By Teryn Norris & Devon Swezey
Originally published by The Stanford Review
You know the world is changing when the president’s first trip to Asia is defined by a new U.S. foreign policy dubbed “strategic reassurance” – convincing China that the United States has no intention of containing its growing power or endangering its foreign investments. As the New York Times put it, “When President Obama visits China for the first time on Sunday, he will, in many ways, be assuming the role of profligate spender coming to pay respects to his banker.”
You also know times are changing when China, the world’s greatest polluter, and other Asian nations are poised to dominate the burgeoning global clean-tech industry by out-investing the United States. That’s the conclusion of a large new report we co-authored called “Rising Tigers, Timid Giant (PDF),” released this week by the Breakthrough Institute and Information Technology & Innovation Foundation. The report is the first to thoroughly benchmark clean energy competitiveness in four nations – China, Japan, South Korea, and the United States – and finds the following:
“Asia’s rising ‘clean technology tigers’ – China, Japan, and South Korea – have already passed the United States in the production of virtually all clean energy technologies and over the next five years will out-invest the U.S. three-to-one in these sectors… While some U.S. firms will benefit from the establishment of joint ventures overseas, the jobs, tax revenues, and other benefits of clean tech growth will overwhelmingly accrue to Asian nations… Should the investment gap persist, the U.S. will import the overwhelming majority of clean energy technologies it deploys.”
What do these two changes have in common? They both reflect the accelerating shift of global power from America to Asia, caused in large part by the serious mismanagement of U.S. economic policy.
The Pacific power shift is not a new phenomenon, and the Obama administration is wise to seek stronger ties with the region. The U.S. should applaud Asia’s growth, which is partly an outcome of our own success at promoting economic liberalism and international development. This shift in power is not a zero-sum game, nor should it be: the U.S. and Asia should avoid trade wars at all costs, and we should seize opportunities for partnership on a range of issues, from climate change to nuclear proliferation.
But the growing pace of this power shift should be a cause of major concern for Americans, and it should raise serious questions about our economic policies at the highest level. While the U.S. economy has suffered greatly from a crisis produced by its own financial sector – losing millions of jobs, trillions in economic output, and demanding huge spending packages financed by borrowed money – China has shrugged off the global recession with high levels of growth and self-financed stimulus, all while purchasing billions of Treasury bills to fund a U.S. deficit that has reached historic highs.
Last November, addressing the nation on the evening of his election, President Obama declared that “a new era of American leadership is at hand.” And indeed, his new administration has taken significant steps to remake U.S. foreign policy. But unless the U.S. quickly improves its economic competitiveness, our global leadership will be severely damaged. What is demanded now is a major, coordinated national project to regain our economic competitiveness in strategic sectors while permanently correcting the imbalances that led to the Great Recession.
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