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How Biden can defeat China Putin and Xi are more vulnerable than we think

The new face of America First (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)


January 25, 2022   5 mins

In 1930, John Dos Passos wrote that America is many things: it is a “slice of a continent”, “the world’s greatest river valley”, and “a set of bigmouthed officials with too many bank accounts”. “But mostly,” he wrote in The 42nd Parallel, America “is the speech of the people”.

Almost a century later, America is still not confined to Washington, the Manhattan upper classes, or Silicon Valley oligarchs. America is still the American people — and that is a cause for some hope.

Yes, America is deeply divided and most Americans, with reason, fear the country is decaying both politically and economically. But overall, Americans are far more patriotic about their country’s virtues than in any European country. If the fight over the future of liberalism against China and Russia — a fight that now threatens to turn a cold war into a hotter one — is going to be won, it is here.

America’s cognitive elites may seem enamoured with China’s state-controlled political system, but for much of the country, this remains the land of Jefferson and Lincoln, not the Yellow Emperor. Despite the pandemic, new business formations rose from roughly 3.5 million in 2019 to 4.4 million last year. Self-employment, pummelled at first, has recovered more rapidly than conventional salary jobs; more than 500,000 Americans reinvented themselves as entrepreneurs.

Arguably the greatest test for American renewal lies in manufacturing, precisely the place China has based its ascendancy. Here Trump’s “America First” mantra is echoed in the demands of Biden’s progressive agenda: in just the past three months, Congress has passed The BuyAmerican.gov Act, The Make PPE in America Act, as well as recent legislation banning the import of good produced using slave labor in Xinjiang.

This is not only good policy but good politics; Americans, at least theoretically, are willing to pay higher prices for domestically produced goods; an overwhelming majority, according to one recent survey, would even fork out 20% more for products produced at home. No doubt this desire to reshore production reflects the pain associated with the mounting deficit on trade goods, which has enriched many of our leading manufacturing companies — notably Apple — but has also cost an estimated 3.4 million job losses since 2001.

That also goes some way to explaining why America’s industrial revival is occurring largely outside coastal affluent ‘mini-Europes’. Between 2017 and 2020, five states — Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Nevada — accounted for 30% of all manufacturing job growth. Perhaps more important is the fact that, along with reviving Midwest states like Ohio, Iowa and Indiana, these states tend to have lower taxes, housing costs and less regulation than their coastal counterparts.

And this formula is being rewarded. Almost all the new electric vehicle and battery facilities, demanded most by Democrat politicians, are being built east of the Sierra and Cascades. Meanwhile, multi-billion dollar facilities from Intel, Samsung and Taiwan Semiconductor are popping up in growth states such as Arizona, Texas and, most recently, outside Columbus, Ohio. The impact of such growth cannot be underestimated: thanks to these new technologies, American companies are able to produce better and often cheaper products, crafting parts that, in many cases, have been largely sourced in China and other countries.

This industrial renaissance is critical if the West is to address its ruinous dependence on China — made all too evident during the pandemic and the current supply chain crisis. And yet it is also likely to elicit opposition from our own largely pro-China elites, who seem more willing to appease rather than confront Beijing.

This is epitomised by Apple’s astounding $275 billion deal with Xi’s regime, an agreement that grants China continued control of production while also selling off advanced technology to the autocratic regime. Meanwhile, Wall Street figures such as Michael Bloomberg, Ray Dalio, Jamie Dimon of J.P. Morgan and even Blackrock’s Larry Fink seem to spot no contradiction between their craven progressive outpourings at home and China’s brutal repression in Xinjiang, Taiwan or Hong Kong — not to mention the Middle Kingdom’s greenhouse gas output, which totals more than the rest of the developed world combined.

At the same time, many of the same pro-China oligarchs also support draconian energy prices that undermine efforts to bring industry back home. Many have adopted the notion of “de-growth”, essentially a policy that seeks to reduce consumption and lower middle-class living standards to “save the planet”. Such campaigns — both corporate and within the clerisy — make little sense if companies end up shifting ever more production to high-carbon supply chains in China.

What makes this even more galling is the fact that now is a time of strategic opportunity for the US, particularly in terms of rising energy prices. Yet President Biden, obsessively seeking to please his green zealot supporters, insists on assaulting US production of natural gas and other fossil fuels. This seems particularly ill-conceived, given the US is the largest producer and China the biggest consumer. There is a competitive edge to be exploited here, not thrown away by begging for cheap oil from Russia or the Gulf states.

