I watched the Olympic Opening Ceremony with awe Friday night, as a stadium full of drummers tattooed a rhythmic unison awesome in its precision and stunning in its visual impact. Some of China's contributions to society were interwoven in brilliant display: fireworks shot off from around the stadium while electronic paper unrolled below and sinuous dancers acted as ancient writing utensils upon it, creating ancient characters and nature-scapes.
A legion of synchronized tai chi practitioners formed a huge, perfect sphere at one point. Later, they massed to form a bird. At another point, a sea of blocks was undulating in various shapes—now representing the elements, now harmony, now The Great Wall, now a sea of flowers—before finally revealing . . . people.
Eighty-six percent of China's 1.3 billion people, according to a recent survey are satisfied with the country's direction, the highest-polling country surveyed. Lest you think the results are skewed because they are afraid to respond honestly to surveys, other surveys show tough results to tough questions. More than nine-in-ten cited rising prices as a major concern. Seventy-five percent expressed concern with corrupt government officials and air pollution.
But for a country that has brought nearly 700 million people out of poverty and whose GDP has grown at eight percent per year during the past thirty years, is it any wonder the Chinese have reason to be optimistic about their future?
Fareed Zakaria, in his excellent book, The Post-American World, (download the first chapter free [pdf]) talks about the cultural differences between the United States and China and what we might expect from China as it seeks to enlarge its influence on the world. Rather than trying to best us militarily, he asserts, China may continue to subtly assert its power peacefully—slowly building alliances and making friendships through trade. It has been following this course in Africa and Southeast Asia with great successes. It is seen by most of its poorer partners as a benign and benevolent force.
As it continues to stretch and grow, its ability to muscle projects through by top-down decree will allow it to accomplish ambitious goals, like what we've seen at the Olympics. Yet, China still has a long way to go in comparison with the U.S. Its military pales in comparison with our nuclear capabilities, and they're just now gearing up to send their three astronauts to the moon in the next fifteen years.
Zakaria stresses that we should not expect a Cold War-like arms race like we saw from the Soviet Union as we move forward in awed, somewhat nervous step with China. We will do best by emphasizing the ways in which the relationship is mutually beneficial.
Meanwhile, we must not underestimate its resourcefulness, remembering that China has at its disposal the strategy of Sun Tzu, the philosophy of Confucius, and an abundance of Feng Shui.
Are you more in awe or in fear of China? What are your predictions for Sino-American relations in the future?
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