America’s Next Great Rival

Separated from the United States by an ocean lies a great power. Some might call it a sleeping dragon. It is the cradle of one of the world’s finest civilizations, representing a race that comprises one-sixth of humanity. This great power has built vast tracks of high-speed rails, and frequently incurs large trade surpluses with the United States. And although this great power still faces internal challenges, it remains a leading contender to dominate the 21st century.

China? I was actually thinking of Europe.

Last Friday, the European Union received the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize. And in this writer’s opinion, the Peace Prize was a fitting tribute to a continent that emerged from centuries of intra-European conflicts, including two world wars, to produce seven decades of virtually unparalleled peace, prosperity, and freedom.

Moreover, the EU hasn’t even grown to its full size because it doesn’t yet include all European countries. Should the EU expand to include quintessentially Western nations like Norway and Switzerland, it would boost its numbers by over 13 million prosperous and well-educated people. And within the next 50 to 100 years, the possible integration of Russia would add over 140 million people.

In contrast, rival powers can’t expand in the same way. Can anyone imagine China creating a greater East Asian co-prosperity sphere that includes Japan, Korea, Vietnam, or Mongolia?

Despite its challenges, Europe has successfully solved many problems that still plague much of the rest of humanity. Europe is a vast democratic bloc that has managed to balance both environmentalism and economic growth. A continent whose infrastructure, technology, companies, schools, sculptures, laws, medicines, music, and arts are the envy of mankind. This is a continent that, if it wanted, has the capacity to field multiple million-man armies, armed to the teeth with gadgets that would rival those of the U.S. military.

Yet, America fears Europe far less than China.

Moreover, Europe’s global influence extends across culture, the arts, and sports. In the London Olympics, for instance, the European Union alone dominated the Games by winning 92 gold medals, compared to 46 for the United States and 38 for China.

Most of China’s challenges are deep-rooted, systemic, and difficult to overcome. Despite several decades of capable leadership under Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, and Hu Jintao, China still has to deal with third-world problems of overpopulation, poverty, pollution, natural disasters, ethnic tensions, popular uprisings, rural-urban inequality, male-female demographic imbalances, and the lack of rule of law—even while trying to make the tough transition from autocratic capitalism to a more just society.

In contrast, most of Europe’s perceived problems could be resolved with sufficient political will. Although Europe’s fears of “bankruptcy” and “demographic collapse” are significant, these challenges are nonetheless far easier to manage than China’s. Yes, the Europeans need to balance their budgets, rein in welfare entitlements, and adopt policies to encourage working mothers to have more babies. But all these are First World problems that the prosperous European continent can—at least in theory—solve within a few election cycles if it elects the right leaders.

Much ink has been spilt over the fact that China might become America’s next great rival. Nevertheless, the fundamentals seem to favor Brussels, not Beijing. Despite the Europeans’ challenges, they are likely to remain well ahead of the non-Western world for the foreseeable future.

Surely all this must be cause for optimism in the Old Continent.

Chris Seck is a 3L. His column runs on Wednesdays

The views in opinion editorials, columns, and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of The Record. 

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