Perhaps even more important is another window of opportunity: now is the perfect time for America to attract foreign business. The increased threat of CCP government interference and higher operating costs are causing companies such as Sharp, Sony and Nintendo to begin move out of China — part of an exodus of more than 1,700 companies who upped sticks last year alone. Softbank, the giant Japanese based venture firm, has seen its revenues plummet as its Chinese investments fell due to government clampdowns and has suspended future investments there. A number of American entrepreneurs who came for the Sinic gold rush have pulled out as well, no longer seeing China as at the economic vanguard.

So it is not too late to constrain China and its global string of motley allies, including Putin. But this necessitates accentuating our differences; it means creating better conditions for smaller tech firms, and constraining the oligopolies who benefit from China’s squashing opposition and seek to create their own dominion at home.

For this is about more than America. Elsewhere in the West, its allies now seem hopelessly passive in the face of bureaucratic control at home, and with many of them willing to accede to authoritarians abroad. Predictions of inevitable American decline have been popular, particularly in Europe, since at least the early Seventies. Yet here we are a half century later, and the US remains the world’s hegemonic economic, technological, and military power.

As Europe is now discovering, no country on the continent, including Germany, has the wherewithal, mentally or physically, to stand up to Putin’s Ukraine gambit — much less Xi’s more menacing attempts to repress Taiwan and Hong Kong. Germany’s boneheaded energy strategy has now effectively turned it into a satrap of the Sino-Russian “neo-Eurasianism” – an arc of autocracy.

Germans and other Europeans may not much like our recent Presidents — nor do I — but is that an excuse to coddle long-time autocrats like Putin and Xi? Whether they like it or not, when searching for the best hope to resist the rising autocratic tide, the West will find only one viable alternative to China’s domination: the United States.


Joel Kotkin is the Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and author, most recently, of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class (Encounter)

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Terence Fitch
Terence Fitch
2 years ago

Geopolitics now? Personally I think ‘The West’ including Japan, ANZAC, Singapore etc seems weak and divided whereas Russia, China, Carbon exporters and Theocracies seem strong: strong men rulers, state controls, one message, appeal to patriotism, strong conventional armed forces. The rest of the world is generally poor or can’t cope with population growth or is corrupt. Ukraine threats and Hong Kong sum it up. Nonetheless, despite Trump and Johnson chumpery and nonsense, just ask who wants to emigrate where? Which culture dominates the world? Who is envious and jealous of which way of life? Are we, for example, playing Chinese or Russian music on balalaikas or Guzheng? Does the world prefer Cyrillic or Chinese characters? I’m not predicting any ‘end of history’ but in the West we underestimate our own scientific and cultural achievements. We made the modern world. Reparations? We should be charging the rest of the world for intellectual property and stop absurd cultural cringing. It feels like we’re in a mess but it’s partly the price we pay for debate and dissent. Time to defend ourselves with confidence, end dependence on carbon fuels and cheap consumerist manufacturing, end mass immigration and tell Putin and Xi’s successors to do one.

Last edited 2 years ago by Terence Fitch
Matt M
Matt M
2 years ago
Reply to  Terence Fitch

We made the modern world. Reparations? We should be charging the rest of the world for intellectual property and stop absurd cultural cringing. It feels like we’re in a mess but it’s partly the price we pay for debate and dissent. Time to defend ourselves with confidence, end dependence on carbon fuels and cheap consumerist manufacturing, end mass immigration and tell Putin and Xi’s successors to do one.

Excellent comment! I want this on a tee-shirt (preferably not one made in China)

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
2 years ago
Reply to  Terence Fitch

I’m so thankful I was born in the ‘West’.
How I wish we could send the naysayers about our western culture on long ‘holidays’ to those countries they so admire.

Justin Clark
Justin Clark
2 years ago
Reply to  Terence Fitch

Hard Times Create Strong Men,
Strong Men Create Good Times,
Good Times Create Weak Men,
Weak Men Create Hard Times…

Terence Fitch
Terence Fitch
2 years ago
Reply to  Justin Clark

The country that needs a man on a horse to sort things out is a terrible place to be.

Charlie Walker
Charlie Walker
2 years ago
Reply to  Terence Fitch

Wasn’t it a camel not a horse?

