The U.S. is not prepared for the superpower marathon with China — an economic and technology race likely to last multiple generations. If we are to prevail, we must compete with rather than contain China. While this competition has many dimensions — political, military, diplomatic, and ideological — the crux of the competition is geoeconomic. The key to the economic competition is technology and innovation, which has significant implications for future military advantage as well as commercial prosperity. Investment in longterm research and technology development will have large spillover effects for the economy, creating new industries, companies, and jobs, just as we saw with the space race in an earlier generation.
While there are similarities with the last generational conflict, the Cold War, there are also profound differences which make this a poor historical analogy. Primary among these are China’s sheer economic scale and integration into the global economy.
China is well aware of the historical lessons of the Cold War and has committed to not only compete with the United States but to surpass it in technology leadership to fuel continued economic growth. And while the U.S. welcomes global economic growth and champions advancements in technology, the means by which China is pursuing and achieving its goals are often outside the norms of the international economic, financial, and technological system. The U.S. must prepare itself for the most important competition of our generation by ensuring that government, academia, and businesses are fully engaged. Specifically, the U.S. should (1) bolster federal investment in basic R&D, (2) attract and develop human capital in STEM fields, (3) develop an integrated economic statecraft strategy, and (4) focus on the long term in businesses and capital markets.
The outcome of this geoeconomic competition is by no means certain. We must strengthen our resolve and discipline in improving our competitiveness, an issue which draws strong bipartisan support. If the U.S. fails to prepare for this superpower marathon, we will resign ourselves to becoming a second-rate power while the world looks up to a new global leader with strikingly different values and views.