US vs China: Who is more resilient?

Even as some dismiss the US and say it is set on a downward trajectory, commentator Deng Qingbo says its powers of recovery are too strong for it to be ruled out. As a superpower, it has the means to make adjustments and move forward. China has much of that resilience too, given that is the only country in the world with an unbroken civilisation of 5,000 years. Deng examines the strengths and weaknesses of both nations in terms of their abilities to recover from setbacks, and their nimbleness in correcting mistakes.
A figurine depicting U.S. President-Elect Joe Biden is pictured at a shop on Via San Gregorio Armeno, the famous street in Naples dedicated to producing nativity figurines, where shops are currently closed due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions, in Naples, Italy, 19 November 2020. (Ciro De Luca/REUTERS)
A figurine depicting U.S. President-Elect Joe Biden is pictured at a shop on Via San Gregorio Armeno, the famous street in Naples dedicated to producing nativity figurines, where shops are currently closed due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions, in Naples, Italy, 19 November 2020. (Ciro De Luca/REUTERS)

Chinese netizens have paid attention to the US presidential election this year like never before. Many people had a sense of venting their grievances — in recent years, the Trump administration has sought to contain China on issues such as trade, technology, the pandemic, and Taiwan, while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has gone all over the world attacking China. It is no wonder that many Chinese netizens are now passing the figurative popcorn at the messy US election.

For instance, a friend of mine just started a Weibo account with few followers, but a casual post hoping for a smooth US election got tens of thousands of views in just one minute, complete with a flurry of comments.

While my friend repeatedly explained that a relatively stable US actually helps to reduce anxiety about China, and that China’s foreign ministry also expressed the hope for a smooth election, netizens still labelled my friend as “retarded” and a “US lover”, and so on.

However, some netizens would be disappointed by how the US election has turned out in the end. A Biden win seems more and more likely, and China’s foreign ministry has finally congratulated him. And while many Chinese netizens still hope Trump will continue to create chaos in the US, the likelihood is that Biden will enter the White House.

newsstand
The front page of the Global Times newspaper shows a picture of US President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris at a newsstand in Beijing, China, 9 November 2020. The headline reads on the paper reads: "Biden's election speech discusses easing divisions." (Thomas Peter/REUTERS)

The US has rule of law, the media, and constitutional order to fall back on

The fact is, people in China need to stay calm and objective in looking at this year’s US election. Granted that the messiness highlights many current problems in the US, such as social divisions, severity of the pandemic, and political tussling, as a superpower, overall the US still has a strong ability to heal itself. While Trump’s four years in office have messed up many things, it can still get back on track and quickly recover.

All this shows that despite the many problems with the judicial system, press freedom, and governance in the US, they are still working, and not even someone like Trump has the intention or ability to challenge them.

For example, while the number of coronavirus infections and deaths in the US are the world’s highest, its healthcare resources have not run out and its system has not collapsed. And despite conflicts seen through movements such as Black Lives Matter, generally, life goes on — complete with the scheduled national election. In other words, the current US system is definitely strong enough to withstand major tests.

Trump’s actions following the election may have been erratic, but they can be described as “out of line without crossing the line”. He still adhered to fundamental values and rules of US society. He was unhappy with the voting results and chose to file lawsuits in various states; he was unhappy with media reports, but would not use state authority to clamp down on the media or shut it down; he was unhappy with pandemic measures in many states, but did not interfere with their handling of it.

All this shows that despite the many problems with the judicial system, press freedom, and governance in the US, they are still working, and not even someone like Trump has the intention or ability to challenge them. One can say that as long as the rule of law, the media, and constitutional order remain firm in the US, it will be able to effectively restrain Trump, or even regulate the whims of someone more maniacal.

Right now, there seems to be little doubt of Biden’s victory. After four years of Trump’s chaotic leadership, the people of America have finally chosen Biden — an experienced, conventional political elite — to lead the country. This will right the chaos created by Trump, and is a sign that US politics will return to the normal state of a superpower. In other words, this is a major self-correction in US politics. Biden’s victory shows that US politics still has a strong ability to recover.

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Protesters rally in front of Gov. Kate Brown's residence, Mahonia Hall, on 21 November 2020 in Salem, Oregon. Protesters angered by lockdown measures and the presidential election results rallied for the third consecutive weekend in the state's capitol. (Nathan Howard/AFP)

Still strong, still a superpower

And so, if Trump’s antics over four years and the unprecedented chaos of this year’s election lead to the conclusion that the US is a spent force, that would be a gross underestimation of its strength and resilience, and its strong ability to heal itself.

If any country were to build its policy towards the US based on the assessment that it is divided, messy, and unable to extricate itself, and brush off continued US dominance, then it might make irretrievable strategic errors.

The fact is that the ability to recover is a requisite of any world power, which determines its survival. The course of a country is not always smooth, and if it cannot recover well, it would have failed to pick itself up from setbacks. If it is able to recover, it will learn from its mistakes and gain new and better opportunities.

From this perspective, self-recovery is also an important reference to assess a country’s governance. And there is no question that the US ability to recover remains very strong.

... although China has also gone the long way around several times in history, it has always managed to recover fairly thoroughly and make sure the country gets back on track.

China too, shows resilience

Of course, we should see that China has its own unique advantages in this aspect. China is the only country in the world with an unbroken civilisation of 5,000 years, and it has amassed a wealth of wisdom in governance. Traditional Chinese culture emphases applied statecraft, and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) combines dialectical materialism and the Chinese way of “seeking truth from facts” into a pragmatic ideology, freeing China from dogmatism, so that it is always able to stay realistic and grounded and results-oriented, and correct itself when it finds that things are not right.

So, although China has also gone the long way around several times in history, it has always managed to recover fairly thoroughly and make sure the country gets back on track. Following its reform and opening up, Deng Xiaoping advocated “crossing the river by feeling the stones” (摸着石头过河) to quickly correct any errors found, demonstrating the strong ability for recovery of China’s current system.

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A medical worker in a protective suit holds a plastic bag with swab samples in Tianjin on 22 November 2020, after new coronavirus cases were detected in the city. (STR/AFP)

Take the ongoing pandemic. The signs are that the virus may not have originated in Wuhan, but after China found something amiss and it was facing a tough situation, it acted immediately and is now the most successful world power to control the pandemic and repair the damage, highlighting its ability to heal itself.

In contrast, the US is stuck in its deep-rooted problems brought about by capitalism and social stratification, capitalist control of state machinery, and political division due to bipartisan tussling. While it can still recover well as a superpower, it is also helpless to recover against some major problems; while it is not yet decrepit, it is moving towards that.

... the Chinese have to be confident about growing its strength, without gloating over the chaos in the US... or hoping that Trump will mess up the US and ease off on the containment of China.

China and the US are in the contest of the century. On the one hand, the Chinese need to be calm and clear-headed, and be realistic in seeing that the US is still strong, and China still has things to learn from it in terms of its comprehensive legal system, regulation of news and public opinion, and technological development. On the other hand, in the long term, China’s powers of self-correction are a unique advantage, and as long as it does not make major strategic or disruptive errors, a rejuvenation of the country is in sight.

In other words, the Chinese have to be confident about growing its strength, without gloating over the chaos in the US as some netizens are doing, or hoping that Trump will mess up the US and ease off on the containment of China.

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