Sean Penley
Sean Penley
2 years ago
Reply to  Terence Fitch

 “It feels like we’re in a mess but it’s partly the price we pay for debate and dissent.”
A very excellent comment. And despite what some people want to believe, none of this ‘division’ is anything new. The first constitution had to be scrapped because the divisions in the states were so great the experiment looked to fall apart; states were even engaging in trade wars with each other. The notion of a country that thinks and behaves the same all across its length and breadth is more of a post-WWII notion than a tradition. Yet here we still are. And for that matter, presidents criticizing the media is not exactly something new. It was first made famous by none other than Jefferson, who was actually more acerbic about it than Trump.
ï»żAll these negative trends are both symptoms of a free society, and yet as long as the societies remain free they can usually weather these. The worry is when people feel they are being clamped down on and the usual release valves are stopped. So a country that censors its people but presents a united image is in a far more dangerous position than one that lets them vent but shows all of its differences and disagreements to the world. And that is why the behavior of Big Tech and now even their government enablers is worrying…but at least I do think more and more people are ceasing to trust them, which I suspect will be the forerunner to change.

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
2 years ago
Reply to  Terence Fitch

I remember the end of the 1970s, when orthodox opinion was that the weak democracies and mixed economies of the West were no match for state controlled socialism. Within a decade this view proved to be entirely wrong.

Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
2 years ago

China is interesting. A completely materialistic political entity, it’s trying to disprove the age old wisdom that you cannot control for everything. But you really can’t. No society, not even the Soviet Union, ever drank from the milk of pure Marxist communism the way Xi is making China do. It’s going to poison them the way Marxism poisons everything, but a lot quicker

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
2 years ago

I believe this is true. But I wonder how many Marxist-leaning intellectuals will buy into the CCP narrative, and how much damage they will do by adopting this flawed philosophy?

Martin Logan
Martin Logan
2 years ago

I would call China authoritarian, even totalitarian. But it certainly isn’t Communist. It’s state capitalism, based as much on Confucius as Marx. Moreover, with its inevitable decline in population, it may not be the threat we see today in ten years.

Justin Clark
Justin Clark
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Logan

A Chinese friend over there confided to me that they all know change will happen (inside China) but fear how it will do so…

Steve Elliott
Steve Elliott
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Logan

I read somewhere that 70% of Chinese businesses are state owned. Another place said 80%. Isn’t that almost a definition of communism where the state owns the means of production?

Gunner Myrtle
Gunner Myrtle
2 years ago

I wonder how strong Xi’s support actually is. Some leaders in China must be getting nervous as the West starts to wake up to their naked aggression. They would lose a war with the west. If I read tomorrow that there had been a coup it wouldn’t surprise me.

Sean Penley
Sean Penley
2 years ago

I believe it is true. But I do worry that modern technology, which once seemed like it would be such a force for good, is instead giving them remarkable tools that Stalin or Mao could never have imagined in their wildest dreams.

Matt M
Matt M
2 years ago

As Europe is now discovering, no country on the continent, including Germany, has the wherewithal, mentally or physically, to stand up to Putin’s Ukraine gambit â€” much less Xi’s more menacing attempts to repress Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Seems a bit ungenerous to Britain who has sent arms to Ukraine, led sanctions against Putin after Salisbury, honoured the rights of BNOs in HK to seek refuge in Britain, joined AUKUS and are joining the US semi-boycott of the Olympics.

Jonathan Weil
Jonathan Weil
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt M

“On the continent”.

Matt M
Matt M
2 years ago
Reply to  Jonathan Weil

Ha – thanks Jonathan – I misread it. Apologies to the author.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
2 years ago

Hm. So, many Americans are willing to pay 20% more for goods produced at home.

I don’t see this at all. Firstly, 20% is a very optimistic figure. Secondly, this means serious inflation on top of the inflation coming anyway. Thirdly, saying and doing is different.

When I buy a t-shirt it costs about ÂŁ10. If we made cotton goods in the UK we would pay much higher wages per hour. Working hours would be shorter. Sickness and holidays and maternity leave would add to the cost. Then the factories would have to be tightly controlled to control the effluent from cotton production and dyes used. Then we would have to pay effluent inspectors to visit these factories. We would insist that the employees had reguarly fire drills and that some were trained as fire stewards. I am not going to include culture training about women’s rights, quota systems for transes and ethnic minorities. We would have to import the raw cotton from hotter areas of the world.

I conclude that the same t-shirt made in the UK would cost ÂŁ30 – a 300% rise in price. The US is different and employment costs might not include some of the things I have listed. They have their own cotton. But I would still guess at at a 50-60% increase in price.

