America vs China Not a Zero-Sum Game

Angela Meng
4 min readJun 7, 2021

If an alien intelligence were monitoring news on Earth, they would probably assume China was eating America’s lunch.

It makes sense. America has seen easier times.

The global order the United States established is in crisis, America’s uncoordinated response to coronavirus eroded the credibility of its ossified institutions, and the resurgence of nationalist politics on the right and emergence of culture wars on the left suggests a nation almost splitting apart.

No wonder pundits often question whether the Chinese model is a better one than that of liberal democracy. Such talk is not unfounded. China turned the pandemic into a testament of its strength, growing its economy at a record 18.3% in 2021 so far — its biggest jump in GDP since 1992.

But, to conclude that America is failing due to China’s success is to confuse correlation with causation.

China is a competitor, not a predator. America’s dominance may be in the process of being hollowed, but this is largely a result of internal factors, not external ones. Growing political dysfunction and weakening economic dynamism are tunneling an existential hole through the shining city on the hill. China is not doing this to America.

Indeed, China alone cannot end America’s era of supremacy. Though the world’s center of gravity may be shifting from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific, the United States is still a more enticing country than any other on Earth and its soft power is deep. English is the world’s lingua franca, more than twice as powerful as Mandarin on the Power Language Index. Chinese is monosyllabic with four tones, and each pronunciation has a different, unrelated meaning from the others. English is not only dominant globally, but it also sways local exchanges, like in Dubai, where English is the default language even though a large majority of the population does not speak it natively.

The most entrepreneurial immigrants are drawn to America in droves, from Europe to India to yes, also China. Most risk-taking castaways from other nations prefer to settle in America, where there is the widespread belief that with enough grit and determination, one can still propel herself from nothing to everything within a generation. A 2019 report highlighted that…