Magazine article The American Prospect

Their Sun Also Rises

Magazine article The American Prospect

Their Sun Also Rises

Article excerpt

FAMOUSLY, ON THE LAST DAY OF THE CONSTITUTIONAL Convention in Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin pointed to an image of the sun painted on the back of George Washington's chair and said that he finally had "the happiness to know it is a rising and not a setting sun." Ever since then, Americans have had the same happy thought: Our sun has always been rising.

And today, as we conceive things, that sun shines more brightly than ever. For in the governing narrative of our time, the United States is the world's only superpower, freedom is on the march, and the superiority of the American economic model has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt.

What threatens us, we believe, comes from the backward regions of undemocratic or failed states and the terrorist organizations that operate from them. September 11 showed us they can do grave harm. But unlike Soviet communism, they do not represent a general ideological challenge, an alternative economic model, or a great-power rival. In our governing narrative, democracy has triumphed, and now we are consolidating the victory.

Suppose, however, that we have misread what is happening in the world and that a different narrative turns out to be correct. With the benefit of hindsight years from now, this may be seen as the era when China emerged as a great power, the United States undermined its own economic strength, and American influence in Asia, Europe, and even Latin America began to recede.

With the highest growth rate of all major economies, China is on its way to becoming the largest. Its economic clout is immense, and its political influence is rising. Developing countries look to it as an alternative model of rapid economic growth, without such liberal complications as a free press, free elections, or an independent judiciary. No imaginative leap is necessary to predict that China will eventually turn its wealth into military might and become a superpower greater than the Soviet Union ever was.

And when its sun has risen fully, China may no longer be content to play a quiet role in the world. In mid-March, the National People's Congress in Beijing authorized the use of "nonpeaceful" means against Taiwan if the latter ever moves toward independence. No confrontation looms at the moment. But China may be only biding its time, waiting until its power is so overwhelming that it can demand Taiwan's submission, confident that the United States will have no choice but to go along. …

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