Matt M
Matt M
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

I’ve often wondered why we don’t buy more things like tee-shirts from India instead of China. They are surely a more palatable low-cost location than communist China. Have you looked into it?
Obviously reshoring in the UK or US sense is really about critical, high-tech goods where having our IP ripped off by the Chinese is a security threat and supply chains need to be protected. Making tee-shirts in Britain is never going to fly.

Kathleen Stern
Kathleen Stern
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt M

I remember buying all sorts of clothes imported from India that were beautifully made and styled and were not that expensive. Why did so much of the import go to China instead?

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Kathleen Stern

Cost and expertise

Alan Hawkes
Alan Hawkes
2 years ago

Basically, I am sick of being expected to cringe because I am, British (home of the Industrial Revolution), European, White, etc.
Time for the moral fight-back.

Scott S
Scott S
2 years ago

I truley believe the west is in decline. Post modernism has killed the west, free speech is in decline, no matter what other people may suggest. Free speech has not always been prevalent in society, however it does correlate with ‘huge steps for mankind’. The future, as always is for the fearless. Cometh the Hour, cometh the man, or women. I do hope and pray for logic and reason to become the norm. However, I fear certain forces like the divide and conquer scenario.

Last edited 2 years ago by Scott S
Gunner Myrtle
Gunner Myrtle
2 years ago
Reply to  Scott S

I am not so pessimistic. I think people are waking up to the excesses of progressives. Mainstream media have destroyed their own credibility. Covid has shown people the arrogance and dishonesty of the clerisy. I think the Democrats are going to get slaughtered in the mid-terms. I think we are getting close to a tipping point – which will change politics around the world.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago

If you do not hold your Nation up with patriotic acts and total loyalty – then it will not hold you as being worthy of caring about either.

This is the situation now, as people call Nationalism and Patriotism a bad thing then they will get a bad country.

Your Nation is what gave you everything, and one should revere is as you do your family.

Giles Chance
Giles Chance
2 years ago

The West is hugely dependent on China, and vice-versa. This is not going to change. So how does the United States “defeat” China ? It doesn’t. Instead, through necessity and increasing familiarity, and by exercising common-sense, it learns to co-operate with a very different, non-democratic dictatorship with strong capitalist elements and a number of very large and successful private companies, which is as large or larger than it is and which is not going to collapse. That’s the inevitable future, whatever the China hawks, like this one, may think and propound. Any kind of thinking based on the American sole superpower of 1990-2010, like the above article, is pie-in-the-sky.

Last edited 2 years ago by Giles Chance
Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago
Reply to  Giles Chance

I agree. There will not be any “defeating” of anyone here. Both countries are too big to fail.

Sean Penley
Sean Penley
2 years ago
Reply to  Giles Chance

The Soviet Union was too big to fail as well.
That doesn’t prove China will, you can’t prove the future. But China has collapsed many times throughout its history. It has rebounded, but almost always under different rulers, occasionally foreign ones (including the last dynasty that only ended barely over a century ago). Yes, there will probably always be a nation known as China, and unlike previous collapses I doubt that if anything happens to the modern version it will mean a change in borders (and this version of China is the only one ever to have its borders where they are today), but the continued rule of the CCP is not guaranteed. Might happen, but while single-party systems can avoid the indecision of democracies, they bring their own set of weaknesses. And like autocratic monarchs, when the party controls everything, it means only they can be blamed for failures. It’s why the CCP is so sensitive about the mention of anything going wrong inside China and even flip out when news articles talk about natural disasters like floods.

Giles Chance
Giles Chance
2 years ago
Reply to  Sean Penley

The Soviet Union was not too big to fail, because it was economically bankrupt. China is not bankrupt. Big difference.

Sean Penley
Sean Penley
2 years ago
Reply to  Giles Chance

Soviet Union was only bankrupt near the end, and that was because of the policies it adopted early on. China is setting the stage to make itself bankrupt. Might not happen, depends on how other countries react. But far more than the Soviet Union, the CCP relies on other nations to support its rise to power and is more vulnerable to their active resistance. Whether that materializes in a manner significant enough to matter is the main issue. All things considered, the Soviet Union had a lot more going for it (natural resources, arable land, industrialization at the time the socialists took over, etc.). China has managed its rise largely by other nations not contesting it. It has worked so far, but the model is based on the idea that no one ever wakes up to what they are doing. That may in fact play out, but it’s a weak model.

James Joyce
James Joyce
2 years ago

Biden can defeat China only with a careful, well-executed policy: resign!
Let’s Go Brandon!