The last century is often referred to as “the American Century,” largely because of our country’s economic strength that provided unprecedented prosperity for millions of American families. Today, one of the critical questions we’re facing is who will be the economic and innovation leader of the 21st century: America or China?
In 1978, when China began to open its economy, America produced four times more steel than China. Now, China produces 12 times more steel than America.
In 1978, America produced more cars than China. Now, China is the world’s largest carmaker. In 1978, America was the world’s leading economy. Now, we remain the world’s biggest economy, but the China has the world’s second largest economy and aims to be No. 1.
If the trajectory of China’s growth is not a wake-up call for America, here is one more troubling statistic: China now leads in 37 of 44 technologies that are considered important for the future of our world, according to the think tank Australian Strategic Policy Institute. This includes 5G, nanoscale manufacturing and drone technology.
As these numbers make clear, China is catching up to the U.S. economically, and its leaders are determined to move ahead of us. As Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping has said, China seeks to “lead the world in terms of comprehensive national power and international influence.”
If we want to level the playing field for the American people and maintain our place as the global economic leader for the rest of the 21st century, we need to protect ourselves from unfair trade practices by the Chinese Communist Party. At the same time, we must up our own game and enhance our competitiveness.
As we think about how to put America on track to win this competition, we need to focus on three P’s: people, production and partnerships.
America’s biggest economic strength has always been its people. Whether we were born here or, like my family, came here from distant shores seeking a shot at the American Dream, our hardworking, ambitious and innovative people have given us a competitive advantage. Making sure our people are better prepared to lead and innovate will be critical to our nation’s future, and attracting the best and brightest from around the world will ensure that we stay ahead.
We’ve seen over the past few years the impact that supply chains abroad can have on working families here at home. Hardening our supply chains by producing more goods in the U.S. will ensure that our economic future is not left to the whims of a disruptive competitor.
Finally, we need to pursue strong partnerships. Economic growth and progress are impossible without them. This includes partnerships with other nations as well as those between our public and private sectors. Working together to fuel innovation on next-generation technologies like artificial intelligence and quantum computing will ensure that we set the pace for the future and keep America No. 1.
These matters need to be pressing priorities for our entire country. We cannot wait in developing a comprehensive plan to lead the world in AI and quantum and biological technologies. The moment to act isn’t in 10 years or five years or even next year; we need to act now to ensure that our economy remains the strongest in the world for the next generation of Americans.
Our foreign competitors like China aren’t waiting. And neither can the working families of America who are competing for the innovative industries and good jobs of the future. That’s why we must come together as Republicans, Democrats and independents to ensure that this isn’t the end of the American century — but the beginning of the next one.
ABOUT THE WRITER
U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, a Democrat from Illinois, is the ranking member of the House Select Committee on Strategic Competition between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party.