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.
President López Obrador's extension of the term of Supreme Court chief Arturo Zaldívar is part of his strong effort to recentralize power in the Mexican presidency and hollow out the independence and power of other Mexican institutions. His other moves to bend the justice system to his will include a reform that lowered the salary of judges but did not improve the quality of prosecutors and his unwillingness to allow an independent selection of the attorney general, with López Obrador himself retaining the power of appointment. His latest move with the two-year extension of Zaldívar’s term is especially worrisome. Zaldívar is also the president of the powerful Federal Judiciary Council. The council appoints and dismisses judges, sets career advancement rules and disciplines judges. Zaldívar will be setting the council’s and, thus, the whole judiciary’s, agenda and priorities for two years. This allows López Obrador to influence how courts will rule in cases regarding the executive branch, what cases they take up and the legality of new policies. These moves are taking place when the effectiveness of the judiciary in Mexico remains limited and deeply concerning. The attorney general’s office has proven weak, unwilling to take up key cases such as against the suspects in the brazen attack on Mexico City’s security minister, Omar García Harfuch—an event that symbolized the impunity with which Mexican criminal groups operate. Mexico’s justice system showed itself equally meek and disappointing in inadequately investigating the alleged complicity of former Mexican Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos and dismissing the case, potentially the most significant case of corruption and criminal collusion charges against a high-ranking Mexican official in two decades. A decade and a half after Mexico initiated its justice system reforms, 95 percent of federal cases still go unpunished. President López Obrador has scored some points, but the already precariously weak rule of law in Mexico, and thus the Mexican people, will suffer.