure tribute"!

Isn't it time today to stop saying that China is rising as if out of the blue? It is, if anything, rising again, hardly surprising given its size, natural wealth, and power. Even though Americans, especially those inside the Beltway in Washington, might prefer not to see it that way, what's happening on our planet right now, in imperial terms, is less an aberration than the norm of history.

Still, it's true that this isn't an everyday moment. The "rise" of China might be nothing new, but the rise of what's come to be called the "climate emergency" is new indeed. So it's a little strange that Joe Biden continues to swear China won't become "the leading country in the world" during his presidency, while the Annual Threat Assessment issued by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), as the New York Times recently reported, has just put "China's push for 'global power' first on the list of threats" in 2021. Really? In this, of course, it follows the Trump administration. As ODNI's previous director put it, China "poses the greatest threat to America today and the greatest threat to democracy and freedom worldwide since World War II."

This is indeed a crisis moment in history in which you might think that the greatest powers on the planet would feel impelled to rise together in genuine cooperation. Despite John Kerry's recent visit to China, however, it looks like no such luck. In that context, check out TomDispatch regular Dilip Hiro on who's really rising and falling right now in economic, technological, and infrastructural terms. Tom

Biden's Anti-China Ambitions
A Reality Check

By

Like his immediate predecessor, Joe Biden is committed to a distinctly anti-China global strategy and has sworn that China will not "become the leading country in the world, the wealthiest country in the world, and the most powerful country in the world... on my watch." In the topsy-turvy universe created by the Covid-19 pandemic, it was, however, Jamie Dimon, the CEO and chairman of JP Morgan Chase, a banking giant with assets of $3.4 trillion, who spoke truth to Biden on the subject.

While predicting an immediate boom in the U.S. economy "that could easily run into 2023," Dimon had grimmer news on the future as well. "China's leaders believe that America is in decline," he wrote in his annual letter to the company's shareholders. While the U.S. had faced tough times in the past, he added, today "the Chinese see an America that is losing ground in technology, infrastructure, and education a nation torn and crippled by politics, as well as racial and income inequality and a country unable to coordinate government policies (fiscal, monetary, industrial, regulatory) in any coherent way to accomplish national goals." He was forthright enough to say, "Unfortunately, recently, there is a lot of truth to this."

As for China, Dimon could also have added, its government possesses at least two powerful levers in areas where the United States is likely to prove vulnerable: dominant control of container ports worldwide and the supplies of rare earth metals critical not just to the information-technology sector but also to the production of electric and hybrid cars, jet fighters, and missile guidance systems. And that's only a partial list of the areas where China is poised to become dominant in the foreseeable future. Here's a likely scenario.

The Digital Yuan Versus the (Missing) Digital Dollar

Within the broad headline of the globe's "second-largest economy," China has already either surpassed the United States or is running neck-and-neck with it in certain specific sectors.

With a global smartphone market share of 20% in the second quarter of 2020, China's Huawei Technologies topped the charts, marginally exceeding South Korea's Samsung, and well ahead of Apple, according to the International Data Corporation. This happened despite a concerted drive by President Donald Trump's administration to damage Huawei that culminated, in May 2020, with Washington barring companies worldwide from using U.S.-made machinery or software to design or produce chips for that company or its entities from that September on. Nonetheless, with a 47% share of China's booming 5G smartphone market, Huawei topped the list there while it kept up its investment in future-oriented, cutting-edge technologies and basic research to the tune of a striking $3 billion to $5 billion annually.

Broadly speaking, China continues to make impressive strides when it comes to developing its information and communications technology sector. Its Fintech (Financial Technology) report, published in October 2020, showed that an estimated 87% of Chinese consumers used fintech services. With a vast mobile-payment system that hit $29 trillion (200 trillion yuan) worth of payments in 2019, China is shaping up to become the globe's first "cashless society" and its largest financial-technology ecosystem by the end of this decade.

Less than 10% of Americans use mobile payments, which means a similar scenario for the United States is nowhere on the horizon. With mobile transactions in China already accounting for at least four out of every five payments and more than half the value of all non-cash retail payments, that country is poised to leave the U.S., a comparative laggard in fintech, shackled to a cash-dominated system.

In their relentless drive for innovation, the Chinese authorities started pushing the development of a digital currency in certain regions in August 2020. Their specific goals were to make daily life easier for citizens and digital payments more secure. While non-bank payment platforms like Alipay and WeChat Pay required users to link to bank accounts, a digital wallet with an e-currency deposit could be opened with a unique personal identification a driver's license or a mobile phone number enabling the un-banked population of China to embrace the digital world.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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