A dispute with no winners

US and Chinese flags are seen in front of a US dollar banknote and a Chinese yuan banknote.
US and Chinese flags are seen in front of a US dollar banknote and a Chinese yuan banknote.PHOTO: REUTERS

In many ways, China is an economic enigma. Going by World Bank figures, its per capita gross domestic product (GDP) at around US$8,800 (S$12,000) in 2017 as compared with that of the United States at US$59,900, or Singapore's at US$57,700, may show it as a Third World country (US-China dispute: Now better than later, June 16).

But step into any first-or second-tier Chinese city, and the overriding impression to the astonished observer is no different from that of fashionable European or American cities.

In its best form and practice, the Chinese Communist Party under visionary leadership embodies the best traits of a benign dictatorship, allowing it to drive positive change at breakneck speed unfettered by the inefficiencies that democracies gone wild so amply demonstrate.

And all this with a GDP far smaller than that of the US.

Questionable practices aside, it seems that the Chinese challenge of making one yuan work as hard as one greenback was amply met. Calculated this way, the Chinese economy exceeds that of America.

Meanwhile, policies in the US became disjointed through the chopping and changing with each incoming president.

The single-minded purpose required for the maintenance of a hegemonic position became mired in filibustering between opposing Republicans and Democrats, and in the blink of an eye, the Chinese challenge became a pressingly urgent one.

But for military hardware, and some crucial high-tech firms that are now being weaponised as proxies in its trade war against China, much of America has fallen behind its eastern rival.

It is a far more equal fight now between the two adversaries than when the US took on Japan in the 1990s over their trade imbalances.

The only thing assured in this final outcome is mutual losses.

Yik Keng Yeong (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2019, with the headline 'A dispute with no winners'. Print Edition | Subscribe