Opinion: America needs to invest in itself, rather than hold China back

Tom Watkins | The Detroit News | 11:00 pm EST January 1, 2021

There is much talk about China’s rise and the need for a U.S. strategy to assure it does not come at America’s and the West’s demise. This conversation is timely as we transition from one U.S. president to another. Our election process allows for the potential of a natural reset of our national policy direction. 

Sadly, to date, most of the rhetoric has focused on holding China back rather than propelling America forward.

Be clear, China is challenging America on many fronts — from who controls the South China Sea to the future of technology’s 5G. Given the wealth and power China has amassed, much with our assistance, this defensive strategy is like building a chain link fence to hold back a tsunami. In today’s world, wealth brings power along with the potential to change the world.

Sadly, to date, most of the rhetoric has focused on holding China back rather than propelling America forward, Watkins writes.
Andy Wong, AP

I have witnessed in my lifetime the turnaround of China's fortunes — remarkable as it is universally acknowledged. 

China has invested in education and technology (especially 5G bandwidth), as well as its infrastructure (air and seaports, rail, roads, bridges). Artificial intelligence and big data support its domestic industries as well as its military and internal domestic security. 

Budgets are statements of priorities — transparent for the all the world to see where China is headed as it invests the globalization gains it has accumulated. 

Yet, as the football and boxing coaches of my youth once helped me understand, I have minimal control over what my opponent does. My focus, if I wished to be victorious, must be on what I do. The same holds true in America today. 

If we want to maintain America’s leadership, we need to begin reinvesting in the American people with a shared vision and common agenda.

Here is what I would like to see as an American offensive strategy:

►Stop the failed policy of going it alone when it comes to confronting China. We must find constructive ways to engage our allies in forming a coalition that minimizes China playing one trading partner against another. 

►Stop whining about China and get focused on what we need to do at home to rebuild back America better.

►Re-engage with international organizations that set the guideposts and international rules of engagement.

►Invest in American education.

►Partner with the private sector to re-skill our workforce. 

►Invest in research and development; maintain our strategic advantage in change and innovation.

►Stop the assault on immigrants. Instead, let’s strive to make America the brain bank of the world.

►Rebuild American infrastructure. Case in point: Michigan’s crumbling roads — a metaphor for the lack of investment in basic infrastructure. Investing in roads, air/seaports, water and sewers, schools, hospitals and broadband pays dividends.

►Make America clean: Invest in clean energy. 

►Make America connected. We should set a goal to assure that internet connectivity and broadband is ubiquitous. 

►Move away from the tariffs now being paid for by American consumers, farmers and manufacturers.

►Engage, communicate and collaborate with China on issues that are in our respective national interests. 

Without focus and strategic investment, the U.S. is at risk of losing in the game of global leadership — and facing a future where America does not occupy a dominant position. That is simply unacceptable. America controls its own destiny. 

Tom Watkins has served the citizens of Michigan as state mental health director and state superintendent of schools. He is currently an international business and educational consultant.

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