Whenever people face a huge loss in life — like a sudden divorce or death of a family member — they go through five stages of grief. These stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. The U.S. is about to lose its top spot as the biggest economy and is, in a textbook manner, going through the same stages.
Denial: Some people like Kishore Mahbubani predicted twenty years ago that China will eventually be the leading economic powerhouse. But Americans chose denial and laughed at the concept. The popular beliefs behind the denials were:
- China’s economy will collapse any moment now!
- China will eventually become just like the West and then we will have nothing to worry about.
- China is a totalitarian, communist country. They don’t understand capitalism or free market, and thus will never be rich.
- China can never innovate. The workers are just slaves and bots.
- China makes only crappy products and thus can never compete with western brands.
- As soon as Chinese people travel to the West and see how glorious the West is, they will go back to China and overthrow the tyrannical and corrupt communist government.
- China’s GDP numbers and other stats are fake!
- China’s patents and scientific publications are of low quality.
- Chinese products will never succeed outside China.
- We can always nuke China and maintain our hegemony.
- COVID19 will surely bring China down. And all the countries will start decoupling from China.
Alas, none of those happened. China miraculously kept advancing. As the chart below shows, China kept catching up with the US, while Americans kept finding ways to denigrate China’s progress.
Without a single recession in forty years, the engine of China kept roaring. China’s communist party grew the GDP 50x in forty years, lifted 800 million people out of poverty, created the world’s largest middle class, fostered innovative companies, and built a vibrant and all-around successful society. (See my blog on China’s global leadership).
Anger: After denying reality for a while, people become angry. They feel like victims and start blaming others. That’s exactly what’s been happening, especially since Trump came to office. The anger is reflected in following ways:
- China stole America’s jobs.
- China stole intellectual property from the U.S. (after all, Chinese can’t innovate, remember?)
- Chinese are spies and hackers.
- China doesn’t buy anything from us.
- China doesn’t treat U.S. corporations fairly. China is too protectionist.
- China subsidizes its corporations. Not fair!
- China made the coronavirus in the Wuhan lab. China tricked us into a lock down.
- China bad, China bad, China bad!
Bargaining: This is the hopeful phase. It’s like saying after the divorce, “Maybe I can get my wife back.” This phase is not always benign; it can involve a lot of ruthless scheming as seen in the last four years:
- If we can just force China to buy more from us, we can eliminate trade deficit and make America great again.
- Tariffs will cripple China and also force American companies to bring manufacturing jobs back.
- If we just arrest Huawei’s CFO and kill the company with sanctions, China will bend its knee.
- Let’s go on an all-out attack on every successful Chinese company. That should do the trick!
- Let’s use Hong Kong and Uyghur separatists to disrupt China. How about using India and Taiwan to start a war?
None of these seem to be working, although military conflicts are possible (with devastating impact on global economy). As for America’s tech war, it will only spur more Chinese innovation and self-reliance.
To really rub it in, the only major economy to grow this year is China, in spite of all the American sanctions and sabotage.
Depression and Acceptance: We are not here yet. The U.S. is still trying hard to stop China, rather than planning for an inevitable post-American era (see my blog on how China can surpass the US in five years). The geopolitically smart strategy will be to skip the stage of depression and go to acceptance. That will translate to embracing multilateralism and partnering with China, EU and Russia to forge a multi-polar world order for the 21st century. However, with so much Sinophoba and hubris in the U.S., no politician or think tank will dare propose such a solution. So … get ready for American depression.