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Don’t underestimate China

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WASHINGTON — The Spy Plane Incident is ending, but it should not be forgotten. Our service people have returned. Our plane has not. And in the wake of it all, Americans are rejoicing — even gloating — as they focus on the disparity in strength between the United States and China. But those differences are today's differences and describe very little about the reality of tomorrow.

America's economic and military strength greatly exceeds China's. The same could have been said about a comparison with the Soviet Union in 1945. Then, the Red Army was gigantic, but it did not have nuclear weapons or a large fleet, and it was not backed by a strong economy. It was backed by a massive influx of U.S. tanks, airplanes and other equipment. Yet, by 1960, the Soviet Union was considered a superpower, and presidential candidate John F. Kennedy claimed — erroneously, as it turned out — that there was a missile gap in the Soviet favor. The fact was that the USSR had become a credible opponent in the Cold War. The scenario is repeating — only this time, with China.

Whereas the Soviets clung to a communist/socialist system, the Chinese are allowing capitalism to thrive. As a result, the Chinese economy has been growing much faster than the U.S. economy. Most economists do not believe China can continue to sustain such growth, but they were wrong about the Soviets. In fact, we know that free enterprise works. We know that China's markets remain largely untapped. We know that the Chinese economy will continue to grow at a substantial rate.

We also know that China's leaders, like the Soviet leaders in previous decades, are willing to commit a far larger percentage of their gross domestic product to military expenditures than is the United States. Already, such expenditures have resulted in an aggressive shipbuilding program, the development of sophisticated airplanes, and the continued buildup of its nuclear arsenal. China even exports missiles.

So the question is not how China stacks up to the United States today, but how it will stack up in the next 10 or 20 years. If the USSR could compete with America using a communist system, it is likely that China will be able to do even more through the ongoing use of capitalism.

The Spy Plane Incident simply brings this into focus. China is not our friend. China, like the USSR, is using us. And like the USSR, it actively seeks to steal our secrets, especially technological secrets. The Chinese even view sending students here as a tool for extracting more technological information.

America may be asleep at the switch, but China surely is not.

United Feature Syndicate