US needs to invest more at home to compete abroad, says Blinken

Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged and hit back against Chinese and Russian arguments that America is in decline.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged and hit back against Chinese and Russian arguments that America is in decline.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON - The United States needs to invest more in infrastructure and innovation at home to better compete with China and other rivals abroad, said Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday (Aug 9), making the case for how long-term domestic investment would strengthen America's foreign policy.

Mr Blinken's promotion of infrastructure investment came just before President Joe Biden's landmark trillion-dollar infrastructure Bill was passed in the Senate on Tuesday (Aug 10). The Bill will now have to go through the House.

In his speech delivered at the University of Maryland's engineering school, America's top diplomat acknowledged and hit back against Chinese and Russian arguments that America is in decline.

"It's no secret to us that the Chinese and Russian governments, among others, are making the argument in public and in private that the US is in decline, so it's better to cast your lot with their authoritarian visions for the world than with our democratic one," he said.

He added: "Nothing would put to rest faster their specious argument that America's best days are behind us, than if the US made serious investments in our domestic renewal right now."

At present, America's rivals are catching up and threatening its competitiveness in innovation and infrastructure, Mr Blinken said after touring an engineering laboratory where advanced manufacturing techniques and 3D printing were showcased.

"We could be doing better. That is the hard truth. We're falling behind where we once were in the world, and our rivals are slowly but surely pulling close behind us. In some areas, they're already ahead of us," he said.

"This matters because if these trends continue, we'll be less competitive in a more competitive world," he added. "The weight of diplomacy and our ability to advance the interests and values of the American people will suffer."

Democracy as a model will also be less able to stand a fierce challenge from authoritarian governments, said Mr Blinken.

Making the national security case for domestic renewal, Mr Blinken noted that America had historically made big public investments in schools, roads, power grids and other infrastructure which helped its economy and workforce leap ahead.

But America did not keep up the pace of this investment and is still relying heavily on earlier achievements created a long time ago, he said.

As a result, its public investment as a share of the economy has fallen by more than 40 per cent even as other countries doubled down. China, for instance, spends thrice as much on infrastructure as the US does each year, he added.

Mr Blinken warned that America is also falling behind on innovation relative to China. The US is missing out on leading the industries of the future, from robotics to solar cells and nanotechnology, and the jobs created by them, he said.

But domestic renewal can advance America's foreign policy by boosting its global competitiveness, helping it attract jobs and investment, and by empowering its diplomacy, Mr Blinken said.

America nonetheless remains "the most powerful country and economy in the world", able to attract top talent from other countries, he said.

"We want always to be the place that represents opportunity, possibility, achievement. Investing in our domestic renewal now means we can continue to be that beacon to the world," he added.