America should recognize our emerging ‘China issue’

What do you think is the most pressing challenge facing America today?

Is it:

A. The economy and unemployment;

B.  The national debt;

C. Terrorism, national security and the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq; or

D. China

If you are a Ron Paul supporter, you may be looking for an option E., as in none of the above. Congressman Paul apparently believes that marijuana legalization is at or near the top of the issues that matter most in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Braves, Dodgers and Rockies. He joined with Colorado’s own Congressman Jared Polis this week in introducing legislation that would get the feds out of the weed enforcement biz.

But for most sentient Americans, the important issues are the economy, the budget and a world ripe with danger.

Remember the election of 2000, a contest between George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservative” sloganeering and Al Gore’s attempt to prove he wasn’t a robot through well-publicized alpha male wardrobe swaps and open-mouth kisses?

It almost seems frivolous looking back on it, like the 1950s and “Leave it to Beaver,” before the 1960s and Chicago, Watts and Memphis.

A frivolous election — indeed, a frivolous hour in America’s history — this is not.

The fact that the “China issue” may not have made your list of the most important issues speaks to the grave challenges we now face. But that doesn’t make the China issue any less real.

Last year, China became the world’s second largest economy, eclipsing Japan. To understand the staggering pace of economic growth there, consider: Five years ago Japan’s economy was twice that of China. According to most estimates, absent a dramatic American correction, China’s economy will eclipse our own as the world’s largest in the next 15 years.

China has almost no real middle class, and the per capita income is just 1/10th of what it is in the United States. But as year-over-year go-go economic growth changes that, and a consumption-minded middle class backstops China’s titanic export industries, what emerges is a picture of a Chinese economy with unfathomable growth potential for unfathomable lengths of time.

Economic growth is a geo-political sword in the hands of the Chinese communist political class. If you followed news out of Europe this week, you heard a lecturing arrogance from the Chinese state-sponsored financiers as they gobbled up huge swaths of the Euro-Zone’s Monopoly board. The Chinese overlords’ European swing comes in advance of a foreboding European Council on Foreign Relations Report that warns the Chinese are “taking over Europe by stealth bond purchases and strategic investments, exploiting internal divisions arising from the financial crisis.”

And they’re doing the same on this side of the Big Pond, gobbling up industry, seizing strategic economic assets from willing sellers in desperate need of capital, while subsidizing America’s spending excess through the bulk purchase of the very financial instruments that make our gargantuan government debt possible.

China isn’t above lecturing Uncle Sam either. Recall last year it called on the world to reject the dollar as its de facto reserve currency.

Meanwhile, the Chinese are deepening economic and security ties with global belligerents like Russia and Iran, subsidizing a North Korean regime bent on acquiring its own nuclear arsenal, all while underwriting its own massive military build-up.

What makes the whole matter so precariously complex, of course, is America’s own entrenched dependence on Chinese markets for our economic security. In spite of all the tell-tale warnings, it isn’t as if America can isolate Beijing like the Asian Taliban.

A good friend of mine who works in Washington put it this way:

“When I worked on Capitol Hill in the late ‘90s, early 2000s, China’s government functionaries would come lobby us on trade, commerce and the like. Laughable. By the time I left, they didn’t lobby us anymore. Cisco did. Nike did. Boeing did.”

All of this helps give form to the grand magnitude of America’s China issue. During an hour fraught with systemic challenges across the American landscape, none cast a larger shadow in the long term than it. The China issue may not be top of mind for most Americans today, but on that score, it won’t be long.

Josh Penry is a former Colorado Senate minority leader and a graduate of Grand Junction High School and Mesa State College.


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